“An epic ride showcasing some of the best that Monte Sano has to offer.
— Zack Butler
This ride provides the rider with a variety of terrain and difficulty levels, including steep uphills, rocks, easy flowing sections, and steep downhills. It is not for the faint of heart. The scenery on this route includes views of the valley from nearly every side of Monte Sano Mountain.
Because half of this ride utilizes the Flat Rock Trail
, riders should abide by the private landowners' restrictions on this trail and avoid riding it during hunting season. This route assumes that the ride begins at the Monte Sano State Park Bikers' Parking Lot, but can be started at two other parking facilities: Land Trust of North Alabama Monte Sano Preserve Parking Lot on Bankhead Parkway
or the "Blockade" at the intersection of Bankhead Parkway
and Fearn Street. These two options will allow the rider to reduce the amount of uphill riding toward the end of the ride and are left to the rider's discretion.
The elevation ranges from 1,000 ft ASL to 1,650 ft ASL, and most of the elevation gain on the ride occurs between the Land Trust Parking Lot and the State Park's North Overlook Parking Lot over a distance of about 3 miles. While most of the breathtaking views are on the plateau at the North Overlook and at O'Shaughnessy Point at the south end of the plateau, there is also a nice viewpoint at Flat Rock (which is self-explanatory).
Due to the relative remoteness and partial private ownership of the Flat Rock Trail
, riders may encounter areas in need of trail work. Portions of the Flat Rock Trail
have also been re-routed and these re-routes can be confusing. For these reasons, the Flat Rock Trail
does not see as much traffic as the trails maintained by Monte Sano State Park, and particularly the easier and flatter trails on the plateau.
The Flat Rock Trail
(which comprises about half of this ride) is closed during deer hunting season (usually from the end of October to the end of January) and portions of it are on privately owned land. As of 2014, access to the Flat Rock Trail
is open to IMBA/SORBA members only under agreements between SORBA-Huntsville and the private landowners.
Need to Know
Make sure you have your IMBA/SORBA Member ID card on your person before riding the Flat Rock Trail
. Some landowners will check to ensure that you are an IMBA/SORBA member.
This ride begins at the Monte Sano State Park Bikers' Parking Lot. From the parking lot, head to the Family Bike Trail
by crossing Bankhead Pkwy to the South Plateau Loop
. Take a left on the South Plateau Loop
, and after about 500 feet, take a right on the Family Bike Trail
. This 1-mile section of the Family Bike Trail
is extremely fun and doubles as an excellent warmup. Except for a few rock-armored sections, it is smooth and rolling, with excellent flow.
The Family Bike Trail
then crosses the Bog Trail
and the South Plateau Loop
/Gravel Road Trail
before entering a dense pine forest. This section is relatively smooth and filled with pine needles. It's also a little slower-paced and crooked. Part of this section is elevated. After about 0.6 mile, the trail crosses a split-log bridge and crosses the Fire Tower Trail
Continue straight across the Fire Tower Trail
along a relatively smooth, flowing section that is mostly downhill. The rider may pick up a good bit of speed after crossing the Gravel Road Trail
; however, since the trail carries traffic in both directions, keep an eye out for bikers and hikers coming in the opposite direction. There are a couple of optional trail features on this section, which ends at O'Shaughnessy Point at another intersection with the South Plateau Loop
. This is approximately 2.3 miles into the ride; the view of McKay Hollow and Big Cove is spectacular from here.
After enjoying the view, take the South Plateau Loop
northwest to the McKay Hollow Trail
. There is a trail shelter at this intersection, which also has an excellent view. The McKay Hollow Trail
is one of the most difficult trails in Monte Sano State Park due to some steep, rocky sections with steep drop-offs on the left side of the trail in this direction. Descend carefully to the intersection with the Bucca Trail
. As of 2013, this intersection was not marked with a sign, but orange and/or yellow flags mark the newest portion of the Bucca Trail
, which was completed by SORBA-Huntsville in 2013. The Bucca Trail
is extensively rock armored and will challenge even the most experienced rider. After 0.8 mile, the Bucca Trail
ends at the Warpath Ridge Trail.
Take a right on the Warpath Ridge and, after a brief section, take a left on the connector toward the Goat Trail
. At the Goat Trail
, take a right and continue downhill. The sign at this intersection is misleading, as it was not replaced when the trail was re-routed in 2011. After crossing two split-log bridges, the rider will come to the intersection with the Flat Rock Connector. :Note the closures at the sign; if it is deer hunting season, do not go this way--as an alternative, you can take the Recommended Monte Sano Ride
.: Turn right on the Flat Rock Connector, which may require some hike-a-bike down to the Flat Rock Trail
. At this point, you are no longer in Monte Sano State Park; you are on private land.
At the Flat Rock Trail
, take a left. There is no sign at this intersection, but a stack of small rocks marks the intersection. This is an extremely remote area with more than 3 miles to the nearest road. Remain on the Flat Rock Trail
for 7.5 miles. Along the way, the rider will encounter several difficult stream crossings, "Flat Rock" (the trail's namesake), and some smooth, rolling sections of trail. The Flat Rock Trail
ends at Bankhead Pkwy just across the street from the Land Trust Parking Lot. Go ahead and cross the road and ride up the rocky Toll Gate Trail
to the unmarked intersection with the Gummy Line Trail (now called the Dummy Line Trail
). Follow the Dummy Line Trail
back onto the Toll Gate Trail
at the end at Fearn Street. Carefully make your way west until you reach the "Blockade."
At the Blockade, go past the barricades and ride up the closed Bankhead Parkway
back into the State Park. It is paved and goes to the top of the mountain, where you can take the road back to the Bikers' Parking Lot.
History & Background
This ride features a number of trails constructed by the local IMBA chapter (SORBA-Huntsville), including the Family Bike Trail
, the Dummy Line Trail
, and part of the Goat Trail
. The closed section of Bankhead Parkway
(closed to automobile traffic, that is) was originally the primary route into Monte Sano State Park. It was built in the 1930's by the CCC along the original route of the Monte Sano Railroad (also known as the "Dummy Line", from which the Dummy Line Trail
gets its name) which took visitors to the now defunct Hotel Monte Sano, which operated in the late 1800's and closed near the turn of the century. The road was closed some time after the park opened in the 1930's due to land slides, which made it necessary to take Fearn Street and Nolen Avenue to enter the park.