Monte Sano Plateau Loop
ElevationAscent: 249' 76 m
Descent: -249' -76 m
High: 1,639' 499 m
Low: 1,565' 477 m
GradeAvg Grade: 1% (1°)
Max Grade: 6% (3°)
Current trail conditions
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“A fun and scenic ride with stunning views of the valleys surrounding Monte Sano Mountain.”— Zack Butler
The Family Bike Trail is the most flowy trail on this ride, although several sections of the South Plateau Loop and the North Plateau Loop are somewhat flowy. The most difficult section of this ride is on the North Plateau Loop, where a rock-armored section runs along the "bluff" for about 0.7 mile. Some portions of this ride are doubletrack with gravel, sand, or both.
The next mile is probably the most entertaining section of this ride: it flows well, with short, mild climbs and descents, & most of the curves are placed such that minimal braking is required. As always, watch for oncoming trail traffic (both bikers & hikers), as all of the trails are two-way trails.
After approximately 1 mile, you'll come to a 5-way intersection of the Family Bike Trail, South Plateau Loop, & the Bog Trail. Continue straight on the Family Bike Trail to enter a dense upland pine forest. Pine needles abound on the trail surface here.
The sweet flow and sweeping curves give way to a slower pace dominated by sharper turns, & a variety of minor obstacles to make sure you're paying attention. A split-log bridge is near the end of this segment, where the Family Bike Trail intersects with the Fire Tower Trail.
Continue straight across the Fire Tower Trail on the Family Bike Trail, where the pace begins to pick up again. Be careful crossing the Gravel Road Trail. Continue across the Gravel Road Trail on a fast, gentle, 0.5 mile descent towards O'Shaughnessy Point. A few optional trail features are available to catch some air along the way.
At the next intersection, stay on the Family Bike Trail back up the ridge line. After a little over 0.5 mile, you'll come back to the Fire Tower Trail. Continue straight across the spur that goes to the Fire Tower and merge with the Fire Tower Trail (keep right).
Go downhill for a few hundred feet to where you crossed the Fire Tower Trail earlier. Cross the Family Bike Trail, ride to the Gravel Road Trail, & turn right on the doubletrack.
Where the Gravel Road Trail and South Plateau Loop fork, keep left on the South Plateau Loop. You'll be riding above the bluff, with views of the valley below, on doubletrack with avoidable obstacles.
After intersecting with the Mountain Mist Trail (on the left), the South Plateau Loop intersects with the Warpath Ridge Trail (on the left). From O'Shaughnessy Point, you can see McKay Hollow and Big Cove.
Continuing North along the South Plateau Loop, you'll intersect with the Family Bike Trail (on the right), McKay Hollow Trail (on the left), & the Fire Tower Trail. This is doubletrack with avoidable obstacles. A water bar section near the McKay Hollow Trail intersection sometimes has standing water, but you won't damage the trail because it's gravel.
At the Fire Tower Trail intersection, take a left & another left to stay on the South Plateau Loop. The trail descends a little bit but stays near the bluff, & then ascends slightly & intersects with the Bog Trail.
Continue straight on the South Plateau Loop. The trail narrows here, gets closer to the bluff, & passes in front of a trail shelter. After that, it forks; take the right fork with the white tree blazes.
The South Plateau Loop loop continues along the edge of the plateau and has three creek crossings (one ford & two bridges) before intersecting again with the Fire Tower Trail. Turn left on the Fire Tower Trail and cross the North Plateau Loop & Nolen Avenue. Ride through the disc golf course (this can be confusing) & the Japanese Tea Garden (stay on the Fire Tower Trail) until you come to the North Plateau Loop.
Turn right on the North Plateau Loop, which runs along the bluff & is the most difficult part of this ride due to steep drop-offs, roots, & rock armoring. The North Plateau Loop exits to Bankhead Parkway at the scenic overlook. Continue through the overlook & take the North Plateau Loop to the Park Office, cross the road to the Hikers' Parking Lot, & take the South Plateau Loop (left at the fork), cross the bridge, and exit (left) to the road and parking lot.
On this ride, you'll see some of the trail shelters along the South Plateau Loop that were built by the CCC in the 1930's. You'll also see the historic Monte Sano Fire Tower (at the intersection of the Fire Tower Trail and the Family Bike Trail) and remnants of the historic Monte Sano Railway (near the intersection of the Fire Tower Trail and the North Plateau Loop) which took visitors from downtown Huntsville to the Hotel Monte Sano.
At the overlook where the North Plateau Loop crosses Bankhead Parkway, you can visit the newly built CCC Museum that is located at the original entrance to Monte Sano State Park. Most of the doubletrack trail segments were originally constructed as fire roads and access roads for some of the families which lived on the mountain before the park was established.