Spending The day Outside in The Rocket City
Huntsville has earned the name “Rocket City.” The city has been eager to embrace its identity as the technology capital of Alabama. While there is no denying how important technology has been for the rapid growth of Huntsville, it makes it easy to overlook the fact that the city actually offers the best of both worlds: a bustling urban atmosphere plus some of most beautiful and entertaining opportunities to experience nature at its finest.
Technology is a glittering lure but being outside allows for people to be engaged on a level beyond flash. There is something about the great outdoors that makes the memories gained from a family camping trip or a neighborhood barbecue more nostalgic than other memories. They seep into the corners of our memory and pop back up when we yearn to revisit a time when things were simpler. We hope this guide will serve as a reminder that spending an enjoyable day outside in Huntsville is as easy now as it has ever been.
Written by: Noah Logan
Photo credits in order of appearance: Old Railroad Bed Trail photo by Lori Pence (title page); Falling Springs Sink at Bethel Spring Nature Preserve photo by Jim Kendall; Hays Nature Preserve photo courtesy of City of Huntsville/Jeff White; Concerts at Three Caves photo by Jeff Schreier; Waterfall at Green Mountain Nature Preserve Courtesy of The Land Trust of North Alabama; Cathedral Caverns photo by Patty Satterly; Baron Bluff at Burritt on the Mountain photo by Steve Babin; Produce from Madison City Farmers Market photos by Katiya McKinney; Tulips photo by Lori Boatfield; Hubert Family Farms photo by Fly Leaf Photography
Land Trust of North Alabama
One of most prominent ways to spend a day (or many) outside is to visit any of the Land Trust of North Alabama properties. The Land Trust exists only to protect, preserve and maintain some of the most beautiful lands in North Alabama so that the public can enjoy them. Established in 1987 to protect the eastern slopes of Monte Sano from development, it is the oldest land trust in the state of Alabama. What started with 10 members in 1987 is now the most successful preservation and conservation resource in the state with more than 9,000 protected acres and 1,500 members.
The Land Trust currently offers more than 70 miles of walking trails for relaxing, exercising, and connecting with nature – at no cost. This summer is the perfect time to take the family to any of the seven public nature preserves in Madison County open dawn to dusk daily for hiking, biking, and outdoor recreation. Featuring guided hikes and outdoor adventures each spring and fall; summer environmental educational series for kids; concerts and events at the picturesque Three Caves; the Land Trust provides a variety of ways to get involved in its mission for preservation.
The Monte Sano Nature Reserve is the flagship reserve of the Land Trust of North Alabama. It is the iconic backdrop for downtown Huntsville. The name Monte Sano translates to “Mountain of Health,” in Spanish. Since the late 1800s, visitors from across the United States have come to experience and enjoy Monte Sano’s fresh air, views and mineral springs. The nature preserve includes 1,100 acres with spectacular vistas from atop the mountain, especially when the fall leaves show off their colors. In the spring, native azaleas bloom along the 22 miles of hiking and biking trails. It offers trails of varying difficulty level that also connect to other trail networks managed by Burritt on the Mountain and Monte Sano State Park (separate from the land trust and operated by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.) Parking for the reserve is located at 2442 Bankhead Parkway NE.
•Wildflower Trail: A perfect hike for the whole family. This trail wraps around Fagan Creek and provides a majestic display of native wildflowers in the springtime.
•Old Railroad Bed Trail: Follow the path of former Monte Sano Railway, one of the country’s oldest and shortest-lived rail corridors. During this hike, you encounter multiple waterfalls and come across the original support columns of the stone bridge the railroad used to transport passengers in the 1800s.
•High Trail: A challenging trail for more experienced hikers, this trail leads through a small quarry and the remnants of the Monte Sano Hotel.
If you are looking to for other ways to spend time outdoors, the Concerts at Three Caves Series is a perfect experience for all. Located two miles from downtown Huntsville, tucked inside a residential area,
you will find the visually striking venue that hosts these series of concerts. Despite its name, Three Caves is not actually a cave at all but a former limestone mine, originally known as Hermitage Quarry. The 800-seat outdoor venue provides one of the most unique concert experiences you will ever find. Concerts in the past have included acts such as Delta Rae, Moon Taxi, The SteelDrivers and the Legendary Muscle Shoals Review.
The venue has a comfortable year-round temperature of 55 degrees due to the wind from the cave openings. As the sun starts to set and the lights bounce off and accentuate the quarry walls, you will immediately get the sense that you are in store for a truly special and beautiful musical experience.
Concerts have been scheduled for both Saturday, June 12 and Saturday, August 7. Tickets are $35-$45 for Land Trust Members and $45-$55 for non-members. Every concert includes a variety of beer and wine options available to purchase as well.
Hays Nature Preserve
The Hays Nature Preserve is one of Huntsville’s largest and most undeveloped parklands. This beautiful piece of land includes over ten miles of trails that wind and weave through bottomlands, swamps, and sloughs, suitable for hiking or mountain biking. Horses are also welcome on the northern trails. Bring the whole family
and explore hardwood forest, walk the fields and discover the wetlands. Wildlife abounds with deer, rabbits, raccoons, and resident and migratory birds; in fact, this natural area is an important part of the North Alabama Birding Trail.
It is especially great for kids due to its Terrame Natural Playground. This type of playground is developed using elements of nature instead of standard equipment.
This unique experience provides a more imaginative and creative type of play that encourages the kids to interact with their natural environment. A two-story fort complete with rock climbing, wooden seesaws, swinging bridge and a play kitchen are just some of the components that make up this attraction that will surely catch the attention of any child. Located at 7153 Hwy 431 S. Owens Cross Roads, Hays Nature Preserve is free for all to experience and any donations support Huntsville’s Green Team.
Burritt on the Mountain
Situated on a magnificent 167-acre site overlooking the city, Burritt on the Mountain is a place to explore the natural beauty of Round Top Mountain, learn about its ecology, revisit the lives of farmers from the 1800s, and tour Dr. William Henry Burritt’s unique 1938 mansion. Burritt’s nature trails are perfect for hiking and connect to the Land Trust and Monte Sano State Park.
Hiking isn’t the only activity though. The open-air museum includes some of the most beautiful facilities the area has to offer for weddings, meetings and other events. Some of the wonders you will find here include Dr. Burritt’s remarkable 14-room mansion preserved from the 1930s and the Historic Park which features restored farm buildings which interpret 19th century life in rural Alabama.
• Cocktails at The View: Every Wednesday through October from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Watch the sunset and enjoy a cocktail along with gourmet food items on the elevated overlook.
Originally called Bat Cave, Cathedral Caverns was opened to the public the 1950’s and later renamed because of its cathedral-like appearance. It was opened as a State Park in the summer of 2000. The cavern’s massive entrance holds the distinction as a possible world record for commercial caves. Inside the cavern are beautiful formations including Goliath, one of the largest stalagmites in the world; a “frozen” waterfall; and a large stalagmite forest.
Huntsville Botanical Garden
The 112-acre Huntsville Botanical Garden is open year-round and boasts an aquatic garden, wildflower and nature trail, numerous specialty gardens and plant collections. The 9,000 square foot Anderson Education Center contains the nation’s largest open-air butterfly house and is home to many other species of wildlife. The Children’s Garden made of eight themed areas includes dinosaur, story book and pollywog gardens. With seasonal festivals and exhibits galore, there’s always something “growing” on at The Garden.
• Peak Butterfly Season in the Purdy Butterfly House May 1 – September 30. This is the best time of the year to experience the immersive habitat that is home to over 1,000 brightly colored native butterflies, as well as turtles, frogs and fish.
Rocket City Trash Panda Games
Looking for something outdoors but don’t feel like getting in the dirt and mud? In 2021 America’s greatest pastime will make its return to the Rocket City with the inaugural season of the Trash Pandas baseball team. Opening night for the minor league baseball team is set for Tuesday, May 11 against the Tennessee Smokies. The overall schedule includes 120 total games – 60 each for home and away – as part of the new, eight-team Double-A South League.
The new team comes with a new state-of-the-art facility at Toyota Field. The stadium, located in Madison, will accommodate 7,000-plus for games with a variety of seating options. Along with standard seating, fans of the team can use patio suites without fixed seating. It provides a more flexible experience with high-top tables and chairs than can be moved around.
After the original first season of the Trash Pandas was cancelled last year, this will surely be the most hyped outdoor entertainment opportunity of the year. Huntsville hasn’t seen baseball since the Stars left in 2014. The level of enthusiasm from the community has stayed strong throughout the delays with the team selling $2.5 million in merchandise since October of 2018.
Greene Street Market at Nativity
The Greene Street Market at Nativity is downtown Huntsville’s destination for fresh, locally grown vegetables, fruits, meat, and flowers. Beginning in May you can visit the market every Thursday to meet farmers with local produce, grass-fed and pasture-raised beef and pork, free range chickens and eggs.
Other features at Greene Street include freshly prepared meals, gourmet popsicles, traditionally made relishes, cheeses, preserves and breads. It is truly a multi-purposed destination in downtown Huntsville. The outdoor market (located at the corner of Greene Street and Eustis Avenue) is open every Thursday through the last Thursday in October. Depending on the time of the year, the markets hours vary. The hours throughout the year are: 4:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. May – August; 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. September; 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. October.
The Market at Mid-City
For a combination of outdoor entertainment and a day of shopping, the Market at Mid-City makes for a truly immersive experience. You can experience the innovative market every Sunday from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. until November 14th, making it the longest-running market in the area. With over 40 vendors every week, it’s not just farmers and food growers you will find here. Around 30 percent of The Market’s vendors are artisans and non-food vendors that sell things like custom cutting boards, homemade soaps, beard oils and more. You’ll find this market off University Drive as one of the features of “The Camp.” This modern facility features a variety of ways to eat and drink after you’re done with your shopping. Shoppers will also be able to enjoy live music every week.
Madison City Farmers Market
Returning to Trinity Baptist Church Grounds this year is the Madison City Farmers Market. One aspect about this market is that when you shop here, you are truly shopping local. According to their website, everything sold at the market is grown or crafted within 100 miles.
Open every Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m., the MCFM is worth more than one visit this year. The market changes from season to season to allow its local vendors to keep all of their products as fresh as possible. In the spring, the market is brimming with strawberries, herbs and other bedding plants. Come again during the summer and you’ll find some of the best tomatoes, peaches, corn and watermelons the area has to offer. And no matter what time of the year you come, your purchase will always support local business efforts!
Hubert Family Farms
Hubert Family Farms created quite the buzz this year as it was the only place in North Alabama to pick fresh tulips. The family farm located in New Market brought over 65 types of tulips and more than 200,000 bulbs directly from Holland. Families from all over the region have traveled to the farm to pick flowers, set up picnics and take in the atmosphere of the farm.
Though tulip season is ending, don’t forget about them when planning your outdoor entertainment this year! They will be returning this summer with another new experience – “Pick Your Own Sunflowers.”
The farm has been in the family of owners Seth and Kaylee Hubert since Seth’s great-grandfather, George Hubert, bought a 78-acre plot of land in 1917. Since then, the Hubert family has turned those initial 78 acres into 2,000 acres of rented/owned land.