Boasting an intriguing history, the Old Railroad Bed Trail (a.k.a., Monte Sano Railroad Trail) follows one of the country's oldest, and shortest-lived, rail corridors. In the late 1800s, as yellow fever raged in Atlanta, a hotel was built atop 1,600-foot Monte Sano (which means "mountain of health" in Italian). Guests were drawn to the resort by the area's fresh springs, cool climates, and valley views. The rail line was built to ferry passengers from Huntsville, replacing the previous four-hour horse-and-carriage ride.
A construction crew of 500 men took just four months to complete the line, which included 8.5 miles of rail, five trestles and four small bridges. Earning a mere dollar for each 12-hour shift, these workers later staged Huntsville's first labor strike, demanding—without success—a 10-hour day. The line opened in August 1888, but by October a derailment, caused by brake failure, had frightened passengers away. Only freight cars plied the line until the trains stopped running in 1896.
Launched in 1990, the Old Railroad Bed Trail is among the country's first rail-to-trail conversions. Land Trust of North Alabama purchased the line and built the trail, and they continue to maintain it. As you stroll the narrow dirt and stone bed, you will pass cascading springs and the original stone bridge supports, built without mortar. Atop the peak, close your eyes and picture the Hotel Monte Sano, an elaborate, 223-room haven from turn-of-the-century health scares. After your hike, head to the Huntsville Depot Museum or the North Alabama Railroad Museum for more local railroad lore.
The Old Railroad Bed Trail is part of the Monte Sano Nature Preserve trail system. This 20+ mile trail system, along with the trails on the Land Trust's Blevins Gap Nature Preserve, the Wade Mountain Nature Preserve, and the Harvest Square Recreational Preserve, are the first and only trail systems in Madison County to be honored as National Recreation Trails.
Directions: From Huntsville, take Bankhead Parkway north to the Monte Sano State Park trailhead, which lies on the right 1/2-mile past the Toll Gate Road intersection. A stone marker stands at the entrance.
The Land Trust of Huntsville & North Alabama
2707 Artie Street SW Suite 6
Huntsville, AL 35805