Ruth and I were lazing around during our post-Christmas vacation days in 2011 when the conversation turned to hiking and outdoor pursuits. We had enjoyed a few hikes and a couple of floats over the course of the year, and maybe it was the extra slices of pie talking, but I was feeling ambitious and ready for a challenge. We were in decent shape, but didn’t have the time, money, or discipline to pull together a grand adventure like a through hike of the Appalachian Trail or anything on that scale. One day we aspire to join the Great Smoky Mountains 900-Miler Club, which requires hikers to complete every mile of trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but work and distance make it difficult to make much progress on that goal.
“You know,” I mused, “we could take on something challenging at the local level. We can’t throw down multiple 15-mile days or anything like that, but perhaps we could string out a series of hikes over the course of the year that might have something in common.” Ruth agreed, and after some brainstorming we came up with an idea for our small-scale adventure: we vowed to hike all the Land Trust of North Alabama trails in the 2012 calendar year.
Now, we are big, big fans of the Land Trust. We are trail maintenance volunteers, we put our money where our boots are by donating to the Land Trust, and we attend guided hikes and events put on by the Land Trust staff. We had enjoyed the few trails we had been on at that time, and figured there was much more to see right here in Madison County. We pored over the Land Trust trail maps and sized up the task — 65 trails, ranging from the 2.5 mile Bluffline Trail to numerous little paths around a quarter of a mile or less. We set a few ground rules: (1) we would hike all trails that appeared on Land Trust trail maps as of December 30, 2012 (so we would have to hike any new trails added in 2012); (2) we had to hike the entire trail for the hike to count; (3) if a trail started on Land Trust property and ended off of Land Trust property, we had to hike to the Land Trust property boundary, and if feasible, complete the trail wherever it went. Though there were around 50 linear miles of trails, it wouldn’t be possible to hike them all without having to backtrack or hit some trail segments more than once, so we figured it would be a total of maybe 60 miles.
So the journey began on January 2 from the Cleermont Drive trailhead, as Ruth, Casey the Hound, and I started out on the Wildflower trail on a crisp, sunshiny morning.
We traveled the length of the Wildflower trail, turned right and tagged the end of the Fagan Springs trail, then more or less made a loop by hiking the length of the Fagan Springs trail and crossing the creek to get back to the Wildflower trailhead. It was a very short hike — 1.1 miles. But we were underway!
From that modest start, we plugged along throughout the rest of the year, hiking at least once a month in every month except April and August. The mileage began creeping up — from 2.5 miles on our second hike to 5.5 miles on the east side of Wade Mountain. We attacked most of the Monte Sano trails in the spring, with a memorable trip to the Matthews property in Limestone County on a members-only wildflower hike. Late spring brought trips to the Blevins Gap trails, and early summer saw trips to the west side of Wade Mountain. We knocked off the rest of Blevins Gap in the fall, along with quick trips to Rainbow Mountain and the Harvest Square property.
Heading into December, we took stock and realized that we were going to have to step it up if we were going to cover every trail. We hadn’t done any of the Huntsville Mountain trails, a new trail (West Bluff) had popped up on Blevins Gap, we needed to mop up a little on Rainbow Mountain, there was a bewildering clump of trails south of Waterline on Monte Sano, and finally the Panther Knob and Flat Rock trails remained. We were saving Flat Rock for last, as it was an 8.8 mile trip that would require a shuttle. Only the first part of the trail was on Land Trust property, but we had pretty good maps that showed its full length.
It was challenging finding the time in December, but we laced ’em up and threw down four hikes, most of them around 4 miles, leading up to the weekend before Christmas. It was the last window of opportunity to get Panther Knob and Flat Rock, and we had good weather and high motivation for that final push. To put it charitably, the Flat Rock trail was not particularly well-marked and after a bit of thrashing around we found our way to the eponymous flat rock, then continued until we were sure we were off Land Trust property. However, the journey came to an abrupt end 5.3 miles into the Flat Rock trail when a section of the trail crossed private property on which the landowner had closed the trail during hunting season.
Although we didn’t complete the entire trail, we had completed the portion on Land Trust property. We appreciate private landowners who grant access to our trails, and we respected this owner’s wishes and instead hiked down a dirt road, then through a neighborhood down to Highway 72, where our daughter picked us up.
So, we had done it! The final tally was 65 trails completed in 74.9 miles of hiking, on 22 separate hikes. Looking back, we have many fond memories.
- The silent owl that glided past us at eye level on the Cold Spring Loop trail.
- A faint little rainbow at the base of Dry Falls (which wasn’t dry on that day)
- The gorgeous wildflowers on the Matthews property
- The views over the city from the West Bluff trail
- A father’s day hike with our daughters on a tick-infested Fossil Bench trail
- The surprise of finding cacti on Smoke Rise, Devil’s Race Track, and Rainbow Mountain Loop trails
- Fall colors on Wade Mountain
- A lovely cascade on the Annandale trail
I think the most important thing we learned was that the Land Trust has a trail for everyone. Do you like views over the city? West Bluff trail at Blevins Gap. How about views over the countryside? Bostick trail on Wade Mountain. Waterfalls? Waterline trail on Monte Sano. Creeks? Wildflower trail on Monte Sano. Flat terrain around a pond? Eagle trail on the Harvest Square preserve. Cool rock formations? Rainbow Mountain Loop trail. So go ahead — give one a try. Or, do what we did and give them all a try!