Monte Sano State Park gets its name from its mountain location overlooking the city of Huntsville, Madison County, in northeast Alabama. Monte Sano is Spanish for "mountain of health," and the area was so named for its abundant mineral springs and clear air. The mountain's peak reaches above 1,600 feet and provides panoramic vistas of the city below. In 2009, the park had 193,000 visitors, annual operating expenses of $663,000 and a staff of 13 people.
People have visited Monte Sano's mineral springs since the early nineteenth century to improve their health and escape the city. In the 1820s, a small town named Viduta, which no longer exists, was established on the mountain. The Hotel Monte Sano, a three-story Queen Anne-style luxury health resort with 233 rooms, opened in 1877. During the peak of its popularity, guests were transported to the hotel by the Monte Sano Railway, which departed from downtown Huntsville and climbed to the top of the mountain. The resort gained wide popularity, and famous guests included William H. Vanderbilt, Helen Keller, Jason "Jay" Gould, Walter Damrosch, and William Waldorf Astor. Financial problems and a lack of patronage forced the closing of the hotel by 1900. The hotel, after serving as a private summer residence, fell into disrepair and is no longer standing. The park's 2,140 acres were purchased in the early 1930s, and between 1935 and 1940 the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built 11 rustic cabins, an amphitheater, and a lodge using the natural stone on the mountain. The lodge burned in 1948 and was not rebuilt until 2002. Monte Sano State Park officially opened August 25, 1938.
The Monte Sano Lodge, with its native stone walls and exposed-beam ceilings, has facilities for meetings and special events. The hand-crafted stone cabins, now numbering 14, feature fireplaces and screened porches as well as modern amenities. In addition, 89 modern and primitive campsites are available, and a store provides services for campers. The amphitheater often hosts presentations by park rangers and local events such as concerts and plays. Three pavilions overlook the valley and are available for rent, and a modern playground is located nearby. A planetarium owned and operated by the Von Braun Astronomical Society on park grounds offers programs to the public every Saturday night.
Monte Sano's terrain is surprisingly rugged given the proximity of the park to the city. One of the park's biggest attractions is its 20-mile network of hiking and mountain biking trails, many of which are strenuous. The North Plateau Loop and the South Plateau Loop trails offer stunning views of the Tennessee Valley, with mild elevation changes. Experienced hikers and bikers traverse the more strenuous Mountain Mist and McKay Hollow trails. Monte Sano is popular in the fall when the leaves are changing and in spring for its wildflowers. Native azaleas are abundant on the mountain. The park is also home to a variety of wildlife, including a small population of feral goats that have escaped from nearby farms and taken up residence in the park.