Looking for a short, uncrowded hike that includes thick woods, a rolling river, even a boardwalk thru giant tupelo trees? Plus scads of wildlife—herons, deer, turtles, even river otters? Not to mention dog-friendly?
I hate to spill the beans on one my favorite 1-milers-- the Hays Nature Preserve in Huntsville’s Hampton Cove area-- but I will. This one is not on the nicely-paved Hampton Cove / Flint River greenways. This hike is on dirt trails that get muddy.
From the parking lot at the end of the drive, head for Picnic Point. Do not take the paved greenway & bridge over the Flint River (although that’s a great walk, too.) After crossing a small wet oxbow, you’ll be at a wide open space along the Flint River. It’s a great spot for fishing, birdwatching, or just throwing up a hammock and snoozing. I watched a Great Blue Heron spear a shiny 6” bass in the grass earlier this week.
I always follow the river until the trail ends at Hampton Cove Golf Course, then double back to the winding Beaver Dam Run trail. You may see beavers although they mostly work at night. Rabbits, deer, turtles and raccoons are common along Glass Lake, which is actually an old oxbow where the Flint River used to flow. A yearling doe jumped in the water and swam across the lake while I watched.
At this point, Beaver Dam Run turns into the Tupelo Tree Path. Monster tupelo gum trees have been preserved in a small swamp, including the state champion, a real whopper. Lots of owls and woodpeckers reside here.
A bit further there’s a long boardwalk—over wet swamp most of the time, dry in late summer. Eventually you’ll hit the paved greenway path; take it back to the parking lot.
Even though it’s only a mile, I usually take an hour or so to run my two hounds (off leash when no one’s around) and admire the wildly-diverse habitat so close to civilization. One of Huntsville’s real gems.
Besides hiking, the trail is open to mountain bikes and horses. It’s also part of the Alabama Birding Trail.
- Take S. US 431 east of Huntsville
- Turn left past mile marker 324
- Link to Trail Map (PDF)