One of the top trails in Alabama exists in Monte Sano State Park. The Stone Cuts trail takes hikers through a karst topography where exposed limestone has been formed by nature into walls and caves. Also present in the area are a number of cuts, sinks, and caves with underground streams. The stone cuts require a deal of hiking to be reached. Beginning at the main trailhead parking lot, we hiked north on the South Plateau Loop (white) to the head of the Sinks trail (red). The trail crosses Bankhead Parkway NE, continuing along a small drive into another parking lot. You could choose to start your hike in this lot as well. At the back side of the lot, the Sinks trail continues along a narrow path and then turns into the woods.
Continuing ¼ mile downhill through two switchbacks and a long curve, the Sinks train intersects the Mountain Mist Trail (yellow). Once crossing the intersection, the trail levels and straightens out for a little less than ¼ mile before converging with Goat trail. There are three benches at the intersection which is a nice place to stop for a brief break. Adjacent are several large visible sinks. Since the region is high in limestone, sinks are common and typically caused when the rock is dissolved by underground streams.
Just past the benches, the Stone Cuts Trail (white) begins. Identified with a marker, the trail continues up a steep incline. You will soon reach a point where the Stone Cuts Bypass veers left. We’re not sure why at this point you would want to miss the focal point of the hike. Veering right, the path narrows and steepens for 150 feet before leveling out before reaching the stonework. The view for the top really highlights the features of the wall. The decent into the crevice is steep. The narrow path follow the wall closely and takes you through two short underground caves. The scene is breathtaking and worth the time to stop and take a few extra photos. As you exit the area, you will rejoin the bypass and pass the Logan Point trail (orange). The next 1/5 mi begins a slight decline in elevation and takes you past additional rock formations and open woods.
You will then come to a triangular intersection with the Logan Point Trail (orange); veer to the left (southwest) and continue along the orange blazes for a few hundred feet until you re-meet the Sinks trail (red). Continuing forward, you will cross the Mountain Mist Trail (yellow) at which point the trail begin its steep ascent to exit the valley. For the next 1/5 mi you will hike through multiple switchbacks for an elevation change of nearly 200 feet. This portion of the hike is probably the most strenuous of the trek. There are several places to rest and enjoy a wooded view on the way up. At the top, the Sinks trail ends onto the closed Bankhead Parkway NE.
Once the entrance to Monte Sano State Park, this section of the road is now closed to vehicular traffic. Turning left (southeast), walk along the road until you come to the crossover path that links the road with the North Plateau Loop (blue). Turn right onto the blue trail, continue past the Observatory and around the curve and alongside the campground. ½ mi along the Cold Springs Trail (red) starts/ends down a steep trail. After ¾ mi, you will come to the park entrance. Crossing the road, the trail continue through the disc golf course before reaching the scenic overlook in the picnic area. This portion of the hike is less secluded, more open and much flatter terrain. The view from the lookout is vast and makes for a great photo opportunity.
The North Plateau trail runs along the edge of the picnic area, behind the amphitheater and then behind the lodge. It is marked by blue blazes on the trees but beside the blazes, the trail is open with different views into the valley. Past the lodge, the trail turn slightly downhill to cross a small stream via a wooden bridge and then follows just off the main road. You will cross the Fire Tower trail (red) before reaching the parking lot.
Overall the hike has numerous photo opportunities and great scenery. The stone cuts are well worth the hike and the view from the south side of the park is excellent. Please keep in mind that trails included in this hike are rated more difficult to very difficult. The Sinks trail has steep grades; whereas all the trail are very rocky and some have very steep drop offs.