Our home away from home in Huntsville, Alabama was at Monte Sano State Park, situated at the top of a mountain overlooking the city. This beautiful park is only 5-miles from downtown and the drive up the mountain is gorgeous. Quaint historic homes give way to wooded neighborhoods as the road winds up to the park entrance. Once Inside, we passed a large playground and the Monte Sano Lodge before reaching the 89-site campground. This spacious campground provides a beautiful setting to camp with very level, shady and wooded sites. Drake and Mia got out their scooters and hover boards, and I joined them for a walk around the campground. Even though it was the weekend, the campground wasn’t full so we enjoyed bird song, peace and serenity. There are several hiking trails nearby, however every time we were ready to explore, thunder and lightning prevented us from heading out.
Monte Sano State Park has some of the best historical and rustic cabins for rent. Built by the Civil Conservation Corp. sometime between 1935-1940, these cabins were constructed with hand-crafted cut stone and offer the original wood floors, rustic stone fireplaces and screened porches; some even have a view! Cabins are 500 square feet offering a studio configuration with a stocked kitchenette.
Tip: There are 2 dog-friendly cabins available.
Harmony Park Safari
I will tell you a secret…. Harmony Park Safari is the best attraction in Huntsville. There, I said it. Yes, even though it’s a bit of a drive out of downtown, I promise, you will have fun!
Harmony Park Safari is a federally-licensed nature preserve and offers the opportunity to drive along a 2-mile route to see (and feed) exotic and endangered animals. When you drive up to pay your admission fee, DO NOT drive away without buying a bucket (or two) of feed. Get cups for everyone in the car even if they don’t plan on feeding the animals. They are easy to lose. You will understand in a minute.
As soon as you enter the gate, friendly animals will gather alongside your car. Resist feeding them the whole bucket! They will be clamoring for your cups full of goodies. Know that there are many more animals waiting! You will see deer, antelope, llamas, ostriches, bison, a zebra and a giraffe.
You will laugh like you haven’t laughed in a long time. My advice? Take a video camera or have those phones ready to record. Between the squeals of delight from your kids to your own reaction to having a large animal licking your windows, you will want to hit record. Know that the animals here are not shy and they know when you are holding out on them. They will stand right in front of your side mirror so you can’t drive away. We were laughing until we cried. Don’t worry if you have feed left over, you can drive around as many times as you like!
Once you are done with the drive-through portion, make sure you park and take some time to walk around. There is an area with free-ranging tortoises where lettuce can be purchased to feed them, exotic birds kangaroos and the reptile house; home to baby alligators, snakes, lizards and turtles. My favorite was the albino turtle. He was cool!
On the way back to camp from Harmony Park Safari we were starved so we stopped for lunch at LawLers Barbecue. This is a fast casual local chain with delicious food! Troy and I shared a “Famous Stuffie Tator” toted as being featured in “100 Dishes in Alabama to Eat Before you Die.” I have to admit it was amazing. So amazing, no photo was taken as it was gone in minutes, however, I had LawLers provide a photo because it is so worth seeing. What is it? A giant (I mean GIANT) potato loaded with your choice of meat (we chose BBQ pork), cheese, green onion, and butter. We probably each should have ordered our own in hindsight as it was hard to share even though it was huge. It did leave us room to try the BBQ Nachos; chips covered in BBQ pork, cheese and jalapenos! Spot on delicious! There are kids meals which include a choice of meat, choice of side (baked beans are yum), drink and a sweet treat. Kids were happy!
Tip: Lawlers BBQ had 9 locations located in and around the Huntsville area.
U.S. Space & Rocket Center
On Sunday, we made our way to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, one of the most popular attractions in Huntsville. After paying our admission and headed in, there was a kids Science Show happening where even with our late arrival, Drake was selected to try and make smoke rings with a trash can. The featured exhibit room holds the Apache Helicopter Simulator and the Mars Climbing Wall, both with super long lines. We opted to enjoy the hands-on experiments and simulators instead.
Outside the kids were delighted with the rides that were included in the price of admission. The first ride was Space Shot, offering the experience of 3G liftoff and simulated microgravity. The other was G-Force, where they experienced 3 G’s of centrifugal force. This mama can’t handle those kinds of rides but Troy was more than happy to participate. They loved them!
Also outside is Rocket Park, where we walked through the history of the 1950’s space race including Saturn 1 and the Pathfinder Space Shuttle.
The Saturn V Hall at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration where we got to see the authentic Apollo Saturn V Rocket, a National Historic Landmark which was “designed and built in Huntsville, AL. There was also an Apollo 13 Lunar Rock sample, and the Apollo 16 Command Module and NASA and Marshall Space Flight Center contributions to historical, current and future space exploration.
Our last stop was to the Science on Orbit exhibit, a model of “NASA’s Payload Operations Integration Center, where scientists and engineers on Earth manage the complex, international science experiments that astronauts conduct on the International Space Station.
Tip: Week-long Space Camps are offered for students in grades 4-12 and weekend camps for families as well as adults.
Our time in Alabama had come to a close. Out next exciting destination? Chattanooga, Tennessee!