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NW Alabama Hiking-Sipsey Wildderness


Grey Mouse
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Grey Mouse

For those who are unaware of the beautiful Sipsey Wilderness located in the Bankhead National Forest then let me tell you about it. It is know as the "Land Of A Thousand Waterfalls". It is located just NW of Birmingham Alabama and is a lovely place. We travel the six hours from the Pensacola area several times a year just to go there. There are day hiking trails and longer trails if desired. The area is generally a river located low in the ridges with views of high rock walls, caves, waterfalls, river, 100' tall trees, and large boulders. The water is crystal clear and cold year round. It is also home to Alabama's largest poplar tree at nearly 150' tall (The Big Tree). Heck there is even a hidden blue pond known as the "Valentine Pool" due to it's heart shape. There are the remnants of an old sawmill, a 1940's Plymouth car that went off the bridge, an old hunting lodge, and occasionally native american artifacts such as bowls carved into the rocks for cooking/processing meals. There are no views of a valley or fields here but none the less the views of the walls are great.

The area is not cell phone friendly to say the least. I have never known anyone to have reception. There are some very large black bears there so mind your food. Canisters are not required. The waterfalls are at their fullest in the late fall and early spring. There are designated campsites but dispersion camping is allowed to my knowledge. I don't recommend choosing a site directly on the trail as the day hikers will constantly walk through your area both day and night (late weekend arrivals). Also, please note that Sipsey has it's own micro climate due to it's design. The high canopy givers shade all day and the temps generally are fifteen degrees lower than expected due to the cold air seeping to the lower areas. That becomes important in the winter by the water :)

There are about five trail heads. I suggest that you start with the southern official "Sipsey Trail Head" and head north on the 202 and river cross (ankle deep usually) at the 209. The trails involve many ups and downs, walking close to the river, and around boulders. There are many previous hikes listed on Gaia and other sites for the area. For those who are fit this is not an issue but for an overweight old man with a bum ticker, bad knees and shoulder, and  fighting diabetes they can be tiresome to say the least...umm just saying that for a friend :P (not really). Here are some resources:

Hiking Club http://www.sipseywilderness.org/sipsey_wilderness_maps.aspx  

Trail Heads  https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd493196.pdf

http://www.thearmchairexplorer.com/alabama/sipsey_wilderness   

Website https://www.wilderness.net/NWPS/wildView?WID=556  

My crappy cell phone pics are below :D

Low flow time at my favorite spot.

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Again a view of my favorite spot

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This old guy before he lost over forty pounds

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Edited by Grey Mouse
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  • 2 months later...

The Sipsey Wilderness is next on my list.  I really want to hike there this year.  I have been reading about it for a couple of years now, and I'm ready for the experience.  Thank you for posting yours.  I am about 4.5-5 hours away, so it will be my hike furthest away from home (besides some Florida hikes while on vacation).

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Our next trip to Sipsey will be on Oct 19-21. We're headed to Deer Skull Falls this time and hopefully we'll be able to find it lol. It is where two separate rivers/streams join together with twin waterfalls and high walls. I have posted a picture from the internet below.  Expected high/lows for the trip are 72°/47° but experience has taught me that being in a holler with waterfalls can be as much as 20° lower since cold air is heavier thus filling your holler with cold air and the streams and/or mist from the waterfalls raises the humidity. Also, never count on a fire here since most wood is either punk wood or soaking wet. Bring a stove just in case and make sure that your gear will keep you warm without a fire.

Deer Skull Falls-Sipsey.jpg

Edited by Grey Mouse
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  • 11 months later...

I am re-visiting the idea of backpacking here, as my plans for 2018 fell through.

Do you have any insight on what a good loop or out-and-back trail would be?  I'm probably close to 5 hours away, so my initial plan is to drive down after work on Friday and sleep in the truck.  Then I would get up Saturday and hike in and camp, and hike back out early Sunday morning for the drive home.

Any suggestions on a trail or trails i could take for a trip like this?

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@FishEyeGuy You didn't mention the mileage that you wanted to cover so I'll just toss out a few ideas. The most often hiked trail is the 200 trail. It goes from the parking lot (small fee) at the Sipsey Trail Head (go past big sign and trail starts under the bridge) north for 2.7 miles. It is a nice trail for the day hikers and you will occasionally see people. Make sure to not hang on the trail as you will have visitors but I find sometimes that it's great to have like minded people stop and chat. People will often turn left on the 209 trail and cross the river which is usually ankle to knee deep to see the waterfall there (Fall Branch Falls). From the same parking lot you can walk west across the wooden bridge and take the trail on the right (look down) to the lower and upper Turkey Foot Falls. This is usually a quiet place to be with little disturbance from others in my experience.  These areas are great for waterfalls when it has rained and the high canopy helps shade you from the heat. My original post has pictures from Turkey Foot Falls.

The Thompson trail head is more rugged to get to and it is a more open scenery. Travel south on the 206 trail from there to Ship Rock and other attractions. Hikers are less common there or so it seemed on my last trip there.  This area is better for getting a good breeze and for viewing stars than the 200 trail. Pics attached are from the 206 trail this past January.  This is the brook that was next to my hammock on this trail. I slept so good lol.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xi1Z-k2t1Aw

Our trip to Deer Skull Falls did not go well as the water was very very low and the heat and humidity was getting to the girls in our group (they had over packed). We (the girls) ended up on the 200 after admitting defeat.

Remember to prepare for ticks as it's the season there. We haven't had an issue with chiggers so far but just in case be prepared. I have some pdf files for trail maps if you want them. I can't seem to post them on here so if you would like them just send me your email address.

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