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Hiking and camping in northern Alabama's Sipsey Wilderness Area
The Land of 1000 Waterfalls
Designated in 1975, the Sipsey Wilderness has always been a relatively short trip from the Birmingham area and offers unmatched seclusion for outdoor enthusiasts. It is located within the Bankhead National Forest in Double Springs, Alabama, but go a few miles in and you'll begin to feel as if you are hundreds of miles from civilization. A high amount of limestone in the area has led to the formation of many ravines and waterfalls, hence the nickname "Land of 1000 Waterfalls".
Hikers will enjoy several miles of trail winding through the wilderness, many of them inside of the aforementioned ravines. One may walk all day and only encounter one or two other groups, if that. This is quite amazing considering the natural beauty of the place. The most popular outdoor area near Birmingham, Oak Mountain State Park, doesn't even offer up a fraction of the sights and wildlife of the Sipsey, yet you can't go a mile at Oak Mountain without bumping a dozen shoulders. Maybe that isolation is what makes the Sipsey so wonderful.
After a nice day of hiking one can set up camp along the trail at one of many existing "campsites", which consist of nothing more than a level place with a fire ring in the center. These are not official camping areas, they are simply places that have been used by other campers through the years. Campfires are generally allowed year round, however you should call the Bankhead District Rangers Office at 205-489-5111 to see if there is a burning ban. Also, if you plan on visiting during deer hunting season you will need to obtain a permit from the Rangers Office. Hunting season is usually held from November to February.
There are several unique locations to check out while hiking or backpacking. Most famous is the BIg Tree, a yellow poplar about 150 feet high with a circumference of 25 feet and the oldest of it's kind in Alabama. There are also some very old cemeteries,ponds, and a few caves to be found. A map is recommended, I have linked a good one below. For more detailed information and trail reviews try the Sipsey Wilderness Hiking Club website.
The main trail head is a good place to start. Take I-65 exit 308 and go west on US. 278 in Cullman, AL. Continue 26 miles then take a right on Co. Rd. 63. Go another 11 miles then take a right onto AL. 33. Keep an eye out for the Ranger Station on the right, though it's hard to miss. Follow AL. 33 about 1 1/2 miles then take a left onto Co. Rd. 6. Go another 2 1/2 miles to find the Sipsey trail head on the left. It has a large parking area, restrooms, and pavilion. Parking is $3 per day. If you would prefer not to pay there are several other trail heads located around the wilderness along highway 33 and Co. Rd. 6 that are free to use. Again I suggest using the hiking club's website for more information. Whenever you go, be sure to bring an extra pair of socks and/or sandals, as many of the trails require fording water.
Hiking is not recommended during the summer months due to excessive undergrowth and insect activity, however this is the perfect time for bird watching, kayaking, or canoeing. Whenever you go, be sure to bring a camera, as the areas rocks and waterfalls present many opportunities for even amateur photographers to take great pictures. Good luck convincing your friends back home that the photos were taken in Alabama, though.