The 24,922-acre Sipsey Wilderness, in the heart of the Bankhead National Forest, was the first area east of the Mississippi to earn the federal wilderness designation in 1975. There are 45 miles of trails throughout the area, and there are a few options available if you prefer loop hikes.
The varied terrain of Sipsey’s trails will be a pleasure to backpackers and hikers of every experience level. There are many established campsites, with water and firewood available. The creeks and tributaries snake through the wilderness, wild-flowing and uninhibited. Sipsey Wilderness is home of some of the last virgin timer in the state. There is plenty to explore, from small caves, sinkholes and breathtaking overlooks. There are twelve established trails, ranging from easy to moderate.
What Makes It Great
The Sipsey River, the area’s defining feature, cuts through the layers of sandstone that make up the Brindley Mountain plateau. Waterfalls cascade down the cliffs of the river canyon, creating an atmosphere that will detach you from your busy reality and envelop you in a natural wonderland that you’ll hesitate to ever leave. The wilderness has well-earned the nickname “Land of 1000 Waterfalls”. In addition to the cascades and wilderness solitude, the river itself it a stunning example of the pristine natural environment that the wilderness boundaries were designed to protect.
Start at the Sipsey River Picnic Area on County Road 60 and follow the trail upstream along the edge of the river. For several miles the river canyon is narrow, steep, and stunning, with small tributary streams cascading from above. There are also many hollows where campsites have been created at the base of a waterfall. The trail continues after crossing a secondary creek (Borden Creek) and eventually loses its steep and narrow characteristics, flattening out into a wide river valley with fewer interesting features. Push on through and within a couple miles the canyon narrows once again and enters the Bee Branch section, which is one of the most scenic portions of the entire hike.
There are some options to connect trails in the wilderness into a loop, but we recommend for your initial few visits to get to know the area as an out-and-back trip first. Walk in a couple miles to one of the campsites next to a waterfall, set up for the night, and go exploring. Summers can be brutally hot and buggy, but the spring, fall, and winter are ideal times to visit.
Who is Going to Love It
Although the Sipsey Wilderness is a popular place for backpacking and hiking, it should be reserved for the relatively experienced hiker or backpacker or responsible beginner. Plan out your routes, as many trails (such as the 210) are much longer than others, and navigating the terrain without guidance may be a bit disorienting. To maintain safety, acquaint yourself with trail maps to enjoy the wilderness to its fullest. It is called a “wilderness” for a reason -- there are no facilities, showers or prepared drinking water besides the Recreation Area on the southern boundary. The Sipsey Wilderness is a trip worth the exploration, and will guarantee an adventure that is unforgettable.