If you’ve ever been to the Sipsey River Picnic Grounds and Recreation Area, the main developed access area off of County Road 6 (Cranal Road) through the Bankhead National Forest, you’ve been within a stone’s throw of one of the forest’s classic troves, and likely without even knowing it.
If the idea of a hidden realm replete with the all the classic Bankhead ingredients—high bluffs, shadowy canyons, roaring water that seems to fall from a notch in an alchemically blue sky among boulders reminiscent of an art installation—appeals to you, Turkeyfoot Creek needs to be penciled into your list of things to do within an hour of Huntsville.
Once you’re in the parking lot at the Recreation area, you’re within ten minutes of the spray of crashing water. The pleasant sound of the white water pounding itself into the clear, stone-rimmed impoundment below is loud enough to overwrite the happy shouts of children who attend, an advantage to adults indulged in the bountiful serenity. All can be happy here.
The ponded creek here is shallow and still, and access to it is easy and safe. However, barefooters should look around for glass among the pebbles before venturing far from their shoes, as there is a fire ring nearby and fire is the element that often invites thoughtlessness. Children of school age will be safe with a little supervision, as no place in the canyon floor (they won’t likely be wandering afar from the confines) is particularly slick or treacherous.
Nearly every form of life associated with remote areas of the forest can be found here. Hepatica, fiddleheads, goldenseal, hemlock, and hardwoods are citizens of the sunken enclave and the fissured, mossy sandstone stacks that encircle it are ceaselessly weeping spring-fed water to every root and capillary among them.
Because of the depth of this sunken treasure, the sun is not likely seen until 10:30 am and rarely past 5:00 pm on most spring days, so unless you are staying the night, plan a lunch outing if full daylight is your thing.
From Huntsville, take Interstate Spur 565 across Interstate 65 into Decatur via US 31. This takes you over the Tennessee River and onto 6th Avenue. Turn right on East Moulton Street and follow this until it turns into Alabama Highway 24. Follow 20 miles to Moulton, just south of the intersection of Highway 24 with Alabama 33 at the light. In about 12 miles watch for a sign to the Recreation Area where Highway 6 turns to the right.
In less than a mile you will pass a sign for the Borden Creek Trailhead on your right. Keep going until you are about 4.5 miles down county Road 6 and look for the parking lot of the Sipsey River Recreation Area on your left. Pull in here to access the picnic area, restrooms, and trailheads.
The tiny path to Turkeyfoot Falls is one-half mile beyond the entrance to the parking lot. Walking there from the parking lot is not recommended because of the narrow bridge over the Sipsey and the speed of logging trucks hurtling down County Road 6. Instead, after taking stock of your hiking needs in the convenience of the parking lot, turn left on to CR 6 and proceed across the bridge to find the first dirt road to your left.
Park on the shoulder near the entrance (room for two or three cars maximum). Walk directly across the road to find a very narrow path entrance. Follow the path into the woods and sweep to the right. You will almost immediately detect the sound of falling water and feel the coolness of the sunken pools.
After 100 yards or so, a notch will appear to your left. Take advantage of the boulders and roots while you can. After the first eight feet or so this steep embankment becomes mud before it becomes roots and rocks and then mud again. Be careful and wear good shoes. You are not likely to get hurt here but neither will you likely stay clean. In fact, consider a change of clothes if you do not wish to be treated like a fugitive should you need to stop after your visit.
Cross the water on the stepping stones and enter a world that will stay in your thoughts for a long, long time. The descent to Turkey Foot Falls begins at N34.28241, W-87.40681.
Want to know more about National Forests? The National Forest Foundation (NFF) promotes the health and enjoyment of the 193-million-acre National Forest System. By directly engaging Americans and leveraging private and public funding, the NFF improves forest health and Americans' outdoor experiences. Since 2008, the NFF has achieved $104 million of it $125 million goal in conservation impact to restore America's National Forest and expand community engagement nation wide. Learn more at www.nationalforests.org.