Hammock camping has exploded in popularity, and for good reason. If you have back pain, it can be uncomfortable sleeping in a tent, no matter how many pads are between you and the ground. Many people who struggle to get a solid night’s sleep while camping have turned to hammocks for relief. Plus, hammocks allow campers to escape the confines of a tent to enjoy the fresh air and gaze at the stars.
Alabamians are fortunate to have an extensive network of state parks and national forests to where they can “hang.” While it’s tough to narrow down the best of the state, below are a few of the most scenic spots to hammock camp and admire Alabama’s amazing outdoors.
The Sipsey Wilderness is one of Alabama’s finest natural treasures. Appropriately known as the “Land of 1,000 Waterfalls,” the Sipsey is part of the Bankhead National Forest and is the largest designated wilderness area in the state. It covers nearly 25,000 acres and includes 50 miles of trails.
Sounds of water falling permeate the Sipsey, and the dense canopy of old-growth trees keeps the forest floor cool. The same trees that create this unique environment provide ample opportunities to rig hammocks. Throughout the wilderness, you’ll find campsites that are conveniently located close to water sources and have plenty of trees.
While there are many hikes and hangs to choose from in the Sipsey, one of the best is the Big Tree Loop where you’ll encounter the largest tree in Alabama. Sitting in a deep canyon carved by a waterfall, this yellow poplar stands 150 feet tall. Several routes, ranging from eight to 14 miles, lead to Big Tree, and most of these cover flat or moderate terrain. The shortest route follows an 8-mile loop with plenty of spots for hammock camping.
To reach the Big Tree Loop, begin at the Thompson Trailhead, where County Road 3 terminates into the Sipsey Wagon Trail. You can park just before the bridge with a wooden deck.
Cross the bridge and turn right to enter the Thompson Creek Trail, which is marked as trail number 206. This trailhead is also the start of the Big Tree Loop Trail. After you’ve walked nearly a half-mile on the Thompson Creek Trail, take a left onto the White Oak Hollow Trail. Hike about two miles and turn left onto the Bee Branch Trail, which follows an old roadbed. Walk nearly half a mile to reach Big Tree, where you’ll also encounter two waterfalls and a massive alcove.
After you camp at Big Tree, you can make your way to another good spot to hang your hammock. Begin by backtracking on the Bee Branch Trail to reach the intersection with the Sipsey River Trail (number 209). Take a right and follow the Sipsey River Trail downstream for five miles to reach the Thompson Creek Trail. After you’ve walked about a third of a mile, you’ll arrive at a cut-through called Needles Eye on the right. You’ll save about 15 minutes of walking if you pass through this rock formation that was created when surrounding cliffs collapsed. A much-used camping area on the other side of the eye is the perfect place to rest or set up your hammock while taking in the scenery. Then, return to the Thompson Creek Trail and follow it another 2.2 miles to return to the Thompson Trailhead and complete an 8-mile-loop.
Pinhoti Trail and McDill Point
The Pinhoti Trail is a backpacker’s dream. Its creeks, streams, and large stands of old-growth trees make it one of the most popular hiking destinations in Alabama. Plus, it provides access to McDill Point, one of the most scenic camping spots in the South.
McDill Point is arguably the best place to view a sunset in the state. This west-facing outcrop gives you a stunning view of the surrounding foothills and valley below. Plus, there are plenty of trees perfect for hanging your hammock. Because this site is pretty easy to reach, it can see lots of traffic, so try to visit midweek or during other times when trails aren’t usually crowded.
To reach McDill Point, you have a couple of options. One of the easiest routes begins at the Cheaha Trailhead and takes you on a 4.7-mile out-and-back hike with moderate gains in elevation. After you’ve hikes almost three miles, you’ll take the McDill Point spur trail and continue a quarter-mile to the overlook. Bring bug spray in the summer and make sure you pack enough water since it can be hard to find natural sources.
Walls of Jericho
If you’re looking for a challenging hiking and hammock-camping experience, take the trek to the Walls of Jericho near Scottsboro. On this 6.5-mile out-and-back hike, you’ll descend 1,000 feet into a ravine with waterfalls and massive rocky bluffs. While it’s mostly a moderate hike, the return walk covers steep ground, so make sure you’re fit enough to handle it.
Begin at the trailhead on AL State Road 79, 1.2 miles south of the Tennessee border. Descend switchbacks for about two miles to cross Hurricane Creek via a log with a handrail. You’ll see Clark Cemetery and a nearby clearing with plenty of trees to hang hammocks and enough room for about eight tents.
If hanging close to a gravesite gives you the creeps, you can walk about another 1.5 miles to reach plenty of spots to rig your hammock closer to the falls. There’s also a small island to camp on across from the main falls.
Written by Hap Pruitt for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.