Water and rock: Irresistible force, immovable object. What happens after millions of years of combat between equal adversaries? In the William Bankhead National Forest, the rock holds its ground, the water carves a twisting way through. The result: gorges and bluffs and waterfalls where you can hear the battle continue even now, drop by persistent drop.
Located in northwestern Alabama, the 180,000-acre Bankhead National Forest features a uniquely southern forest ecosystem of yellow pine, hemlock, and magnolia trees watered by the Wild and Scenic West Fork of the Sipsey River. The northeastern part of the Forest features 27 miles of brand-new, multiple-use loop trails open to equestrians, mountain bikes, and foot traffic, along with established primitive campgrounds. The three paths—the Pine Torch Loop, Brushy Loop, and the Key Mill Loop—meander through scenic hardwood forests and along the area’s many streams.
The forest also contains the popular 26,000-acre Sipsey Wilderness, which features about 25 miles of designated hiking trails. Walk a few miles, camp, then spend a day meandering off-trail through the water-sculpted gorges. Along almost any watercourse you choose to explore, you’ll find waterfalls to linger by, as well as steep-sided ravines and shady pools.
If you do go off-trail, make sure you’ve got a good map and compass. Also be prepared to do some rock scrambling now and again, because the cliffs and bluffs make for rugged terrain. A pair of amphibious sports sandals is an essential equipment item if you have any interest at all in dry boots.
Snowbird stats: Expect daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and nighttime temperatures in the mid-20s to mid-30s. Snow is not unheard of, but rare. Bring a few extra warm layers, just in case there’s a cold snap. Hunting season runs from mid-November till late January, so wear international orange.
Information: For more information and a forest map ($4.75 including shipping and handling): Bankhead National Forest, Bankhead Ranger District, PO Box 278, Double Springs, AL 35553, (205) 489-5111. The Forest has implemented a trailhead fee program, effective for the wilderness and for some hiking trails. USGS quads for the Wilderness are Bee Branch, Kinlock, Grayson, and Landersville.
Getting there: The Sipsey Wilderness is located in the William B. Bankhead National Forest near Double Springs in northwest Alabama about 100 miles north of Birmingham. Take I-65 to State Highway 33 North.