One of the Deep South’s finest pockets of deep woods, Alabama’s William B. Bankhead National Forest has a potential for adventure and natural beauty you’d expect of a bigger, wilder place. The forest’s 180,000 acres encompass pine-clad and hardwood forest, burbling streams, deep gorges, and an arkful of wildlife. Bankhead is part of the Warrior Mountains, the western terminus of the Appalachian Mountains; before Europeans arrived, the forests here had been hunted for some 12,000 years by the Choctaw and Cherokee peoples.
Bankhead’s jewel is the Sipsey Wilderness, sometimes called the “Land of a Thousand Waterfalls.” A maze of upland ridges and deep, lushly grown canyons, the Sipsey’s irregular topography is the result of a meeting between the limestone geology of the Cumberland Plateau and flowing, falling water — a lot of it. Thread your way into one of its deeper hollows and you’ll find stands of giant, ancient trees; in typical southern Appalachian fashion, they’ll likely be a diverse lot that includes yellow pine, eastern hemlock, and cucumber magnolia all jumbled together. And the music of falling water will almost certainly be heard wherever you go, likely from more than one quarter.
Bankhead is also home to the Sipsey Fork, Alabama’s only National Wild and Scenic River and a fine canoeing stream. The southeast quarter of the forest winds around part of the octopus-like Lewis Smith Lake, excellent for bass and bluegill fishing.