Sipsey Wilderness

The Sipsey Wilderness lies within Bankhead National Forest around the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River in northwestern Alabama, USA. The Sipsey Wilderness is the third largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. Designated in 1975 and expanded in 1988, the 24,922 acre (100.9 km²) Sipsey is the largest and most frequently visited Wilderness area in Alabama and contains dozens of waterfalls. It was also the first designated wilderness area east of the Mississippi River.[1]

West Bee Falls

The wilderness consists of the low plateau of Brindley Mountain which is dissected into a rough landscape by several creeks and rivers. Due to the layers of limestone and sandstone that make up the area, waterfalls are very common in the wilderness.[2] This feature has earned the wilderness the nickname “Land of 1000 Waterfalls.”

The wilderness is in the Appalachian mixed mesophytic forests ecoregion. Much of the wilderness was once logged, but new growth forests have now taken hold in the logged areas. Some old-growth forests can also be found in the wilderness. The most significant are about 260 acres (110 ha) along Bee Branch Gorge and Buck Rough Canyon, which include old Eastern Hemlock, American Beech, Sweet Birch, White Oak, and Tulip Poplar.[3]

The Sipsey Wilderness Hiking Club promotes hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness.

History of Creation

Faults in the 1964 Wilderness Act made it essentially impossible to designate a wilderness area anywhere east of the Mississippi River. Alabama would be the agent of change, as a strange union of environmentalists, loggers, bird watchers, and others joined together to push to change the Act to allow for the designation of Sipsey as a wilderness area. Thanks to a bill introduced by Senator John Sparkman, the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act of 1975[4], the wilderness was finally designated with an original size of 12,000 acres. The wilderness would be expanded in 1988. Thanks to the changes made to the Act, dozens of Wilderness areas have been designated across the United States. The Sipsey Wilderness helped to show that a smaller plot of restored land in the eastern US could be a wilderness just as much as a larger tract of virgin land in the west.

Official Trailheads

  • Sipsey River Picnic Area
  • Randolph Trailhead
  • Thompson Trailhead
  • Borden Creek Trailhead
  • Braziel Creek Trailhead
  • Gum Pond Trailhead
  • Flannigin Trailhead

Directions to trailheads are available from the Sipsey Wilderness Hiking Club.

Official Trails

  • FT 200: Borden Creek Trail, 2.7 mi.
  • FT 201: Rippey Trail, 2.6 mi.
  • FT 202: Randolph Trail, 3.4 mi.
  • FT 203: Lookout Trail, 4.3 mi.
  • FT 204: Bee Ridge Trail, 2.7 mi.
  • FT 206: Thompson Creek Trail, 3.7 mi.
  • FT 207: Braziel Creek Trail, 4.6 mi.
  • FT 208: Northwest Trail, 7.0 mi.
  • FT 209: Sipsey River Trail, 6.7 mi.
  • FT 210: Mitchell Ridge Trail, 7.3 mi.
  • FT 223: Gum Pond Trail, 1.8 mi.
  • FT 224: Bunyan Hill Trail, 4.8 mi.

Trail maps are available from the National Forest Service, and from Briartech.

Places of Interest

  • Saltpeter Furnace: Located not far from the Bee Branches, a small cave is hidden by a waterfall, and that cave was once so important that a small skirmish was fought at the nearby Hubbard Mill during the Civil War. The cave is a source of Saltpeter, a major ingredient in the manufacture of Gunpowder.
  • Sipsey River Picnic Area: Where Cranal Road crosses the Sipsey River, a day-use area has been constructed to allow for picnicking and to serve as a parking area for hiking in the area. A $3 per vehicle day use fee is charged.[5]
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