View Full Version : Sipsey Wilderness

2003-01-15, 23:19
I know that the Pinhoti trail is popular in Alabama, but does anybody ever do trails in the Sipsey Wilderness? Man, I love that place. It's like micro-Smokies. I think that I'm just going to go live there during spring break.

SGT Rock
2003-01-15, 23:22
I just did a trail on the Sipsey on my Christmas vacation. I don't really see it being like the smokies, but it is cool. I have a hiking guide for Alabama I got at the Decatur Books A Million that has the topo ant trail guide to all Alabama trails including the Sipsey. Unfortunately it doesn't have the trail to the giant Poplar listed and I still don't know where it is.

2003-01-15, 23:49
Well, the reason that I think it's a micro-Smokies is because everything in the Sipsey is less than it is in the Smokies. Maybe the Sipsey is more of a ghetto Smokies, if that could even be applicable. A steep trail grade in the Smokies can't really help but be an easy grade in the Sipsey, and there are definitely a lot of huge rocks. I guess that's about as similar as it gets.

I have _Hike America: Alabama_ by Joe Cuhaj, and it doesn't mention anything about a giant Poplar, but it does cover the whole state and describes a lot of silly trails that exist for less than a mile. However, I've been led to believe that the tree with the largest base trunk diameter in Alabama lives at the end of the East Bee Branch Trail. I can't prove whether or not it's the biggest, but when our crew went there four people couldn't reach around it. It's a big guy.

If you ever get back there, I think that the trail you're looking for is called the East Bee Branch and it's less than a hundred yards from a tree that looks like it has "DEE" carved into its trunk if you're headed west on trail 209. Head straight north where the creek meets the river and follow the more well-trampled trails. The Bee Branch trail is not officially recognized and does not appear on any map that I know of other than the Carto-Craft map.

I live in Starkville, Mississippi, and the only places to go around here are the Black Creek Wilderness near Hattiesburg, MS and the Sipsey Wilderness near Double Springs, AL. Farther away it's Big Bend Nat'l Park and Ye Olde Smokies. Here is a bad spot to be in, backpack-wise. I called the Mississippi state forest office and they claim that they do not allow pitching a tent along the 40 mile Black Creek Trail. I'm not sure how that works, but I've never been there, so it's still a mystery.

Anyway. The Sipsey is cool.

Uncle Wayne
2003-01-16, 04:14

You're exactly right about the Sipsey. Except for the elevation and crowds it has almost everything else you'd find in the Smokies. I have lived all my 49 years within 20 miles of it and it has always been a big part of my life. We are usually hiking there 2 or 3 weekends a month.

On one hike in the Sipsey I met an University of Alabama botantist and his class that were doing a wildflower identification project. Being an alumni of the U of A, he invited me to tag along for his discussions and he said the Hemlocks that are abundant in parts of the Sipsey are native to Toronto, Canada and were brought this far south by the ice age. It was very interesting following them around for a few hours.

On the subject of the "Big Tree" as it is called by the locals, after a section hike in the Smokies last October, my wife and I visited Cades Cove and stopped by the museum / souveneir shop about mid way around the loop. There was a ranger giving a talk on trees of the Smokies and after he finished and the crowd went there way, I asked him if he was familar with the Sipsey Wilderness in Alabama. He was and we discussed the similarities of the two areas. When I mentioned that the largest Tulip Poplar in the world was located in the Sipsey Wilderness he said, "Well it is the largest Tulip Poplar found up to this time, we have areas in the Smokies that haven't been explored yet. So we may still have the largest Tulip Poplar hidden in a remote canyon." As soon as he finished he turned away and left. I took it as sour grapes because of Alabama having something Tennessee didn't but he may not have meant it that way.

If you're looking for a strenous hike of serious elevation gain, you won't find it in the Sipsey. But almost everything else a backpacker enjoys is there.

Hog On Ice
2003-01-16, 08:56
I really like the Sipsey and I am headed back there next month to do some trail maintenance / blowdown removal on 209 between Bee Branch and 204 as well as up 204 - see Sipsey Trail Maintenance Trip (http://www.thebackpacker.com/trips/trip.php?id=48) and Planning thread listed at the bottom of that page. As to why I like it - lots of water falls, nicely diverse botany, good trails, very good history (take some chalk to highlite the old signs on the beech trees) and very good people to hike with.

2003-01-16, 13:18
i've pretty much hiked all the trails in sipsey wilderness over the last 4 years. love the place! the directions to the big tree in another post are correct. btw - it's the biggest tulip poplar in alabama, not the US or the world. i believe the largest is in GA or NC - i'll look it up one day.

2003-01-16, 13:40
Originally posted by chief
i've pretty much hiked all the trails in sipsey wilderness over the last 4 years. love the place! the directions to the big tree in another post are correct. btw - it's the biggest tulip poplar in alabama, not the US or the world. i believe the largest is in GA or NC - i'll look it up one day.

geez, i'm batting zero today. the largest tulip poplar in the US is in Bedford County, VA with a trunk circumference of over 30 ft.

Guy Holcomb
2003-01-16, 13:45
I love the Sipsey. It is great for a solo, one night backpacking trip. The Thompson Creek and Borden Creek trails (I don't recall the trail number designations) are usually crowded but some of the other trails are good for solitude, especially ones away from the creeks and along the ridge lines. Perhaps not as scenic as the creek trails but nice in their own way.

SGT Rock
2003-01-17, 11:32

I have a book called "Alabama Trails" by Patricia Stenger Sharpe. It has topo maps included, so I'm trying to figure out the location of the tree and mark it so I can find it next trip down to Decatur.

As I understand your directions (assuming I'm starting from the parking area at the bridge) Go north until you hit the creek/river crossing. Take the crossing and proceed west on 209. There is a trail called 204 which goes north, and the guide lists it as having large oaks and poplars, but nothing about a really big tree. About 1/2 mile west of the 204/209 intersection is a trail listed as Alt 204 or Bee Branch Trail which is described as an overused trail that has a strenuous hill and numerous cave like overhangs. Is this 204 alternate the Tree Trail?

Hog On Ice
2003-01-17, 13:27
Sgt. Rock, to get to Big Tree from the Rec Area Parking (the upper parking lot - the lower parking lot across the old one lane bridge is for picnicing/day use only) you take the trail that leads under the modern roadway bridge on Cranel Road (6 or 60 depending where you are). This is a combined 200 (Borden Creek Trail) and 209 (Sipsey River Trail) - observe dedication stone just past the bridge on your right - the split of the two trails occurs approximately half a mile up the river but it is real easy to just keep hiking up 200 instead of crossing Borden Creek to continue on 209. I recognize the split by the somewhat sudden improvement in the trail and a somewhat well beaten mud slide area down to the creek - at the crossing the creek is about 40 to 50 feet wide and typically 6 inches deep (last time I was there it was considerable deeper but that was the day after the hurricane went through). Once past the Borden Creek ford its about 3-4 miles to the 204 trail junction and then continuing on 209 from that point start looking for a stream crossing (Bee Branch) that has a large (24 inch) pine on the corner before you reach the stream - on the upstream side of this pine is an arrow carved in the bark pointing up Bee Branch. The Bee Branch ford would be about 10 feet but don't go across it - stay to the right and head upstream following the main Bee Branch trail. Once about .1 mile up stream you will come to an area where a large blowdown had its major branches cut with a crosscut saw so as to avoid a very steep walkaround - for some reason this location is know as HOI Pass. :D In about another mile the Big Tree is easily seen from the trail and there is a good sized water fall about 50 yards behind the tree. If you continue on the Bee Branch trail it climbs sharply to get up to the top of the falls and then more moderately to reach 204. The trail to the Big Tree does not cross Bee Branch and stays on the right side as you are hiking upstream.

2003-01-17, 19:20
I have the coordinates for the "Big Tree" on my web site. the URL is www.gpstreks.com there is also a link to a map at Topozone.com.

SGT Rock
2003-01-17, 19:29
Bama 4x4,

That topozone link was perfect. I was able to find it on the topo in the book since the book topo looked exactly like the one on the topozone topo. It even had the quadrants like the topozone maps, the only difference was the book had the trails printed on it. According to the book map, the tree is almost right on the trail if all the coordinates are plotted right.


SGT Rock
2003-01-17, 19:35
BTW, any Decatur area hikers out there? Decatur is my home of record and I like to get a day hike when I'm down that way, maybe we could hook up some time.

Hog On Ice
2003-01-17, 20:39
Using the coords from the CartoCraft map ends up looking like a better placement for Big Tree : East Bee Branch Falls / Big Tree (http://www.topozone.com/map.asp?lat=34.32874&lon=-87.44501&s=25&size=s) at least that is my opinion. :cool:

2003-01-17, 21:48
Those Coordinates were taken when SA was still enabled. With SA disabled, and a WAAS GPS reciever the coordinates should be dead on. Some of the coordinates on the site have been updated, and some haven't. The next time I am in the Sipsey I will try to get a new fix on the tree, and update the site.

Another way to get to the Tree is to park on Northwest Road (FS208) where it is closed at Thompson Creek and follow Thompson creek Trail (206) to Sipsey River Trail(209)then to Bee Branch then up Bee Branch to East Bee Branch . I think this is a couple of miles shorter. Only a short walk from the tree is Buck Rough, one of the few places in Bankhead with old growth hardwoods.

SGT Rock
2003-01-17, 21:51
What would be cool is if some of those coordinates you have could also have a discription of what is there and/or a picture of the really cool things.

2003-01-17, 22:14
I hadn't thought of the pictures, I wanted to get other people to send in coordinates from other places. I have some pictures from the Sipsey, and I may try to tie some of the pictures to the coordinates.

Uncle Wayne
2003-01-18, 03:21
Hog On Ice,

Have you ever seen what we call the "Zeppelin Tree" on trail 209? Approximately 100 yards before you reach Bee Branch and the 24 inch pine tree you told Sgt. Rock about, there is a 30 inch beech tree on the left (as you hike upstream on Sipsey) that has the 4 symbols of the "Stairway to Heaven" album (yeah, that's not the correct title) carved in the trunk about 3 feet from the ground. We found them about 10 years ago. I haven't been to the Zeppelin tree in 2 years but they were still visible then. When they were fresh it was impressive and obviously done by someone much more talented than I.

Uncle Wayne
2003-01-18, 03:44
Originally posted by SGT Rock
About 1/2 mile west of the 204/209 intersection is a trail listed as Alt 204 or Bee Branch Trail which is described as an overused trail that has a strenuous hill and numerous cave like overhangs. Is this 204 alternate the Tree Trail? [/B]

Sgt Rock,

Yes, that is the trail the "Big Tree" is on. If you park at the Sipsey Recreation area there is a $3 per car fee. If you park at any of the other trailheads there is no charge. Next time you are up this way let me know. I live about 20 miles west of Decatur in Moulton. There are several ways in to the Big Tree closer than trail 209. Some not as scenic but quicker. The trailhead I use is near the Gum Pond Cemetary (Trail 223?) and from there you can be at the Big Tree in 1.5 hours.
Maybe you, Hog on Ice, Bama4x4, Guy Holcomb and others who have replied to this thread could meet up and do a group (family invited) hike. I'd like to meet you guys.

Hog On Ice
2003-01-18, 13:51
Uncle Wayne - I am sorry to say that I must have hiked right by the Zeppelin tree without noticing it. I will be sure to check it out next month when I am there for some more blowdown removal and other trail maintenance work. If you are interested in meeting up I'll be basecamping where Bee Branch flows into the Sipsey and the tenative plan is to work on the blowdowns between Bee Branch and 204 on 209 and then see how far up 204 we can clear with specific intent of clearing the mess at the top of 204 where it joins with 224. Hopefully a fellow I know on another forum, Wade Anderson, will be checking the area this weekend and will let me know what the current status is. There were a couple PIA blowdowns in that area last September that I specifically want to remove and I am thinking of a bit more cleanup for HOI Pass ;) . For more discussion about this trip see: Sipsey Trail Maintenance Trip Planning (http://thebackpacker.com/trailtalk/thread.php?id=18732) We had a lot of fun doing this last year in early April. Hopefully the rains of February will hold off for Presidents Day weekend.

Feel free to show up for part or all of the weekend - more willing workers are always welcome as well as those willing to keep the campfire talk lively :D or who scout out the work to be done.

2003-01-18, 14:12
Does anyone know what this is? I wandered up on it a couple of years ago, and haven't found anyone that knows what it is. It is about 8 X 3 feet, and is old enough that the tree growing out of it is around 10".

Uncle Wayne
2003-01-21, 03:11

Is this on the way to Parker Falls? It's been sevareal years since I've been there but there is a "wall" similar to this before you get to the cabin. An old timer told me that particular structure was used to back the creek up for watering livestock. Doesn't seem like your picture is along a stream or creek though.

2003-01-21, 19:26
Uncle wayne,

This structure is around 50 yards from the nearest water (Hubbard Creek), and is probably 4 feet tall. Someone else that has looked at the picture thought it could be a watering trough, but the water would have to be carried from the creek (unless there is a well nearby). It's hard to see from this picture but the walls formed a box before the tree pushed part of it down.

Guy Holcomb
2003-02-13, 09:53
Does anyone know the current condition of Trail 205? I have never hiked this trail and I don't believe it is traveled very much so I am concerned about blow downs, etc. Also, are there any good camping sites with water. It appears from the map that it is a dry ridge walk for the most part.

Uncle Wayne
2003-02-14, 06:57
Hi Guy,

I was on Trail 205 before Christmas and the blow downs are very numerous. It makes the walking, especially with a pack very difficult. You are correct, it is a ridge line trail without any water source immediately available, at least that I have found. I have camped on it a few times but you have to pack your water in or up from the hollows to do so. Trail 205 is actually an old fire lane cut by the forest service many years ago. The trail, or a portion of it, is used mainly as a shortcut from White Oak Hollow to West Bee Branch canyon. There are plenty of springs and streams in the hollows around it but you have to hunt for them, not many of them are shown on the map.

Guy Holcomb
2003-02-14, 10:03
Uncle Wayne,

Thanks for the info. I hope I will be able to get down to the Sipsey next weekend and stay one night. Since I will have a full pack I think I will save 205 for another day, maybe just a day hike.

Uncle Wayne
2003-03-03, 08:16
Tripper and I hiked up from White Oak Hollow to Trail 205 this past Saturday, We joined Trail 205 roughly half way between Trail 224 and Trail 209 and hiked East (toward Trail 224). We had fully loaded packs and made the trip ok although it is rough hiking in some places because of the pine beetle damage / blowdowns. We hiked by the Big Tree and onto Sipsey and then returned to White Oak Hollow via Trail 206. We met a group of Boy Scouts who were starting up Trail 205 from Sipsey River with the intention of clearing some of it for easier hiking. Don't know what or if they accomplished anything but it may be better hiking for a short time. A short time being until the next wind storm. The pine beetle damage is awful in this area.