On November 5, 2016 I went on a loop hike of about 9 miles through the Sipsey Wilderness in Alabama. This wilderness is part of William B. Bankhead National Forest, was the first wilderness in the eastern U.S., and is still the largest in area east of the Mississippi River.
I began the hike at the Randolph Trailhead and followed trail 202 for 3.4 miles until it reached trail 209 (see a map here). Trail 202 followed what was once a small road along the hill tops before descending into the valley along the Sipsey River. As the trail descends into the valley is passes some eastern hemlock trees, which are found here at the extreme southern extent of their distribution. As the trail continues down into the valley, it passes what would be a fairly high waterfall, but because of the severe drought encompassing the region, this waterfall and many of the streams in the wilderness were completely dry.
A dry waterfall site
The drought made crossing the Sipsey River easy, requiring hopping across only a few rocks. Trail 209 follows the northern side of the Sipsey River from the Sipsey Trailhead, to trail 202 and on to trail 201. I followed trail 209 westward and upstream from its intersection with trail 202 to the intersection with trial 201. Trail 209 had some small ups and downs and went in and out of small dry stream beds, but it was a relatively easy hike of about three miles. Several groups had camps set up on both sides of trail 209, and near trail 201 some people were rock climbing on the small cliffs in the area.
Signage was very poor in most of the wilderness. The were several old sign posts in some places, but there were no signs on them. To make things more difficult, the areas that needed signs the most were also the areas where freshly fallen leaves covered the trail, making the trail difficult to find. Parts of the maps of the wilderness also do not accurately show the trail locations. The only way I found trail 201, aside from knowing the general area it should be located, was seeing the few rocks in the river that formed a footpath to cross without getting your feet wet.
Once on the other side of the river, it took several minutes of searching around to figure out which direction the trail went, as there were several unofficial trails going in different directions. Once on the correct trail, 201 ascended the hill and followed what looked like another old road across the relatively flat hill tops back to the trailhead for 2.6 miles. During the entire hike, a few of the trees had begun to change color, but not many, though it was still a fairly nice hike. Parts of the wilderness have numerous other waterfalls when there's actually flowing water.
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