Hiking in the William B. Bankhead National Forest


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We spent six weeks at Hidden Cove RV Resort near Lewis Smith Lake during the March to April 2020 Covid shutdowns. We spent many quiet days at our campsite, but when the weather allowed, we ventured into nature to explore. Being outside discovering new places was good for our physical health and our mood.

Our favorite way to find hiking trails in an area is to use the AllTrails App or website. This app is one of my favorites and is worth it to have on your phone. Whenever we arrive at a new location, I pull up the app to see what is nearby. Another easy way to find trails is to use Google. I did a simple search for “hiking with waterfalls near me”. Using these two methods, I found many hikes in the Sipsey Wilderness and I made a list of several hikes that are good for kids for our large family to try.

All of the trails we did were easy for our entire family, making these hikes great for kids.

Hiking with kids can come with difficulties, but we have come to love hiking as a family. We’ve learned to not rush ourselves, bring snacks, and go into it with the expectation that someone or everyone will come back wet or muddy. We really try to allow for extra time to enjoy each moment for what it is.

On these hikes, many people were hiking with dogs, so bring them along for some excellent exercise for both of you.

Waterfalls

We were able to try several hikes in the William B Bankhead National Forest. It was surprising to us that there are so many waterfalls in the area. We were excited to see as many as we could without wearing ourselves out going out every day – we gotta have down time. Below are the hikes that we were able to do, but hopefully someday we can return and explore more of this magical area.

* Disclaimer about my difficulty ratings below: I put things as easy if our 3-5 year olds were able to do the hike with relatively no help. Keep in mind, that they are active boys who are always bouncing off the walls and hiking is no big deal for them. If you have small active children, chances are they are the same, but maybe not. Don’t expect “easy” to be a walk in the park though (especially if you have bad knees). These all resemble a “hike” more than a paved trail stroll.

  • Sougahougadee Falls
  • This was our first hike in the area and it really wet our whistle to do more. Parking is tight at the trailhead, but we were able to park safely on the side of the road. This was one of the longer hikes we did. Most of the hike is along the Brushy Creek.

    We were so happy to be out hiking again as it had been a while since we had gone on a good hike. We packed snacks and let the kids climb on rocks and stop whenever they needed a break, which really wasn’t often. This hike had so many cool nooks and caves to explore along the way.

    Make sure you follow the sound of water to find more discoveries along the trail. We stopped at many of the smaller waterfalls on our way to the grand finale. They were all fun to explore and beautiful in their own way.

    Sougahougadee Falls is amazing! What is it about a waterfall that wipes all other cares away? Maybe it’s the negative ions that they emit into the air. The boys jumped in and swam in the clear water. We caught tiny turtles and crawfish and we watched snakes from a safe distance.

    Length: 3.5 miles

    Difficulty: Moderate. There was one area that went up a small hill, but most of the trail is along the creek.

    Tips: Wear shoes you don’t mind getting muddy, like Keens. Several parts of the trail were muddy when we went. Plus, you can easily get close to several of the waterfalls and walk through the creek. And if you’re up for it, wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet in. The water is deep and perfect for swimming at the bottom of the falls.

    Beautiful waterfall at the end of a trail in Alabama.

    Sougahougadee Falls - a beautiful waterfall in the Sipsey Wilderness.

  • Caney Creek Falls
  • This waterfall is amazing, but it currently comes with major parking issues. In short – don’t go to this waterfall unless you kayak up the river to it or can get dropped off.

    Here’s the parking problem: the parking area and the first 800 feet of the trail is on private property even though the actual waterfall is in the National Forest. Per Alltrails.com's listing (and our conversation with a tow truck driver who pulled us out of the mud elsewhere), apparently the owners of the private property call the police every day and cars are ticketed and/or towed. Tickets seem to be in the $200+ range and tow is in the $500+ range (so this is an expensive hike).

    We were lucky. When we returned from the hike, the sheriff had left only a warning on our windshield. We thought we were parking in the correct place (not on a right of way and in a dirt/gravel area that looks like a small parking lot) as we had heard about this problem, but the signs are misleading. You can’t park anywhere. Hopefully that will be fixed soon.

    If you find a way to do this hike (maybe get dropped off), it is worth the effort. The walk to this waterfall starts on a gravel road then changes to a cool trail in the woods. It is a short, easy hike. The end is downhill so be prepared to walk back up. We went to the bottom of the falls first, played in the water and climbed on the rocks. Then we followed the trail to the top of the waterfall. It looked like a couple of people were camping there. They had set up their hammocks and were fishing in the creek.

    Length: 1.7 miles

    Difficulty: Easy, but keep in mind that you will have to go back up the hill when you are done.

    Tips: Don’t park in the parking area! I don’t know if there is any other way to get to this waterfall at this time other than walking up the water.

    Boy swimming in water beneath a waterfall in Alabama.

    Caney Creek Falls is the perfect place to jump in the water after the hike in!

  • Sipsey River Picnic Area
  • We parked in the parking lot and paid three dollars for day use (self serve pay by cash or check). I had found several hikes starting from this area so I didn’t really pay attention to where the actual trailhead was when planning our outing. We parked, saw a sign for the Sipsey Fork Trailhead and started walking across the bridge and found a trail.

    It wasn’t actually the one I thought, but it was beautiful right away. There were many waterfalls to play in. We were on the hike shortly after a major storm, so there were many downed trees to climb over, lots of mud to trudge through and the trail eventually washed away. We continued as far as we were comfortable before turning around.

    Length: No idea since we don’t know how long we hiked. We stopped when we couldn’t easily follow a trail.

    Difficulty: Generally easy since it is mostly along the river, however, we walked this one after a storm and the mud made it more difficult.

    Tips: Bring cash or check for the parking. Also, bring a picnic! There were several places to enjoy a meal or snack including a covered shelter with tables and a large fire pit.

    View from behind a waterfall in the William B. Bankhead National Forest in Alabama.

    This is the view from behind one of the many waterfalls along the Sipsey Fork Trailhead.

  • Parker Falls
  • We had already seen many waterfalls in the area, but this is easily my favorite of them all. It started out pretty amazing. We were surrounded by Swallowtail Butterflies at the trailhead. After enjoying their beauty, we continued on the trail through what felt like the deep woods. The trail is easy until you reach the top of the first falls at which point you climb down a slope with the aid of a rope. All of our kids did very well with the rope and climbed down on their own. We stopped and played in this area for a bit before exploring further.

    The first set of falls joins another river at the bottom. We followed the kids up the second river and soon discovered several more waterfalls. Here we found places to swim, jump off the rocks and throw rocks into the river. Our kids loved throwing sticks off the top of the falls and watching them float down like boats.

    Length: 1.7 miles

    Difficulty: Moderate – Using the rope near the first falls can be a little tricky, especially when it is muddy and slippery.

    Tips: Make sure you continue down past the first waterfall. Turn to the right and head upstream to more falls.

    Family using a rope to climb to the top of a waterfall.

    You need to use this rope to get to the bottom of the falls. We all thought it was fun!

  • Little Ugly Creek Falls
  • First off, there is not much parking for this hike – maybe one or two cars can park off the road. So, we followed what everyone else was doing and parked behind several other cars on the side of the road. We quickly realized we were too heavy and the ground was too wet. As we tried to move, we kept digging in deeper and deeper and sliding sideways down the hill. We cut our losses and stopped trying.

    Lucky for us, a man and his son were just finishing the hike. They offered to drive Matt down the road where he could get cell phone reception to call our tow service, []coach-net.com While Matt was gone, the kids and I played tag, games with sticks and jumped off rocks and logs.

    Matt returned with news that the tow truck would be coming. He offered to stay and wait at the trailhead while I headed down the trail with the kids. We had fun climbing over fallen logs and exploring the area. I found a tick on my leg but was able to brush it off quickly before it bit me.

    We wandered down the trail for a while then we turned around so we weren’t far when the tow truck came. The entire ordeal of Matt going off to get reception and then waiting for the tow was enough time for a storm to approach and threaten rain. The kids were sad that we didn’t reach the falls, but they understood and didn’t complain.

    We arrived back to the truck just in time to watch the tow truck pull our truck to safety. Yay! It was now too late to for us to go on the hike, but heard it is a great one. There is a loop trail that you can also take to add extra length. While waiting for Matt, we met a couple who was backpacking in to sleep for the night – sounds really fun!

    Length: 2 miles

    Difficulty: Easy to moderate. We had many logs that we had to climb over on the trail.

    Tips: I recommend some kind of bug repellant to keep the ticks away. We love this one and this one. Also, be careful to park on solid flat ground.

    Tow truck pulling a large truck out of the mud.

    We were so happy when the tow truck arrived and pulled our truck to safety.

  • Borden Creek Trail to Fat Man’s Squeeze
  • We returned to the Sipsey River Picnic Area and found the trail I originally planned on hiking. We passed many campsites along the way and a few more waterfalls. We hiked through a beautiful, old, mossy forest. We enjoyed listening to many bird calls. The only one we recognized was a woodpecker.

    Fat Man’s Squeeze was a lot of fun. Walking through the cave was very muddy, slippery and dark. We found a small waterfall just on the other side of the cave. You can also easily climb the rocks on top of the cave. Unfortunately, none of our photos turned out of the squeeze. Just imagine a dark, 45 degree angled slippery muddy mess of a cave that you can barely fit through – that’s lots of fun.

    The trail crossed a small creek. On our way back to the truck we stopped to play in the Sipsey River. We found perfect rocks for skipping and the boys swam in a deep spot. Spending time in the river was a great way to cool off. We had many butterflies surrounding us in this area as well.

    Length: 2.7 miles to Fat Man’s Squeeze

    Difficulty: Moderate, but on the easy side.

    Tips: Make sure to take time to explore the rocks – climb on top and look for nooks and crannies.

    Girls standing in river looking for rocks to throw.

    We found a great spot in the Sipsey River to throw rocks and play in the water.

    If you are in the area, here are two more bonus places to stop and see.

  • Clarkson Covered Bridge
  • The Clarkson Covered Bridge crosses the Crooked Creek and was originally built in 1904. It is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. We had fun walking across the bridge and looking out at the creek. We walked down to the grist mill and followed the water down to the Crooked Creek where we played in the water and threw rocks.

    There is a short trail (about ½ mile) around the property. The scenery is beautiful, making it a great area for taking photos. There are tables for a picnic and I highly recommend sticking your feet in the creek to cool off by the water.

    Grist mill with creek and trees in Alabama.

    This grist mill is next to the covered bridge. We loved watching the water making the wheel spin.

    Historic covered bridge over a creek in Alabama.

    The Clarkson Covered Bridge over Crooked Creek in Cullman County, Alabama.

  • Houston Jail
  • Another cool historic site in the area is the Houston Jail. This jail is the only known surviving log jail in Alabama. It’s a quick stop, but a good piece of history. I wouldn’t go out of your way to see this, but if you are driving by, it a fun little stop. And if you have time, stop in at Chef Troy’s Talk of the Town across the street for a meal. We loved the fried catfish and fresh potato chips.

    This area of the country really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting waterfalls, rivers and cliffs. We were grateful to have so many open spaces to explore during a time of stress and unknown. Do you love waterfalls as much as I do? What is your favorite waterfall or hike?

    Old log jail in Alabama.

    Historic two-room jail in Houston, Alabama.

    - Tabitha

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