While traveling west, we stopped in the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama. A little research determined that there are several waterfalls in the area, so we set out to do some hiking and see if we could get some photos of some of them.
This morning we headed out to do some exploring in the Bankhead National Forest. Our first stop was at the ranger station on Hwy 33.
There are numerous waterfalls in Bankhead, but often they are dry this late in the year. Before we went waterfall hunting, I wanted to check on flow levels, get some recommendations on hikes, and see if the Sipsey Fork is navigable for paddling this time of year.
The Sipsey Fork is the only waterway in Alabama classified as a National Wild & Scenic River, and it is another reason I wanted to spend some time here. Unfortunately, it's a little on the low side right now, so I'm not sure we'll be able to do a float trip.
From the ranger station, we went north in Hwy 33 and then turned left on County Road 2. It was 3.7 miles to a rough pull-off on the right at a closed gate with a sign for Caney Creek Falls, a mile and a half walk (I don't think it's really that far - some say it's a mile and some say it's just a little over a mile). There is a big, homemade wooden sign right at the pull-off pointing the way, otherwise, we probably would have driven right past.
The trail starts off as a rutted gravel road, and then changes to a narrow, sandy path, .....
and then it changes to a fairly typical forest trail as it descends steeply down toward the creek for the last quarter mile.
It took a couple of minutes to figure out the proper path down the waterfall on our left as there are a few different worn paths.
We made our way down past the rock wall to our first views of Caney Creek Falls.
There wasn't a huge amount of water flowing, but it was very pretty nonetheless.
Using rocks and a downed log, it was a little dicey crossing the creek. But there were some nice views ....
and a rock shelter on the other side.
Below the falls, the creek runs through a beautiful little canyon, so we walked that way for a little while.
Here's a photo from another rock shelter looking back upstream.
I knew there was another scenic waterfall downstream (Lower Caney Creek Falls), but I failed to remember how far it was. We hiked along the creek a good half mile or so before deciding to return. Some reports say the lower falls are a mile to a mile and half downstream and others just say 15 - 30 minutes (I can tell you it's definitely more than 15 minutes).
When we got back to the upper falls, we sat on a rock and had lunch with this view.
Another couple arrived at the falls as we sat down, but they were the only other folks we saw on this trail.
We then headed back to the Jeep.
After making our way back to Hwy 33, we pulled off and checked out the Hwy 33 bridge put-in/take-out on the Sipsey just to check water levels. The water level there was fine for paddling, but the road getting down there was washed out and taking a boat out there required a steep haul. Still, it was encouraging.
We continued North on AL 33 several miles until we saw signs for the Sipsey River Picnic Area & Trailhead. We turned left onto Cranal Road (County Road 60) and went four miles to the parking area. This is a "fee area" so we used the self-pay envelopes and paid our $3.
There is a restroom at the upper parking lot and that is where the Sipsey River Trail begins. But we went across the bridge to the lower parking lot ....
where there is a put-in (a very poorly maintained put-in). The water levels there looked quite low, and we weren't sure about paddling from that point. (Ultimately, we didn't paddle the Sipsey.)
Also, on the lower bridge side, is a trail that starts at this sign and goes under the road.
The trail is not marked, but we got information from the ranger station that it leads to another waterfall where there should be water flowing - Turkey Foot Falls.
We followed the narrow, worn path along a small stream. Now, there are a couple of logs down across the stream, but they aren't designated crossings, so don't be tempted. After about a quarter mile, we came to this small waterfall.
We had been instructed to keep going past that and past this old relic of a car.
Beyond that, there were some high rock walls and rock shelters to our left.
We came to one tricky little place that required a scramble, but there were some good roots to grab, and there was nothing else difficult about this walk/hike.
Eventually, after what I'm guessing was about a half-mile total, maybe a little more, we found Turkey Foot Falls tucked into a lovely setting.
Again, not much water was flowing, but it was still pretty. I climbed up beside ....
and behind the falls for more photos.
The only downside to this short hike is that it doesn't venture too far from Cranal Road, so you still get the noise from the occasional passing car.
Making our way back.
No one else was on this trail during our time there.
Back in the Jeep, we turned left out of the parking lot on Cranal Road and drove eight miles to the end. Checking our maps, we took a right on Kinlock Road/County Road 3434 (although we didn't see signs for either of those road names).
We drove until the road turned to gravel and then continued about three quarters of a mile. Just before a bridge was a wide area of the road for parking on the right, but we didn't see anything that looked like a waterfall so we crossed the bridge, turned around and came back. We then parked there and saw some steps leading down to the creek.
We had done about five miles of hiking by then, so Linda sat this one out. I walked down and to my right following the path to probably the most easily accessed waterfall in Bankhead, Kinlock Falls on Hubbard Creek.
There was plenty of water cascading here as I took photos from a ledge where I'm guessing people may jump into the pool (not recommended).
There was a way to get down below the falls, but a close-up from there required some deep wading or swimming, so I settled for a longer shot after a little rock-hopping and staying dry.
Below the falls was another beautiful area as the stream rushed on through the rocks.
I could see another waterfall on the left side of the creek, but it was obstructed, and I was one solid rock away from being able to get over there without taking the risk of falling. It looked like a fantastic spot for a little privacy in an area that is quite popular on the weekends.
I turned back upstream toward the falls and took one last photo.
And that was pretty much it for our nature activities on this gorgeous day.
When we were in this area twelve years ago, we had no idea of the hidden beauty here in the Bankhead National Forest and the Sipsey Wilderness. But now, knowing more of what we like and what to look for, we certainly enjoyed our new discoveries. :)