Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hike to the Largest Tulip Poplar in Alabama

There is a tree nestled in the deep woods of the Sipsey Wilderness that I've often heard called the "Largest Tree in Alabama". After digging around the interewebs for a bit I think that I can only confirm that it's the largest Tulip Poplar in Alabama and that the #1 tree spot might belong to a Live Oak at the southern end of the state...

...depending on how you measure "largest". The poplar is taller and the live oak is bigger around at the trunk. And then there's this cypress that's also in south Alabama. 

At any rate, this past Friday we hiked out to see one big damn tree and two really nice waterfalls.

One quick word about the Sipsey Wilderness- it is not a National Park but rather a controlled "Wilderness Area" maintained by the U.S. Forest Service. Hunting is allowed- commonly for wild hog or deer. Make yourself visible. Make your pets visible. Wear bright colors, blaze orange if possible.

Bring water. Bring a map. Watch your time. Bring a flashlight.

Staying safe in wild hog habitats:
  • Just like other wildlife, feral hogs will be most active at dawn and dusk.
  • Wild pigs have great senses of hearing and smell and will generally avoid contact with humans.
  • If you see a pig on the trail keep a safe distance especially if piglets are present.
  • If you ever have a faceoff with a hostile pig your best option to defend yourself may be climb the nearest tree.
  • If a pig charges you can try to sidestep very quickly at to avoid the potential swing of its tusks before escaping up a tree.

Our hike starts at the Borden Creek parking area and runs along what used to be County Road 5 (including the paved derelict bridge) down to the East Bee Branch Falls and the canyon where the tree lives. According to the data on my GPS the canyon is called "Big Tree Canyon" and the tree itself is called simply Big Tree on most of the old maps I've seen.

Here's the tracklog to the map below:

The Borden Creek parking area is located the terminus of the current CR5/Bunyan Hill Road and is clearly marked. The hike starts by passing the gates that bar vehicle traffic further down the hill and then crossing the old bridge across Borden Creek.

At the far side of the bridge the marker for trail 224 is on the left side of the trail. This starts an uphill climb for about a quarter mile that will gain you about 150 vertical feet. Once you're past the climb it levels out considerably and is mostly even walking through a narrow corridor of pines. Aside from the actual steep assent the only real difficulty will be the occasional stump where the trail has been cleared. The stumps are small, only about the size of my arm, and are numerous early on. Esther and I both stubbed our toes when we weren't looking (or when I was watching the GPS and not the trail...)

There's not much in the way of color this time of year, and the bulk of the trail isn't incredibly diverse when it comes to landscape or views, but I did find a few things along the way.

Our route kept us on trail 224, past an unmarked trail (marked "no horses") until taking a turn left, off old CR5/Bunyan Hill Road and on to the marked trail 204. Here the trail opens up a little bit and we could see more sky than we had most of the day.

The path forks at an old marker that looks more like a rotting fence post. 204 is the left fork, 204A is the right. Our map was huge help here because the marker is useless these days. We took 204A to the right and started what was at first a gradual slope downward and then became much steeper.

The trail pauses at the top of East Bee Branch Falls with a view down into the canyon.

Those of us not carrying small children continued down the canyon wall to see the bottom of the falls and, of course, Big Tree.

Here she is

There are two falls that pour into the canyon, East Bee Branch and an unnamed fall to it's left that is only slightly smaller. The two pictures below are both of East Bee.

This is the other nameless fall that drops in front of a large overhanging shelter recessed into the canyon wall.

Two dorks

Four dorks

On the way back we had planned to stop just past the bridge and have a campfire to roast hot dogs and marshmallows but rain threatened so we "settled" for Mexican.



Total mileage for the hike was over 12 miles. Trip time was about six and a half hours. All the pictures are here.

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