Explore Bankhead National Forest + the Sipsey Wilderness

We know what you’re thinking- the weather has warmed up and it’s time to get outside, until you do and you are immediately reminded of the humidity and Alabama summer climate. Most can’t imagine going camping as temps and humidity rise but if you do, the Sipsey Wilderness and William B. Bankhead National Forest is a great place as most adventures will include water as the destination. 

Known as the ‘Land of 1,000 waterfalls’ the Sipsey Wilderness will make you feel like you stepped out of Alabama and into the tropics with only an hour and a half drive from Birmingham. 

Even if you have been to the Sipsey Wilderness a good bit, chances are you have not seen it all. With over 25,000 acres of National Forest in the Wilderness and waterfalls, there is plenty to explore. So grab your gear and let’s go!

Find your plot of land & put a stake in it

Image provided by: @the_frugal_doodle on Instagram

Since the Sipsey is a Wilderness area, wilderness camping is permitted and offers primitive and established campsites for many experience levels. Even though some campsites you come across on the trails may have water and firewood accessible, you will not find fully developed campsites as you would when you go car camping at a recreation center or State Park. 

When staying in and exploring the Sipsey Wilderness just make sure to follow all Leave No Trace principles. So while you hike around, find a cozy spot where you can set up your campsite for the weekend or even just the night and explore somewhere new the next night!

If this level of primitive or backcountry camping is not quite your speed, there are multiple developed camping areas within Bankhead National Forest that are great for families or if you love camping while having a few accommodations like a shower, water pump, and maybe even electricity hookups. A few nearby options are:

  • Clear Creek Campground One of the most popular recreation areas and located on Lewis Smith Lake giving you access to swimming and boating.
  • Brushy Lake Campground First some, first serve with 13 campsites makes this one a serene getaway and less crowds.

What to cook

Night one it is best to be prepared with an easy meal. If you decide to rough it in the wilderness, freeze dried meals are a no-fuss, no-mess solution and it fits right in with your outdoor adventure. If you were able to bring a cooler or are car camping and are looking to show off your Gordon Ramsey skills, here are some easy and delicious meals you can make. Just remember if you are backpacking, it is best to keep it light and always wherever you go- pack it out.

We recommend the MSR PocketRocket 2 Stove for primitive and car campers alike as it is compact and boils 1 liter of water in just over three minutes. Make sure to get fuel, and any accessories you need like cooking pots, a coffee press, and utensils. Read on for another fresh meal idea as you take on the weekend on the Sipsey Fork.


This is possibly a given if you are planning an outdoor adventure, but hiking is a great activity for any skill level and for the whole family to enjoy! With 25,000 acres and 45 miles of trails in the Sipsey Wilderness, there is a trail for any level of hiker! Hiking is even better in the Sipsey Wilderness as there is so much to explore. From waterfalls, caves, and breathtaking views, you will not get bored.

One spot we love to explore and is a must-add to your itinerary is “Big Tree” which is the largest tree in Alabama reaching 150’ in the sky. The hike is an 8.5 mile out and back trail; however, we suggest starting at the Thompson Trailhead even though it is a little longer, the terrain is easier and prettier! 

Fishing in the Sipsey

Image by: @jasondwalls on Instagram

Interested in fishing? You have come to the right spot. The Sipsey Fork is the fly fishing destination for Alabamians looking to cast out their line and reel in some trout. As the Sipsey is stocked with trout several times a year, it is a put-and-take location which means you can take your catch back to your campsite for dinner.

So head out on some trails for a nice day hike and look for a good spot to throw your line in. Make sure to bring a good cooler with ice to store your fish so it stays fresh for your dinner. Just remember to keep in mind how far you are hiking and how heavy your cooler can get with extra contents.

Before your weekend adventure or on your way to the river, make a stop at the Riverside Fly Shop in Bremen, AL to chat with the guides and buy flys. They are so helpful and will be able to tell you what flys to get, their go-to spots, and you can even sign up for a guided trip.

Click here for more information on Trout fishing on the Sipsey Fork. This includes important information about the Smith Dam and the generation levels as water levels can rise 10-15 ft in minutes. So be prepared and have fun on the river!

Chasing waterfalls + swimming holes

Waterfall and swimming hole hikes aren’t just for the Moms or kids, they are for everyone exploring Alabama in the summer heat and need a cool dip in the water. Plus, who doesn’t love a good waterfall? As we mentioned before, the Sipsey Wilderness is called the “Land of 1,000 Waterfalls” so you better be adding a couple of these to your weekend plans. If you don’t make it a destination, chances are you will still come across a few along the way.

One of our favorite spots is Kinlock Falls as it is a short hike that leads you to a beautiful cascading waterfall and an even better swimming hole. Kinlock Falls is also considered Alabama’s Natural Waterslide. A lot of visitors bring tubes and slide down the falls as it is not very steep and the top is accessible from the side. Slide at your own risk or just bring a tube to float in the swimming hole and catch some rays.

Other top waterfalls in the Sipsey and Bankhead National Forest to check out are Sougahoagdee FallsParker FallsMize Mills Falls, and Caney Creek Falls


Ready to be outdoors this Summer? We have the Spring outdoor gear you need to get you back on the trails! We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors

How to Spring Clean Your Outdoor Gear

20170518_Spring Cleaning_Tent_Camping

It’s important to clean and repair your gear before using it on an adventure.

Spring adventures are right around the corner and chances are your outdoor gear is stuffed in a closet from your last Winter trip. It’s time to make sure your gear is in tip top shape for your next trip!

After getting home from spending time in the great outdoors, whether it’s a day hike or weeklong camping trip, the last thing anyone feels like doing is cleaning their gear. All too often, exhaustion and procrastination win out, and people tend to stuff their dirty, grimy gear in the far corner of a garage only to discover that, come spring, their tent or backpack has become a Petri dish of nasty stuff. To make matters worse, people often store gear in places where heat and humidity, rodents, and cold temperatures can degrade or even destroy fabrics, stitching, glue, and other components.

If that scenario sounds familiar, fear not: With a little know-how and elbow grease, you can save your trusty tent and hiking boots from a similar fate. Here’s what to know about spring cleaning your outdoor gear, plus insider tips on how to give your backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, and footwear a little TLC before you hit the trail this season.

Backpack Care


So, your backpack smells like a locker room trash can. The odor is likely due to sweat, dirt, and that food bag you forgot to empty—all of which not only stink, but can shorten the life of your pack. Another damaging element? Salt from sweat, which can corrode the metal in zippers and breaks down nylon fabrics.

But cleaning your backpack involves a bit more than just tossing it into the washing machine. In fact, don’t even think about doing that: The agitation from a machine can break down fabrics as well as foam in hip belts, shoulder straps, and back panels. Also, straps can get twisted in the components of a top-loading washer.

Instead, first vacuum out dirt and debris. Then, add a delicate detergent to warm water and use a sponge or cloth to wipe the pack down. Some pack manufacturers also recommending avoiding hot water or spot removers, as these can damage the fabric.

As you clean your pack, examine the zippers, which can fail if they’re jammed with dirt and debris. You can vacuum out the dirt, or scrub zippers with a soft nylon brush (like a toothbrush) and cold water.

After you wash the bag, don’t put it in the dryer, either: The heat levels are too intense and can break down fabrics and foams. A good way to dry your pack is to stuff it with newspapers and hang it in the shade.


Once you’ve cleaned your pack, store it in a cool, dry place, and hang it if possible. Don’t leave your pack on the garage floor, because standing water or other liquids like engine oil could seep into the pack and damage it. Also, if your pack is on the floor, mice can chew through the fabric while searching for crumbs.

Tent Care

Check your tent zipper for holes in the fabric from abrasion or snags, and be sure to clean the teeth of gunk or dirt build up. ih


When you return from camping in the rain, it’s critical to dry your tent to prevent mildew and fungus from forming. The primary problem is that these elements will damage coatings on tent fabrics. Plus, they’ll make the tent stink.

If you do get mildew, it’s very difficult to remove it completely, but you can treat it with a mixture that includes non-detergent soap and one cup each of salt and lemon juice, plus one gallon of hot water. Use this solution and a soft nylon brush to scrub the interior and exterior of the tent as well as the fly. Next, dry the tent in the sun. As with packs, you shouldn’t put your tent in a dryer because excessive heat will damage the fabric and coatings.


It’s fine to store your tent in its stuff sack. The primary concern is to prevent the tent fabric from being exposed to heat and sunlight over a long period of time. If you pitch your tent in the backyard for a campout with the kids, for example, don’t leave it up for weeks at a time. As with your pack, it’s best to store the tent in a cool, dry place off the floor.

Sleeping Bag Care

Front-loading machines are better for washing down products, especially your sleeping bag. Marcus Woolf


During an extended camping trip, a sleeping bag can get pretty ripe. When you get home, use non-detergent soap, water, and a soft brush to clean dirty spots on the shell. Don’t forget to clean the interior of the hood and collar where oil from your body can collect.

If your bag is really grimy, it’s best to wash it at a laundromat, because front-loading machines there won’t agitate the bag as much as your home machine. Also, commercial machines are larger and clean the bag more thoroughly than smaller home machines. It’s important to never wash a bag in a top-loading machine with an agitator, because it could rip the bag and stress fabrics and seams. Also, don’t dry clean a down bag, because the process can break down natural oils in the insulation.

At the laundromat, use cold water, a gentle cycle, and either mild soap or a special cleaning solution designed specifically for down insulation or synthetic insulation. While cleaning the bag, you can also use a special spray to restore its DWR (durable water repellent) coating. You can usually find the cleaning solutions and DWR spray at an outdoor gear store.


You shouldn’t store your bag in its small stuff sack, because over time compressed insulation will lose its loft and its ability to keep you warm. Many bag manufacturers supply a larger net bag for long-term storage, or you can hang the bag in a large cotton sack or even a large pillowcase.

Footwear Care

Some shoes are beyond repair, but cleaning and drying footwear properly can extend the life of your gear. Marcus Woolf


Over time, dirt, mud, and sand can deteriorate the leather in boots and shoes and cause wear and tear on the fabrics and stitching in synthetic footwear. So, to properly care for your boots and shoes, within a day or so of returning from a trip, clean them with a brush and water or a cleaner that the manufacturer recommends. Avoid using detergents and bar soap, because they can harm leather and waterproof membranes in footwear.

Drying and Storing

When drying footwear, remove the outsoles and let them air out. It’s best to dry footwear in the house, because you want a cool, dry place that’s not especially humid (especially important in the hotter months in Alabama). If you want shoes or boots to dry faster, put them in front of a fan and stuff them with newspaper. Avoid drying them next to a heater, which can harm the glue and leather in footwear. Also, shoes or boots can break down more quickly if you store them in a place with extreme temperatures or poor ventilation, such as a garage, attic, or the trunk of a car.

If you plan to hike with fairly old shoes or boots, examine them and take them for a test run before you embark on a big trip. Over several years, the glue used to secure the outsole of shoes can simply break down, especially if you’ve kept them in a garage or unconditioned storage facility. We’ve seen outsoles peel off a pair of old boots while a hiking partner was ascending a pass deep in the Sierra Mountains. Though it might make for a good story later, it’s no fun to hike with blown-out boots wrapped in duct tape.


Need patches for your tent, water repellent or just new gear? We have the Spring outdoor gear you need to get you back on the trails! We want everyone to enjoy the outdoors, and we work to build loyalty one connection at a time. Visit one of our stores or take advantage of our shipping or curbside pickup! #BeOutdoors


Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.


Featured image provided by Doug Letterman