Sipsey River Wilderness Area

-- Last Updated: Apr-04-09 9:36 AM EST --

Canoed this area over 30 years ago in boy scouts, but remember very little except that it was beautiful.

Can someone advise me on a good 2 night trip on the river, camping spots and good put in and take out areas. Will probably do this in about 3 weeks.

The commoner run is from the Grayson
gauge south to the highway bridge. That run is in USFS, but not in the Wilderness Area. The wilderness run is tighter, requires more water, and is more likely to be blocked by trees. Trees, not rapids, are the problem on the Sipsey.

While there is just one class 2++ rapid on the upper (Wilderness) Sipsey, and just one class 2 on the lower Sipsey, the deadfalls and the tight maneuvering on the upper Sipsey require some experience.

You could get two nights on the lower Sipsey if you drag along, but it’s really just a one night run. Both sections together would make for two nights, if you get the right water conditions— not too little water, not too much.

Go to, look for their river guide on the Sipsey, and mind what they say about water levels. I would recommend not less that 200 cfs on the Grayson gauge, and not more than 600.

Remember for the wilderness section that you’re trying to run a very narrow, snaggy stream in canoes LOADED with gear. You might consider camping at the car campground at CR60, the junction of the upper and lower, and running the Sipsey empty.

If you send me an email address, I can send a rather wordy document I wrote for our club newsletter on running and hiking the Sipsey. Maybe a key picture or two.

what about Thompson Creek

– Last Updated: Apr-04-09 6:36 PM EST –

So starting at the Thompson Creek trailhead into the Sipsey with a loaded canoe is not a good idea? The trip would be Apr 27. What about continuing all the way down to hwy 278? Or would this be a long boring, no water moving trip? Thanks for the advice.

You’ll hit the lake before you hit 278.
The usual takeout for the lower Sipsey is just below a highway bridge, 133 or something, I forget.

the run from Thompson Creek
If the water is right this is a great run. Gotta have enough without having too much. The previous advice about water levels and the Alabamawhitewater site is on target.

If you come from Thompson Creek there is one chute type rapid after you get to the Sipsey which can be tricky but it is easy to scout as a hiking train runs adjacent to the river. I’ve seen it run in just about any type canoe you can imagine.

Another alternative is to put in on Borden Creek (doesn’t require quite as much water).

There are several nice campsites below the “rec area” and before the “rapid” mentioned earlier by another poster. I’ve never paddled past the first bridge below the “rec area” . . .from what I understand the water can get pretty “slack” past that and my preference is for good moving water.

I haven’t been there for several years due to my schedule and the river level not being compatible. The river level fluctuates rapidly. I have some friends who aborted a trip several years ago due to very high water. Log jams can be an issue on the upper part of the river.


133 to 278
Long, slow, but kewl…jyst after moody bend on the right is a favorite of mine, a keyhole waterfall; there is a split in a cliff face about 4 feet across…turn 90 degrees to the cliff and paddle right on in…it opens into a tree shaded pool wide enough to turn around in, and in the center a waterfall pours down…it is beautiful!

Just to the North of the wilderness, in wren is a store (Junction of 36 and 33). Stop in and get a map…that will make it easier to decide…

You might consider base camping Brushy Lake and paddle Brushy Creek with empty Boats…

Your memory is good

– Last Updated: Apr-06-09 9:30 AM EST –

The Sipsey is indeed some of the most beautiful water and scenery in the state and the region.

Water levels are key and late in the month, you will have to have some good timing to have the right levels. Once the leaves get on the trees, the creeks tend to fill up slowly. You might consider having a reliable backup plan like nearby Bear Creek which has controlled dam releases on the weekends. There is a serious portage around a Class VI on BearWest and I don't know about camping...

Back to the Sipsey though. The Thompson trip is probably the best if the levels allow. Last I heard there were a couple of strainers to watch for and you might have to lift over a logjam or two. Thompson and Hubbard join to form the Sipsey near the Class III and Ship Rock/Needles Eye. The rapid doesn't look so mean, but last Feb. there was a very mean looking log right where you enter the rapid that even the most experienced whitewater guy decided to go around.

Take out and scout above the rapid and you might want to camp nearby as there is a nice trail there and the rapid will put you to sleep nicely. Take the hike up to Needle's Eye as well. Some of the locals know some great side trips, so if you can coordinate with any of these guys, it will be worth your while. Some of the falls are incredible, but tucked away.

You may continue to Cranal Rd (nice picnic area) or down to Hwy 33, but beyond that it's mostly flat.

Other moving water trips in the area are the Flint River and the Elk River. The Elk is also dam release and I know they allow camping there, but no whitewater on the Elk at all.

My map of the Hubbard trip from last year. We stopped at Cranal. The dozen or so logjams on the Hubbard section wore us down!


I paddle under control but know that some WW creeks will beat up my Bell Wildfire White and Gold regardless. Sounds like Sipsey, with the exception of 100 Yard dash might safely be paddled in in this hull.I don’t want to beat up the Wildfire, so would a WW hull be more advisable for Sipsey? TIA.

If you use Thompson rather than
Hubbard, your boat will be OK. Actually I’ve done stuff like Hubbard in a similar small canoe, but it ain’t graceful. The main advantages of my whitewater canoe over your boat are that I can spin into eddies easier above deadfalls, and I’ll have an easier time ramming my bow up and over a low log. But I wouldn’t hesitate to use my MR Guide for the Sipsey rather than my whitewater boats.

I haven’t paddled that section

– Last Updated: Apr-06-09 11:15 AM EST –

but I think the section from Cranal Rd down to 33 is more open and generally deeper than the upper runs like Thompson. I know some folks did that in sea kayaks last year without having to get out.

So, at 200 cfs or better and watching the shallow spots you might not scrape at all on the lower portion. If you are cautious, wait for levels over 300 cfs and you should have clear sailing.

In reality there were only a few scrapes on the Hubbard portion, but I beat up the kayak a lot pulling it over the logjams. Next time I do the upper sections, I'm taking a beater WW SOT (Torrent) that is easy to get on/off of and doesn't weight much.


Bear Creek
Can’t camp along Bear Creek, day use only. Camp at the outfitter.

Pictures from Hubbard
If you are interested

After about DSCN9645, we were on the Sipsey.

The strainer at the Class III is in DSCN9665.

Needles Eye is in DSCN9683/86/89/94.

Ship Rock is DSCN9699 and 9703.

DSCN9706 really shows the green tint of the water.

A couple of waterfalls in there too.


Thanks for sending along those pics.

As to my previous post, Sipsey looks too boney for my glass and gold Wildfire. I reckon I could paddle it successfully on that creek, but it would end up with a few nicks and I’m in no mood to be trying to repair another hull after having 2 damaged by Hurr. Gus this Fall. Looks like a royalex Wildfire might be fun there.

I was surrounded by
red royalex canoes – I think 4 at one time after we met some canoe campers, so that tells you something. I scratched the heck out of my polyethylene SOT on that trip, but no damage to speak of after going up and over about 4 logs at speed.

It was one of those great learning experiences. I learned I ain’t about to do that trip again with a heavy boat. =)


Thanks for the pics… Fewer small
rapids on Hubbard than I would have expected. You got some good shots of the rock window. We were still using a film camera when we hiked in along Thompson, so of course I wasn’t shooting as much as I would now.