Sipsey Big Tree Loop
ElevationAscent: 780' 238 m
Descent: -778' -237 m
High: 894' 272 m
Low: 595' 181 m
GradeAvg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 25% (14°)
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“Shortest, but not easiest, route to get from the road to the Big Tree and back again.”— Jacques Blaauw
From the parking lot, head east, crossing over the bridge. About 100 feet after the bridge is the actual trailhead. There's no map, just a sign for Trail 206, pointing to the right. Turn right at the trailhead and follow the trail to the SW, following Thompson Creek on the northern bank.
After about 0.4 mile, you'll get to the confluence of the White Oak Branch and Thompson Creek. White Oak Branch flows from the NW. You've been following Thompson Creek, heading SW. The combined river (Thompson Creek) continues due south. Cross to the eastern side of White Oak Branch. The path splits here. To the right is the rest of Thompson Creek Trail # 206. You have to turn left and then follow White Oak Branch - East Bee Branch Shortcut. It doesn't stay close to the river, it goes uphill a bit and then follows a contour on the hill.
After going NW for about 0.2 mile, the path turns right up a valley, while tending further uphill. Now start climbing. It's about 0.4mile to the summit/ridgeline, with almost 300 feet elevation gain. It's 0.6 mile down the other side, with almost 300 feet elevation lost. The summit is 1 mile from the parking lot. Somewhere close to the summit, there's a T-junction with what looks like a jeep track going off to the left. Turn left here.
During the downhill, you start following a creek, heading SE. Try to stay on the lefthand bank. At almost the end of the downhill, there's a creek joining yours from the WSW. This side creek makes a nice waterfall about 300 feet upriver, to the W (it's worth going upriver here to see the waterfall). Right after this, the route curls left-handed around a hill until your creek joins the Bee Branch, flowing roughly north to south.
Cross to the eastern bank of Bee Branch and follow the trail south. About 0.25 mile after your trail met Bee Branch, a creek (East Bee Branch) joins from the east. Cross this creek to get to the trail (East Bee Branch Canyon Trail) on the southern bank and then follow the trail east. The route curls left-handed around a hill for about 0.5 mile before you get to Big Tree. Shortly after Big Tree is a waterfall. Big Tree is not that big, so check out some pictures beforehand to learn how to recognize it. If you get to the waterfall, you've already passed it.
After taking pictures and resting a bit, head back down East Bee Branch Canyon Trail.
When you get back to Bee Branch, follow it south for 0.5 mile, until it joins Thompson Creek. You have to go west, so look for a place to cross Bee Branch. Thompson Creek flows to the east here. You'll join it at the northern end of its curve. Follow the trail on the northern bank (Sipsey River Trail) west for 0.4 mile, where you'll find a campsite, conveniently halfway along the route. From the campsite, head west, following the river. About 1.2 miles along, you'll find the river crossing on the left where Sipsey River Trail ends, at the Sipsey Wild Hiking Trail #209, which heads west. It's just a pine that's fallen across the river. Stay right on Thompson Creek Trail # 206.
About 200 yards after the river crossing (which you didn't take), Monster Rock is on your right. About 0.3 mile after the river crossing (which you didn't take), Ship Rock and Eye of the Needle is on your right. Here you can choose to continue west, going right-handed around the hill, or you can follow the trees marked with red paint, scramble up to Eye of the Needle, crawl through and scramble down the other side. There you'll join the trail again and follow the river east. Ship Rock is best viewed from the northern side.
From here (the other side of Eye of the Needle), it's an easy 1.5 miles to Thompson Trailhead. There are a number of small waterfalls along the way. For stretches, the trail is quite far to the right of the river, but it joins again soon enough. At the trailhead, turn left (heading W), cross over the bridge and arrive at the parking lot.
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Land Manager: USFS - Bankhead National Forest Ranger District