I am often asked where I obtain my information for the Sipsey Wilderness. I’ll give away (some of) my secrets…..
My most often used map and in my opinion the best map for for backpacking use is the CartoCraft map. It’s water resistant (I think waterproof may be too strong of a word, but it can get wet), folds up nicely, and has enough detail to navigate as well as some GPS coordinates. It can be purchased at various places including Alabama Outdoors, Mountain High Outfitters, or the the Warrior Trading Post in Wren, AL. It includes the Sipsey Wilderness on one side and Bankhead Forest on the other side. My last map cost $4.95 so it’s not a huge investment.
Another great resource is http://www.sipseywilderness.org as they have maps that may be downloaded for free of the various trails. They also host hikes on a monthly basis although I have never been on one with this group. I see LOTS of people hiking with these printed out. The only disadvantage would be the weatherproofing on an overnight trip since you print these yourself. They are still very handy and the price is great since you can print at home! I have used these and often print out for day hikes since you can zoom in and crop only to the area of interest.
An older, but still very useful resource is the briartech map. It is slightly dated, but is also available to download for free. I actually was able to print out the whole map on a blotter printer full size (approx 30 inces tall). Here is the link: http://www.briartech.com/sipseyonepagea.pdf. (update: this link quit working but I’ll leave it here in case is becomes active again). This map has LOTS of GPS Coordinates I have not found anywhere else. I often reference this map. The detail is lacking, and some of the information is dated, but it’s worth checking out.
Another source I use are older topographical maps that I find online. Often these will show the old roads through the area which sometimes makes navigation easier or may give me ideas on interesting places to explore. I generally use a combination of these (along with information obtained from others) to plan my adventures.
While most people stay on the main trails, any of the above listed maps will be sufficient for your needs. Just remember, since the Sipsey Wilderness is an offical Wilderness Area, there are no blazes marking the trail (or bridges, or other manmade objects). The only trail signs out there are at the trail junctions. You should have at least basic knowledge of land navigation or of the area before heading out.
If you are just wanting to explore this area for the first time and are uncomfortable with “finding your way” I would suggest going with someone that is familiar with the area or participating in a hike with a group such as http://www.sipseywilderness.org or Wild South http://wildsouth.org.
I hope you found this beneficial.