204 - Bee Ridge Trail Map
Easy - Moderate. This is another of the trails that begin and end entirely within the Wilderness. About a mile from the trail's northern end, the path to the Big Tree forks off (see below). While many people only hike this far on 204, they are missing the much more hilly and scenic portion further to the south. The trail ends at the Sipsey, joining trail 209 - Sipsey River.
The northern end of 204 branches off of trail 224 - Bunyan Hill at a point that is a little less than a mile from the northern end of 224 (at 208) or about four miles from the southern end of 224 (at the Borden Trailhead).
The southern end of 204 itself is at the river, branching off of trail 209 - Sipsey River some two and a half miles from 209's western side. This point is not the same place as the junction of the East Bee Branch Canyon Trail and the river; rather it is almost a half mile further east. The small trail marker is easily missed.
Notice that whichever way you choose, you have at least three miles of hiking just to get to this trail, a fact often overlooked by Big Tree day-hikers.
The hiking is good in either direction. Coming up from the south, you start with a gradual climb to the ridge through hemlock and hardwood forest. The trail gets narrow at times but is well-defined and reasonably free of obstacles. The quite nice views can be obscured when the trees are fully leafed-out. Once up on the ridge, the route straightens out a bit with level terrain through oak and hickory forest.
About a mile from the northern end, the East Bee Branch Canyon Trail forks off. The plot between the forks is a popular camping spot with water not too much of an effort away. The entire northern end has camping possibilities since the terrain is so flat. But you would need to carry in your own water or plan on a run down to Bee Branch to acquire some.
204a - East Bee Branch Canyon Trail Map
Difficult (updated 2013). The northern end branches off of trail 204 - Bee Ridge (see above). The southern end is at the river, branching off of trail 209 - Sipsey River at a point about two miles from 209's western side. There is no sign but you will see Bee Branch flowing into the river and the area definitely looks like someone has been there before.
Coming up from the river, the trail follows the water and would be fairly easy walking except that in recent years, many trees have fallen and are blocking the path. This is not an "official" Forest Service trail and hence is not maintained. Since a large number of people use this trail, sometimes branches and the smaller trees are moved out of the way. But some of these blowdowns are fairly sizable; so expect this short (three quarters of a mile) trail to take some time to traverse, especially after a rain when the path can get very muddy as well.
Those who persevere are rewarded at the head of the canyon by spectacular views with bluffs on three sides and usually at least two waterfalls gushing. And of course the ever-poplar Big Tree, the largest Yellow Poplar in Alabama, about 150 feet high and 25 feet in circumference.
From the Big Tree, to continue north on the trail requires climbing the steep hill on the east side (to the right when facing the head of the canyon). This hill can be very slippery after a rain and without much to grab onto. So be careful.
Coming from the north end of the trail, you hike about a quarter mile through terrain much like 204 before reaching the hill. The same considerations apply concerning the steepness of the hill, maybe more so when going downhill.
Camping in the northern section is pretty much limited to the campsite where this trail forks off from 204. In the canyon, there are some spots along the water. But remember many people walk up this path and maybe you would rather pitch your tent in a less hectic location. There are a number of well-used campsites at the southern end by the river but they can fill up quickly during peak times.