206 - Thompson Creek Trail Map
Moderate. Trail 206 snakes through a variety of terrain and passes by two of the Wilderness' better natural attractions – the rock formations known as Eye of the Needle and Ship Rock. Wildflowers adorn the creek-side portions of the trail during the spring. The low-lying sections along Thompson Creek and adjoining Whiteoak Hollow are popular camping areas.
Whereas the trail can be hiked in either direction, this description will arbitrarily start from the northern end, which is the Thompson Trailhead. When facing the trailhead display, the path is to your right and follows Thompson Creek downstream.
After a gradual descent for the first half mile or so, you come to a stream at Whiteoak Hollow. There appears to be a trail along the hollow but it only runs for about a quarter mile. What you want to do is to cross the stream and continue on 206. There is a sign (or was at one time). Though if the water is too deep, you might want to venture up the hollow to seek a shallower spot to cross.
The trail then rises through forest and a canyon before taking you down to where Thompson Creek joins Hubbard Creek to form the Sipsey Fork. You can stand in the headwaters of the Sipsey if that has any attraction.
This is the area where Eye of the Needle and Ship Rock are located. It is also one of the sections of the Bankhead that was hardest hit by tornadoes in April, 2011. The trail as it exists today has been rerouted closer to the creek than it used to be. You will see why that might have been the smart way to deal with the situation.
As you approach the end of the destruction (and have lost sight of Thompson Creek), Ship Rock is this big hunk of sandstone rising up over to your left. It resembles the bow of a large ship.
Eye of the Needle is a rock formation where two large boulders at the top of a bluff lean against each other with a man-sized gap in between. While you can see it just past Ship Rock, if you want to climb up there, you need to continue along the trail to after where it turns (and you can see water flowing again) and then climb up the bluff. There are some markers but it is not difficult to find, no more than a quarter mile after Ship Rock.
But the section of trail where you turn off to ascend Eye of the Needle is not actually part of trail 206. When you come within sight of water again, that is no longer Thompson Creek but the Sipsey. When 206 reaches this point, the trail then turns towards the river, crosses it, and continues northward (to your right) up and around a somewhat steep hill to the ridge.
Note that you may find some old trail marker posts on the western side that label the route as trail 201. The Forest Service changed their mind several years ago as to what constitutes 201 and what is 206 and some of the old signs are still around.
You may be wondering why the trail bothers to cross the river at all. After all, there is a well-worn path on the east side to where it meets 209 again. Well, this section of the Wilderness is actually private land. It is owned by the Rippey family and there is a cabin up on the ridge. It is perfectly okay for hikers to walk this section along the river but it is another thing for the Forest Service to route an official trail here. Both trails 206 and 209 have these little diversions.
Trail 206 is one of the better camping trails. Water and firewood are easily obtained. A very popular area is in the vicinity of Whiteoak Hollow. In fact, there is a rather large campsite some hundred yards up the hollow. Excellent campsites are also found at the southern end, on both sides of Eye of the Needle.