November, 2006. Troop 45 hiked Trail 206. The parking lot at the trailhead had about 20 vehicles there when we arrived. Where all those people were, we have no idea, as we encountered only about 10 people on the way in.
There are two ways to backpack to the Eye of the Needle. The first way, which is to have only experienced backpackers on the hike, takes about 90 minutes to complete. The second way takes about three hours. The second way includes inexperienced hikers, and stopping a lot to re-attach sleeping bags, tents, etc. to backpacks.
Trail 206 involves a lot of up and down walking. The entire trail is studded with small stones which means hikers need to keep an eye on their footing. The trail was well-maintained, as several trees that fallen across the trail had been cut and sections removed to keep the trail clear.
There is one small stream to ford about 15 minutes into the hike. After that, the trail runs alongside Thompson Creek the rest of the way. Just short of the Eye, along Captain's Cove, there is a multi-tier waterfall on the left. This waterfall is known as Auburn Falls, and there is a geocache near it, GCTMG9, at N 34° 19.535, W 087° 27.599. There's a great photo of Auburn Falls on the listing for GCTMG9 Geocaching.Com. Here's what the listing photo looks like:
Once at the base of the Eye, there are several good camping spots along the trail between the rock wall and Thompson Creek. If you're going to camp while there, it's a good idea to carry some sort of pad to put under your sleeping bag, as the ground tends to be very hard in the campsites.
There are also several small caves to explore along the rock wall. Some of our senior Scouts found a cave with several bats sleeping in it.
if you don't carry adequate water, be sure to carry some sort of water purification device, or iodine purification tablets, with you. The water in Thompson Creek is not safe to drink without being treated.
Maps for the Sipsey can be obtained from:
738 SHADES MOUNTAIN PLZ
BIRMINGHAM, AL 35226
Carto-Craft has really nice, waterproof, tear-resistant topo maps of Bankhead National Forest for $6.95 each, plus postage. Be sure to order your maps well ahead of time. Carto-Craft mails them promptly, BUT the mail service from Birmingham to Starkville is slow. Our maps were postmarked Nov. 3, and they arrived in Starkville Nov. 13, ten days later.