Kayaking in Alabama Guide | REI Co-op Journal

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Alabama has a lot going for it: wonderful barbecue sauce, scores of hiking trails, a college football dynasty, a location in the space race and far more water than most paddlers know what to do with. In northern Alabama, two broad escarpments⁠—Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain⁠—mean the area is packed with steep creeks that run wild following storms.

“You can paddle for 200 days in a row,” says Adam Goshen, a Class V paddler who moved to Alabama from Virginia for perform in 2003 and stayed, in component, for the reason that of the paddling. “There’s so significantly excellent whitewater in close proximity to key cities like Birmingham and Huntsville.”

And even though north Alabama does not lack rushing rivers, it is not all rapids and riffles. The state has huge man-produced lakes and languid rivers fantastic for quick kayaking tours and fishing on the float.

Sipsey River

Very best for Paddle-in Camping

Difficulty: Class I
Place in: Sipsey Picnic Location on County Road six

One particular of Alabama’s couple of federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, the Sipsey carves a extended, narrow sandstone canyon inside Bankhead National Forest, southwest of Huntsville. The complete-day paddle is packed with beaches, huge boulders and tall sandstone bluffs increasing from each sides of the river. The highlight, even though, is the dozens of little cascades that trickle down from the cliffs following a rain, earning the Sipsey the nickname “Land of 1,000 Waterfalls.” It is a calm river, but there are some ripples and a single section referred to as the “100-yard dash,” exactly where the river narrows and creates a extended wave train. (Do not be concerned it is far more entertaining than harmful.) Due to the fact most of the river passes via national forest, exactly where there are no restrictions on primitive camping outdoors of hunting season, overnighting is as quick as dragging your boat ashore and pitching your tent wherever you like.

Cahaba River 

Very best for an Urban Escape

Difficulty: Flatwater and Class I
Place in: Grants Mill Road

Two paddlers steer a canoe into a rapid.

Paddlers head into a fast on the Cahaba River. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Area beneath CC BY two.)

The Cahaba River is the longest cost-free-flowing river in the state and boasts far more than 130 various fish species. It is also residence to the uncommon Cahaba River lily, which blooms white in Could and June each and every year. But possibly far more importantly for city dwellers, the river runs just east of downtown Birmingham, with many place ins that make for an quick urban float. If you launch from Grants Mill Road, the water is slow sufficient for some upstream paddling, so you do not have to be concerned about arranging a shuttle car, vital when you are searching for a speedy post-perform paddle. Maintain an eye out for rope swings and trees to jump from along the banks close to the place in.

Town Creek and Guntersville Lake

Very best for Kayak Fishing

Difficulty: Flatwater
Place in: Lake Guntersville State Park

With just about 900 miles of shoreline dotted with a number of state parks and public recreation web pages, 67,900-acre Guntersville Lake is quick to access. But if you are searching for fish, head to Town Creek. Smallmouth bass lurk in slow-moving tributary which joins the lake inside Lake Guntersville State Park. Head upstream from the park’s place in, and in three miles you will hit a series of grassy islands, a excellent point to turn about.

Locust Fork

Very best for Households

Difficulty: Class I
Place in: County Highway 14 bridge

Significantly less than an hour south of Huntsville, Locust Fork presents roughly 50 miles of newbie-friendly paddling that is broken up into 10-mile stretches among launch points. The river is generally the very first “whitewater” practical experience for Alabama boaters as it progresses from mild, Class I options in the river’s upper reaches to Class II-III whitewater reduced down. Correct novices and boaters with children must stick to the very first section. The eight-mile float has a handful of quick, shallow-water shoals to hold factors fascinating. If you are up for a longer paddle, continue on to the second section for 10 far more miles of slightly tougher rapids peppered with striking rock formations.

Small River Canyon National Preserve

Very best for a National Park Paddle

Place in: Millers Branch, backcountry road five
Difficulty: Class II-III

Some kayakers will run Little River Falls.

Small River Falls in the Small River National Preserve. (Photo Credit: Jim Bauer beneath CC BY-ND two. )

There are two distinct sections of the Small River as it flows via the 15,000-acre Small River Canyon National Preserve, southeast of Huntsville: a single mellow, a single not so significantly. The so-referred to as “backcountry” portion of the waterway extends upstream from the 45-foot-tall Small River Falls for eight miles. It is reasonably calm, with Class I and II rapids inside the preserve boundaries and some tougher Class III rapids in Desoto State Park, farther upstream. If you stick to the river inside the preserve, you will be in for a mellow ride⁠—just be confident to pull out at Blue Hole on Highway 35 ahead of the Small River Falls. The section under the cascade is only for the most seasoned boaters: The classic run begins by launching more than the 45-foot falls. And factors basically get far more severe following that.

South Sauty Creek

Very best for Creek Boating

Difficulty: Class III/IV
Place in: Intersection of county road 43 and 56

South Sauty is meat and potatoes for boaters in Alabama. Aside from a mellow “intermission” in the middle, its nonstop whitewater that begins right away at the place in with an eight-foot tall river-wide ledge. An hour southeast of Huntsville and two hours north of Birmingham, the drop-and-pool-style creek is central to the state’s greatest population centers. It also hits the Class III and IV sweet spot for a lot of intermediate and sophisticated paddlers and is entertaining to run at a wide variety of various water levels, which suggests you can hit it generally. There are a quantity of Class III ledges, but even the tougher Class IV rapids are protected, as these factors go, with significant pools at the bottom fantastic for boaters searching to push themselves. Beneath the cascade, the river modifications drastically to turn out to be what’s identified as the Canyon, residence to a number of miles of Class IV-V+ professional whitewater.


Want to gear up ahead of hitting the water? REI’s new retailers in Birmingham and Huntsville, each set to open this fall, will have the gear and classes you need to have to get began.

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