Kayaking is the perfect combination of exercise and excursion. Being atop a waterway allows you to appreciate nature and surrounding landscapes differently. Whether you want to take a break from the summer heat or are looking to get some exquisite wildlife photographs, or perhaps want to go fishing, kayaking is an excellent way to do all of this, and what better place to go kayaking other than Alabama!
The State of Alabama is naturally abundant in water resources. There are approximately 130,000 miles of rivers and streams in the State. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, around 10% of the freshwater resources in the entire United States originate in or flow through Alabama.
While there are plenty of fast-paced class III and above rivers in Alabama, it’s not all rapids. The natural waterways are augmented with human-made lakes. Lazy waterways are abundant in the State, ideal for simple kayaking trips and float fishing.
Here is a list of 11 of the best spots to kayaking in Alabama, ranging from lazy Flatwater creeks to gushing rivers with Class VI rapids.
1. Flint River:
Difficulty Level: Class I
Put in: Highway 72 E
If you’re a beginner looking for an easy float and want to try your hand at fishing, then Flint River will be the ideal place for you to explore. The River begins in Tennessee’s Lincoln County flows into Alabama’s Madison County, eventually draining into the Tennessee River. Surrounded by agricultural lands, The Flint River is a beauty to behold. The view along the shoreline ranges from dense foliage and wildflowers to rocky bluffs.
The River is around 66 miles long. It offers a variety of water activities such as swimming, fishing, and, most importantly, kayaking. As it approaches the Tennessee River, it gets more beautiful. The River gains in beauty and variety about 10 miles south of Huntsville town.
Flint River is the ideal location for a family day trip, with water activities for all ages and expertise. It is a popular location for fishing. The River offers a huge variety of fish as well. Fishes native to this River are basses such as largemouth bass or rock bass. You can also find catfish and bullheads in the Flint River.
Most parts of the Flint River are calm and slow to be paddled by kayakers of all ages and skill levels. Beginners will find Flint River well suited for their ability as the currents are gentle. Some numerous highways and bridges act as put-in and take-out points. You can split floats into manageable parts.
A particularly beautiful part of the River is the Sublett Bluff area. There are numerous camping sites along the riverside. An ideal float would be from Highway 72 until Little Cove Road; it would take three hours. This section will find four islands that can be a nice diversion to explore.
If you’re new to the sport, it is ideal for you to stay upstream of Hays Nature Preserve. The section below this point is not well maintained. Little Cove Road, Highway 72 E, and Old HWY 431 near Hays Nature Preserve are wonderful places to jump in along the River.
2. Paint Rock River
Difficulty: Class I
Put in: Paint Rock Church Road
Paint Rock River will be your place if you want to paddle a river as easy as the Flint but want a little more seclusion than the Flint offers! We get it. An easy-to-paddle river attracts many people, and sometimes, we need a break from that and relax a calm and quiet river afloat.
The Paint Rock River is a tributary of the Tennessee River. This River rises in the north of Alabama, Jackson County, where the Estill Fork and Hurricane Creek meet. It runs for 58.7 miles forming the boundary of Madison and Marshall Counties in its lower course.
This River does not have a lot of development. No major outfitters operate here, probably because of the low water flow. Lack of outfitters also means not this River will not be too crowded.
The River is narrow and covered with large trees that form a canopy-like structure along the course. Not much sunlight gets through, which can be a good thing during the summer months. Floating here is perfect for cooling off that Alabama summer heat.
However, since the River is free-flowing, it can run low during the summer months. Do check out the water flow on the USGS Paint Rock River gauge.
The River is easy to manoeuvre since there aren’t any rapids. The current stay comfortably under Class I, making it suitable for beginners.
You can see a lot of wildlife here. The lack of human disturbance lets the creatures thrive. You can catch blue herons or water snakes along the way. The snakes have a reputation of not disturbing any boaters, but d take precautions.
There are about five easy access Put-in Points, the first of which is is Paint Rock River Church Road. Click here for a map of all five put-in spots.
3. Cahaba River:
Difficulty level: Flatwater and Class I
Put in: Grants Mill Road
The Cahaba River, which begins in Trussville and ends 194 miles south in Selma, is Alabama’s longest last remaining stretch of free-flowing river. The magnificence of this waterbody would take your breath away, especially if you are a nature lover. Floating through the Cahaba River will entirely immerse you in the serenity of the wilderness, as there are no loggings or dams along its route to remind you of urban structures.
The Cahaba River is home to more than 60 rare plant species and 128 native fish species, making it one of the most biologically varied ecosystems in the country. Between May and June, the rare Cahaba Lily blooms here. Kayaking through the Cahaba River is the perfect way to see nature from a unique perspective making it one of the best spots to kayak in Alabama.
The Cahaba, above all, provides a diverse waterscape. The River offers a variety of experiences, from a light float where you may stop and enjoy one of the rope swings to slightly more technical places where you will need to cross shallow shoals. It is perfect for beginners and slightly more experienced kayakers.
The River is well connected as it runs just east of downtown Birmingham. There are many public access points a short distance from the town. The River is slow enough for some upstream paddling, so you can go in either direction if you launch from Grants Mill Road.
Additional tip: Along the banks near the put-in, look for rope swings to take a break on.
4. Tallapoosa River
Difficulty level: Class I
Put in: Horseshoe Bend Bridge
If you have practiced your kayaking skills at flatwater and Class I rivers and are looking for an interesting float, then look no further than The Tallapoosa River.
The Tallapoosa River is part of the Alabama Scenic River Trail. It runs 265 miles from Georgia’s southern Appalachians through eastern Alabama until it meets the Coosa River in Wetumpka. There are numerous put-in and take-out points throughout the River, which helps curate the trip according to the paddler’s plans.
It is a well-fed river; therefore, it has four dams built on its course, making navigating the waters tricky for new kayakers.
However, worry not! If you want to explore this exquisite waterbody and don’t have the skills of a seasoned kayaker, there is still room for you. The Tallapoosa’s Lloyd Owens area is a great place to start your float. This 40-mile section near Helfin, roughly an hour east of Birmingham, is primarily flatwater and has five entry points, making it ideal for your first kayaking adventure.
For an experienced kayaker, Section 3 of the Tallapoosa River will be the ideal place to go afloat. The Harold Banks Canoe Trail along the Tallapoosa River is divided into five segments. Section 3 is one of these five segments.
This section of the River is very popular given its picturesque views. It is a 6-mile long stretch, and afloat here can go up to four hours, depending on the paddler’s skill level. There are many unique spots along the way. It starts with the popular put-in at Horseshoe Bend Bridge and finishes with public access at Jay Bird Creek. It’s an exciting ride with a combination of flat water and Class I current, with a few shoals along the way.
5. Guntersville Lake: Hambrick Bat Cave
Difficulty level: Flatwater, Class I
Put in: Guntersville Dam
Another amazing spot to go kayaking in Alabama is Guntersville Lake. You will not only have a great time afloat on this serene Lake, but you will also get to witness the gray bat emergence at dusk from the Hambrick bat cave.
Situated in Northeast Alabama, Guntersville Lake houses the Hambrick Bat cave. Guntersville Lake formed on the Tennessee River due to the construction of the Guntersville Dam. From Guntersville Dam to Nickajack Dam, the Lake extends 75 miles with 69,100 acres, making it the largest Lake in Alabama.
Guntersville Lake is an easy float with the currents staying around Flatwater to Class I. The Lake, in general, is very calm. Beginners can have a fun time practicing their skills here, while experienced kayakers can relax and enjoy the breathtaking views of the expansive Lake and the beautiful horizon.
However, be cautious near the Dam, and the Cave as these bodies can create some current. Apart from being a beautiful waterbody to explore afloat, Guntersville Lake offers the unique experience of a natural phenomenon; the gray bat emergence!
The Hambrick bat cave is located in the heart of this Lake, just about a mile upriver from Guntersville Dam. The Cave gets its name from the gray bats that inhabit it. The grey bat is a microbat species found in North America.
Sadly, gray bats are a threatened species. Their numbers plummeted during the early and mid-twentieth centuries caused by human disruption. Today, 95% of these bats only roost in about 11 caves around North America. Hambrick Cave is one of their largest maternity colonies.
The put-in point for the Hambrick cave is on the north side of the River at the Guntersville Dam. From there, the Cave is a 15 minutes paddle away.
Watching these bats emerge from the Cave is a surreal experience. At Hambrick Cave, around 60,000 bats emerge at dusk. You can watch this while afloat on the Lake. However, be careful not to shine any non-red light, as it can affect the bats’ vision.
6. Elk River: Limestone County
Put in: Veto Road
Difficulty: Class I
Rising In Grundy County, Tennessee, as Bradley Creek, the Elk River enters Alabama near Giles County. Elk River is a tributary to the Tennessee River and joins its course 6 miles east of Wheeler Dam. Although Beautiful, varied landscapes mark Limestone County, the Elk River part of the County is particularly breathtaking.
Elk River is a 22-mile long section of the larger Limestone County Canoe and Kayak Trail. It is surrounded by tall sandstone bluffs in some places and lined by redbud and red dogwood trees or rolling meadows in others. Elk River is a soothing escape from the hustle-bustle of the city.
It is a popular location for all sorts of water activities, but specifically for Kayakers, it’s the go-to place. Its popularity is that it is a reliable river to float all year round. The many dams along its course control the depth and pace.
Unlike other waterbodies such as The Little River Canyon National Preserve, which varies throughout the year and becomes unusable during summer months, the Elk River is a reliable source of entertainment all year round.
Kayaking the Elk River is more challenging than other Class I waterways. Although the rapids stay below the Class I mark, the narrow parts of the River can be hard to manoeuvre.
There are five easy Put-in and Take-out points along its course. The first one is on the west side of Veto Road, and the last one is 21.9 miles downstream on the north side of Elk River Mills Road. For more information about the accesses points, see here.
7. Terrapin Creek
Difficulty: Class I
Put in: Stewart Bridge
If you are looking for a cool spot to shake the summer heat off, Terrapin Creek is the perfect spot for that. It is a popular spot for kayaking in Alabama. It offers a variety of water activities such as fishing, swimming and kayaking. There are two outfitters nearby, namely Redneck Yacht Club and the Terrapin Outdoors, from where you can rent the yaks and shuttles from.
Situated on the east side of Gadsden in Piedmont in East Alabama, Terrapin Creek is a tributary of the Coosa River. It runs through the Talladega Forest and various pasture lands.
While afloat on the River, you get to witness the varying landscapes and heavy foliage. The creek is overhung by dense trees growing on the riversides for the most part.
During the summer months, Terrapin Creek is a popular spot. The expansive creek and the dense forest around it create a cool haven for people to escape the scorching hot summer days.
The creek offers a range of fish species, making it ideal for kayak fishing. You can catch anything from spotted bass, shadow bass, largemouth bass, and redeye bass to a redbreast sunfish, bluegill, or an occasional striped bass.
The 8 miles long River, although it cannot be classified as a whitewater river, it still is quite fast-faced. The 8-mile river is divided into two parts. The upper part starts from Frank Stewart Bridge and continues till the Terrapin Outdoor Center. The second part starts from there and ends at Ellisville Bridge.
8. Escatawpa River
Difficulty: Class I
Put-in: Lott Road, Mobile County.
Are you getting bored of the similar-looking Alabama waterways? Agreed that the State has some exceptional waterbodies that offer many recreational activities, but sometimes they can all look the same.
Escatawpa River, however, is a unique one. It is a beautiful blackwater stream that meanders along the terrain. The white sandbars that line the River add exceptionally to its beauty. The riversides are lined with various foliage, such as Atlantic White Cedar, Bald Cypress Trees and Water Tupelos. A kayak trip through this River will be refreshing.
There are two sections of the Escatawpa River in Mobile County preferred by kayakers. The first starts from Lott Road and continues down for 7 miles till Mason Ferry Road. The second stretch is14.5 miles long starts from Mason Ferry Road, and ends at U.S. Highway 98.
This River is a tributary of the Pascagoula River. It runs through the states of Mississippi and Alabama. Compared to other rivers and creeks on this list, the Escatawpa River is relatively shallower and has comparatively lesser water flow.
There are no strong rapids. The current stays well under the Class I boundary for most of the River. However, the sharp turns, fallen logs along the course and shallow parts require cautious manoeuvre.
There is a range of wildlife that you can see here, such as deer, raccoons and turkeys. Yellow-bellied turtles are also seen frequently. Several snake species inhabit the River, some poisonous, such as the water moccasin snakes.
9. Black Warrior River-Locust Fork
Difficulty: Class II-III
Put in: 231/79 bridge
If you’re looking for some exciting whitewater Class III to IV rapids, consider the Locust Fork River. It is one of the best places for kayaking in Alabama if you want to practice more technical rapids without the danger that comes with them. The rapids here are generally followed by deep hollows instead of sharp protruding.
Originating from in the picturesque folded ridges of Blount County, the Locust Fork River runs for 158 miles. It is one of the three tributaries to the Black Warrior River. Although there have been attempts to build dams along its course, the River stays free-flowing.
Surrounded by towering sandstone bluffs, the Locust Fork River is a beautiful spot for a weekend trip with a few waterfalls along the way. Just like the River is challenging to manoeuvre, the trail along its course is not easy either. It is not well defined, and the trail can wash out during rainy seasons.
Although there are calm spots in the River used for tubing or swimming, the kayakers stick to the more fast-paced parts. The majority of the River offers whitewater Class III rapids. House Rock and Double Trouble are two of the many rapids you will face on this River. There are many falls of varying heights along the River’s course. It gets narrow in some spots, and they can be difficult to manoeuvre for novice kayakers.
To access the Locust Fork from the north or Huntsville area, go on the Parkway (Hwy 231) and drive south until you reach the put-in bridge just south of Blountsville. If coming from the south, Rt. 79 is the best option.
10. South Sauty Creek
Difficulty: Class III-IV
Put-in: Access at the intersection of County Roads 43 and 56
South Sauty Creek is another popular spot for Kayaking in Alabama among the experienced circles of Kayakers. It is a tributary of the Tennessee River. The River originates in DeKalb County in northeastern Alabama. It runs southwest for 32.25 miles, eventually ending in Lake Guntersville.
Paddling this river is not for the fainthearted. You will face a few minor rapids of Class II+ after the put-in point and before the Welcome to Sauty sign. They are a good way to gauge what lies ahead. If you can take on these easily, the float ahead will be manageable. However, if you’re not comfortable with these, it’s best to paddle back up head out.
Further downstream, the River throws some solid Class IV rapids at you, such as Jonah’s Whale and Bone Crusher. After this, the pace softens down here; you can slow down and relax.
The south Sauty Creek is, although a relatively difficult river to ride, for intermediate kayakers, this is the best place to put their skills to the test before upping their game and embarking on something more challenging such as the Little River Canyon.
The access and Put-in point are at County Roads 43 and 56. The Take-out point is at Bucks Pocket State Park
11. Little River Canyon National Preserve
Put in: Millers Branch, backcountry road 5
Difficulty: Class II-III or VI-IV
Are you an experienced paddler looking for something more exciting than a class I rapids? If yes, then Little River will be the perfect adventure for you!
Little River Canyon National Preserve is a United States National Preserve near Fort Payne, Alabama, and DeSoto State Park, on the top of Lookout Mountain. Along the center of Lookout Mountain runs the Little River. Although counterintuitive, the Little River is the country’s longest mountaintop river.
Surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and scenic wilderness, the River is a sight to behold.
Seasonal rains are the major source that feeds the River. The River becomes too shallow for safe kayaking during the summer and fall months. The ideal time to ride the Little River is November to April.
The River can be divided into two sections; upstream of the Little River Fall and below. A great put-in point is at the Millers Branch, backcountry road 5.
The part of the River past the 45-foot tall waterfall can get very dangerous. Only experienced boaters should dare to ride that part of the River. The current is unforgiving, with rapids ranging from Class IV to Class VI.
A fun fact: Little River is used by the U.S. Olympic Kayakers team to practice for the big event!
Nonetheless, a trip upstream of the Little River Fall is relatively easier. Although the rapids here are still up to Class III, they can be enough to satiate your desire for a challenging ride. You can enjoy the beauty of Little River without facing the frightening Class VI rapids. The take-out point for this section is Blue Hole on Highway 35.
As this list shows, there are some amazing spots for kayaking in Alabama. From beginners who want to get their feet wet to experts who crave hard manoeuvre Class III and above rapids, Alabama waterways have something for everyone.
If you are completely new to the sport, fret not. The outfitters along the rivers provide both equipment and guidance.