The Sipsey River has flowed for many years, cutting through the layers of sandstone that make up the Brindley Mountain plateau. The cliffs of the river canyon create a waterfall wonderland after even the slightest rain, as everything funnels off the elevated plateau into the river basin below. Paddle this area shortly after a major rainfall and you quickly understand the nickname, “Land of 1000 Waterfalls.” In addition to the cascades and solitude, the river itself is a stunning example of a pristine natural environment. A Sipsey River paddle starts at the picnic area on County Road 60 and ends where you park a shuttle vehicle at the Highway 33 Bridge.
What Makes It Great
The river canyon is narrow, steep, and stunning, with small tributary streams cascading from above and no signs of civilization for most of the run. From the start you’ll be within the Bankhead National Forest for the entire 9.5-mile trip and will quickly understand why this is the only river in Alabama to have the federal “Wild and Scenic” designation. Steep cliffs on either bank contribute to the sense of solitude and provide striking scenery and hundreds of places to beach your canoe and explore on foot. Based on the location and length of time on the water, this is an all-day adventure, and easily one of the most scenic and remote experiences in the state. The boulders and rock outcroppings lining the river are raw and beautiful. The lush, green foliage and trees hide you away from civilization and will invite you to return year after year.
Summers can be brutally hot and buggy, and the river is even unnavigable for much of this season when there isn't the minimum flow of 75 cfs. Spring and fall are the ideal times to visit and you’ll want a flow of 250 cfs for the optimal paddling conditions.
A self-guided trip can be done by renting a canoe from the Outdoor Rec Department at UAB in downtown Birmingham. All other logistics (boat transportation, vehicle shuttle, navigation, etc.) are up to you.
Who is Going to Love It
The Sipsey River isn’t so rough that beginners can’t enjoy the waters. Many places are no more than 1.5 feet deep, but the current is not a force to be trifled with, or to be underestimated. Safety precautions must never be ignored or neglected, and will ensure an unforgettable, injury-free trip. The Sipsey River is a great place for beginners to discover the fun of paddling, and would be wise to bring along an experienced paddler to show them the ropes. Experienced adventurers will enjoy the laid-back nature of the river and will get a rush from the rough patches.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Daily rental packages (boat, PFDs, paddles, straps) are available for $25-$40 and you can call ahead (205-996-4913) to reserve a boat.
The Sipsey Recreation area on County Road 60 is the put-in location. A large paved parking lot with picnic tables, restrooms and a sloping ramp are there for visitor’s use, and is considered one of the state’s most convenient river launching sites.