Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge - Paddling

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Paddling opportunities abound at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge with miles along the Tennessee River and secluded lakes offering great views and opportunity to see thousands of migrating waterfowl.

Written by

Sam Calhoun


5.0 miles

Paddle as little or as long as you like.

Destination Distance From Downtown

28.6 miles


1 of 5 diamonds

Time To Complete

2 hours

The variety of put-ins and distances allow for trips as long as you like.


All Seasons

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only

Topographical Map

Refuge Map

Land Website

USFW Wheeler Refuge



The 34,000 plus acres of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge were set aside in the late 1930s for migrating waterfowl, the highlight attraction in the winter months. It's no surprise then that the refuge offers a variety of waterways and a multitude of places to explore by kayak or canoe. Encompassing many float-able creeks and many miles of shoreline along the Tennessee River, the opportunities for exploration and adventure are plentiful.

What Makes It Great

Stop in at the visitor's center for a map and a short film if you've got time, then head across the road to put-in near the wooden bridge at the Flint Creek Trail trailhead. You'll creep through thick lilypads, catching glimpses of herons, egrets, and cranes, if you're lucky. Cross the river for a stop at the Decatur Hospitality Nature Park, on the northwest edge of the refuge and a site on the North Alabama Birding Trail. Paddle out of the mud flats to see small groves of cypress along the bank, burning a brilliant orange in the fall.

On the other side of Highway 31 sits the almost hidden White Springs Dike, a great place to see pelicans, and brave the choppy waters of the Tennessee River and explore islands. The truly adventurous can set out on a point-to-point excursion from the Dancy Bottoms area on Flint Creek for a long day paddle, taking in the beauty and peacefulness of Dinsmore Slough before arriving at a pull out on Highway 67. Channel your inner Crocodile Dundee and venture out from Arrowhead landing across Limestone Bay to protected backwaters of the river and meandering creek channels that play host to the small alligator population.

Or, for a shorter point to point paddle, check out Blackwell swamp for a two mile romp on very still waters.

Who is Going to Love It

The lakes and backwaters are the perfect spot for a family or group outing. There's no white water here, but novice paddlers will enjoy the movement of Flint Creek and the choppier waters of the river. Plan a trip in late spring to see the lilypads in bloom. Or, brave the cold, and coast along with tens of thousands of migrating waterfowl in the winter months.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

The refuge visitor center is open daily 9am to 5pm, October through February. Beginning March 1st through September, the hours change to Tuesday through Saturday, 9am to 4pm, and they are closed on Sunday and Monday. The visitor center is closed on Thanksgiving day, Christmas day and July 4th. 

No entry fee.  Ramps are open year around.  

Directions to Visitor Center and Headquarters: From I-65 take Exit 334 (Decatur/Priceville) and go north on Highway 67 for three miles. Visitor Center entrance will be on the left. The headquarters entrance is a quarter mile pass visitor center entrance and will be on the right.

Closures: Areas within refuge boundaries may be closed to public entry due to sensitive species or restoration activities. Be aware of signs indicating closed areas. Each year, between November 15 and January 15, the Garth Slough area is closed to all public entry, including foot travel. The area west and north of Airport Road around the visitor center and Observation Building is closed to all entry at all time.  

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Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge-Paddling

3121 Visitor Center Road
Decatur, Al, 35603
34.547453, -86.951143

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