6 Day Trips in Alabama for First-Time Kayakers

In scenic northwest Alabama, the Elk River weaves through a diverse ecosystem.
In scenic northwest Alabama, the Elk River weaves through a diverse ecosystem. Marshal Hedin
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Kayaking is a perfect way to see nature from a different perspective, things look a lot different from atop the water rather than standing along the shores. Alabama’s 130,000 miles of rivers and streams give beginner paddlers plenty of opportunity to get their feet wet (or hopefully not!) with a new sport and fresh way of looking at things. Whether you’re on a mission to finally get that elusive photo of the Cahaba Lily in bloom or are just looking for a warming paddle with friends along the the Flint during a sunny fall day, paddling can open up a new way to get outside solo or socially. If you are new to kayaking, don’t worry, it is an easy and rewarding sport to pursue, and the multiple outfitters along the waterways will help ensure you have the gear and knowledge you need to get started.

Here, six spots that offer easy kayaking day trips perfect for beginners to experience Alabama from the water.

1. Flint River

Flowing south through Madison County before emptying into the Tennessee River, the Flint is the perfect river for a beginner day trip in Alabama’s wilderness. The current runs less than two miles per hour and it’s shallow enough for you to stand for the majority of it. There are also plenty of bridges and roads to break up the paddle into manageable floats.

Most paddlers work their way south from the Highway 72 bridge put-in. Along this route you’ll find several islands, creeks, and even a few caves to be explored. The Flint is also known for the diverse array of fish that call it home, including different species of bass, and you can even find a few smallmouth in the bends. For inside info on the Flint, contact the experts at North Alabama Canoe and Kayak (NACK), where you can rent your gear and plan a trip.

2. Elk River-Limestone County Canoe and Kayak Trail

In scenic northwest Alabama, the Elk River weaves through a diverse ecosystem with untamed forest, lush fields, and sandstone bluffs. Part of the Limestone County Canoe and Kayak Trial, the Elk is nearly 22 miles long, and has five easy access points along its length. Depth is controlled by the TVA, making it navigable even during a dry summer season. If you don’t feel like packing a lunch, there are restaurants at the Maples Bridge and Mills Park sections of the river.

3. Cahaba River

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The Cahaba River is a draw to photographers trying to grab a photo of the Cahaba Lily. Alan Cressler

Starting in Trussville and ending 194 miles south in Selma, the Cahaba River is known for being one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the country, and is home to more than 60 rare species of plants, including the Cahaba Lily. Photographers from across the country load up their watercraft for a chance to catch a photo of the lily, which is only found in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina, in bloom every spring.

The Cahaba offers a variety of paddles, from a light float, where you can stop and use one of the rope swings, to slightly more technical areas where you will need to navigate shallow shoals.

There are many public access points a short distance from downtown Birmingham. Check out the Cahaba River Society for more information.

4. Tallapoosa River

Part of the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the Tallapoosa River stretches 265 miles from the southern Appalachians in Georgia, through eastern Alabama, until it joins the Coosa River in Wetumpka. There are four dams along its path.

For your day trip, explore floating the Lloyd Owens section of the Tallapoosa. This 40-mile stretch, about an hour east of Birmingham near Helfin, is mostly flatwater and has five access points, making it a perfect spot for your first foray into kayaking. Check out the Tallapoosa River Outfitters or Southern Canoe Outfitters if you need to rent or plan a float.

5. Escatawpa River

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Get away from the crowds and into Alabama’s backwoods on a paddle down the Escatawpa River. Stephanie Pluscht

If you are looking to get extremely adventurous and deep into backwoods Alabama away from the crowds, the Escatawpa River, one of few blackwater rivers, is your spot. Located in beautiful, yet remote west Mobile County, close to the Mississippi border, the Escatawpa’s contrast of the blackwater with white-sand banks makes this a memorable and unique float.

6. Terrapin Creek

Located east of Gadsden in Piedmont, Terrapin Creek is one of the most popular summertime floats in the state. At 8 miles, the creek is split into two sections, both of which can be done in one day. It’s an easy, quick paddle, where you can pull up on the bank of the creek and soak in the sun, relax, cool off with a swim, or refuel with a picnic in Alabama’s wilderness. There are outfitters nearby, like Terrapin Outdoor and the Redneck Yacht Club, that you can rent from, and they will also drop off and pick up at the put-ins, leaving you to enjoy a relaxing float.

Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.

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