Five Fall Paddling Day Trips Near Birmingham

Garry Tucker, USFWS (US Fish & Wildlife Services Southwest Region)
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When fall arrives in Alabama, one of the best ways to experience the autumn colors is to paddle beneath the trees. The Birmingham area offers some diverse paddling experiences, ranging from quiet secluded paddles to adventurous weekend getaways. RootsRated recommends five day trips to help you experience the best that Birmingham has to offer this fall.

1. Oak Mountain Lakes


Oak Mountain State Park is the largest state park in Alabama, and has three lakes that offer excellent easygoing paddles. The main recreation lake, called Double Oak Lake, contains a beach, a marina, docks, and boating rentals. The still water is perfect for paddle boarders, and canoes. The two lower lakes, Lunker and Oak Mountain, are much quieter but do not offer boat rentals. These lakes are great for paddling and fishing, and Oak Mountain is always a great destination for the whole family.

2. Clear Creek Recreation Area (Smith Lake)

Eddie Freyer

Clear Creek is located on Smith Lake and is part of the Bankhead National Forest. The lake itself has over 500 miles of shoreline and some of the cleanest water of any man-made lake in the country, which makes it a popular destination for boating, swimming, fishing, and of course, paddling. During the fall, summer boat traffic has subsided, making the exploration of nooks and sloughs much more enjoyable and solitary. Clear Creek is a great day trip spot, but also has a campground and picnic area, so you can make it an overnighter if you’d like to extend your adventure.

3. Sipsey River

Eddie Freyer

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. 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.

4. Five Mile Creek in Brookside

Located only 15 miles from Birmingham, Five Mile Creek is a convenient option for a fall paddle. While the upper section of the creek is designated for whitewater kayaks and the adventurous, the lower section of river meanders and slows to become the perfect destination for flat-water canoeists. The Five Mile Creek Canoe Company offers shuttles and boat rentals, and the best part is, paddlers can spend a Saturday afternoon here and easily be back in town that night for dinner.

5. Cahaba River 

USFWS Southeast

Located just outside of West Blocton, only 40 miles from downtown, this stretch of the Cahaba is perhaps most well-known for the Cahaba Lily that blossoms here in May, but paddling here during the fall is just as beautiful. The relatively small rapids here are designated as Class I and II, making them manageable for most moderate canoeists and kayakers, and thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable. If you’re interested in paddling down a section of Alabama’s longest free flowing river, then this is the adventure for you.

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