Paddling the Flint River: A Free-Flowing Alabama Jewel

Paddling around Sublet Point
Paddling around Sublet Point North Alabama Canoe and Kayak
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The Flint River rises in Tennessee and flows almost due south through Madison County, with the river generally gaining in beauty and variety as it proceeds toward the Tennessee River south of Huntsville. Skirting the toe of rolling slopes, squeezing between islands, and flowing dizzily toward the Tennessee River like a leaf on the wind, the Flint is a flat water enthusiast's dream come true.

The first stretch of the river with enough water to paddle is accessed under the bridge at Oscar Patterson Road near the community of Bloucher Ford. But, truthfully, even this stretch is not recommended to float between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The water is most often too low. Summertime paddlers will be better rewarded putting in at Highway 72 Bridge.

The run below the Highway 72 Bridge is in the environs of NACK, the acronym for North Alabama Canoe and Kayak, which serves as a public gateway for thousands of locals who paddle the river each summer. Founded just a few years back, NACK’s owner Scott Ammons will put 200 customers on the river on a good weekend. This, he says, is “in addition to the 200 locals that are doing it on their own.”

The Flint is an easy river to do on your own. You can stand up practically anywhere. The current is about 1.5 miles per hour. It’s a great place to learn to paddle. There are few hazards to consider, and none in the more popular parts of the river. Consider that the numerous roads and highways over the Flint break it down into roughly half-day chunks, even factoring in time to park, unload, and deal with gear.

Why you don't want to paddle the upper portion in the low water of summer.
Why you don't want to paddle the upper portion in the low water of summer. Alexa Lampasona

Oscar Patterson Road (public access) to Bell Factory community (private access) is about 3 hours when floatable. From Bell Factory to the next put in at Ryland Pike (privately-owned but the public is allowed) is about three hours. From Ryland Pike the next access at Highway 72 (public access) is 1.5 hours. Next down the river will be Little Cover Road (privately-owned but the public is allowed), three hours away. The Hayes Nature Preserve Access is 4 to 4.5 hours downstream (public access), and it is another two hours to Old Big Cover Road. From Hobbs Island Road to the Tennessee River is 3 hours.

The mouth of the Flint River is about 13 miles from Huntsville’s Ditto Landing and the Whitesburg Bridge. There is plenty of public access but some trips will be best suited to include NACK-managed private access. From the northern practical terminus at Bell Factory access, the river provides 48 miles of paddling to reach Ditto Landing.

Of note for anglers is the fact that the Flint is home to a large variety of fish—from spotted, largemouth, rock, and some smallmouth bass, to bluegill, to longear sunfish, to channel catfish and even bullheads.

Trying for fish in one of the coldwater springs that feed the Flint.
Trying for fish in one of the coldwater springs that feed the Flint.

The upper part of the river is becoming very developed with neighborhoods popping up everywhere, but that won’t keep you from spotting parrotfeather, pondweed, river weed, and, in the embayments near bridges, watercress. Even in the developed stretches, neighborhoods are not a distraction. The river becomes exquisitely beautiful in the Sublett Bluff area, and camping opportunities become more abundant in the area as well.

“The best three hour float—the premier section—has to be Highway 72 to Little Cover Road. It’s fed year around by three cold springs. There is plenty of good camping on river left and right, plus the four big islands in that area of the river,” Ammons says. “Anyone can get out and climb the bluffs to find interesting caves. And you can camp up there, too.”

Ammons remarks that this area of the Flint is undeveloped and wild, and will likely stay that way as the terrain is too steep to allow development.

“South of 431, things get hot and slow through the flood plain,” he says. “There’s virtually no shade. I don’t recommend parking a vehicle overnight below 431, either.”

"Beevy" (named by Skylar Ammons) basks in the attention of paddlers in his home just upstream of Little Cove Road access.
"Beevy" (named by Skylar Ammons) basks in the attention of paddlers in his home just upstream of Little Cove Road access. North Alabama Canoe and Kayak

What began as a reward for NACK employees has become a huge event for the public as well. Called The Tuesday Night Paddle , visitors gather weekly from May through the end of September, with seasonally adjusted times starting at around 6:30 p.m. and coming off the water around 9:30 p.m. Ryland Pike to Highway 72 is the most prominent route, where there are frequent firefly, raccoon, and beaver sightings in the waters around you, and groups are capped at 60.

Dusk, waiting for darkness, on the weekly Tuesday night group paddle.
Dusk, waiting for darkness, on the weekly Tuesday night group paddle. North Alabama Canoe and Kayak

The gauge for the Flint River is Brownsboro Alabama (notice it is not on the Alabama page) and can be found  here . Subtract 3.5 feet from the reading you get at this gauge to compensate for the placement of the gauge in a deep section near the bridge. The best level to run the Flint is at seven to eight feet on the gauge, which is just over four feet in actual river depth.

North Alabama Canoe and Kayak is located at 1143 Moontown Road, Brownsboro, Ala. 256-529-0357.

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