Alabama is known for being a kayaker’s paradise. Not only does the state have kayaker-friendly weather year-round, but it is also home to 132,000 miles of waterways that you can choose from when picking your next place to paddle.
You’ll also find a good mix of whitewater rivers and creeks along with tranquil lakes and winding waterways that allow you to choose your adventure based upon your skill level and how you feel that day.
One of the reasons people flock to the state for kayaking is that the calmer waters provide a fantastic opportunity to see the diverse range of wildlife.
Alabama waterways hold 38% of North America’s fish species, and you’ll be able to spot turtles, snakes, and even a possible manatee as you paddle along the different bodies of water.
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Paddling through the sandstone canyons of the state allows you to experience a sense of awe as you view the bluffs overhead. This is technically a beginner-friendly waterway, and you’ll find that some areas of the river are only around one and one-half feet deep.
The majority of the trip is calm, but remember to avoid getting too complacent. Like any body of water, you can run into some strong currents that require you to push your paddling skills.
You can also expect to hit what the locals call the 100-yard dash about halfway through your trip. Here, you’ll find Class II rapids that pose a risk for tipping and some serious splashes. Make sure to waterproof your gear, and consider using a spray skirt.
Most people choose to put in at Cranal Road in Double Springs, Alabama and stop at County Road 33. This put-in spot has a big parking lot that allows walk-up access for your launch.
An alternative place to launch is at Thompson Creek off of Forest Road #208. If you choose Thompson Creek, then plan for an all-day adventure because this location nearly doubles the length of your trip.
Paint Rock River
If you talk to anyone who goes kayaking in Alabama, then you’ll likely hear this river come up. The Jackson County river was formed by a confluence of Estell Fork and Hurricane Creek. It is one of Alabama’s most critical biological regions for plants and wildlife.
As a kayaker, you’ll quickly notice that this is one of the more untouched places you can paddle since it hasn’t been hit by the changes that come with logging and development that you’ll see in other locations.
Some people associate this river with snakes, and you could indeed come across quite a few of these critters depending upon the time of year you visit.
However, you’ll also see ducks, deer, and various fish that make the trip well worth it if you aren’t a fan of snakes.
The ideal place to launch here is at John T. Reid Parkway in Woodville, Alabama, and it is about a three-hour trip to where you’ll most likely want to pull out at Mill Road.
Beavers and alligators are just a few of the potential types of wildlife that you’ll see here. Limestone Creek is a 45.5 mile long tributary to the Tennessee River, and it is also a great place to possibly spot a blue heron.
This kayaking destination is relatively easy for beginners, but you’ll want to be smooth with your paddling to avoid stirring up any potential gators.
If gators aren’t your thing, then you can choose to take the northern route from the waterfall after launching from Limestone Creek Trail in Madison, Alabama.
Typically, gators aren’t found there. You’ll still want to go over common alligator safety rules with your kayaking group.
Avoid paddling directly into their path and the importance of making noise to alert them of your presence so that you don’t accidentally surprise one basking along the shoreline.
If you prefer flexibility for your timeline, this is a great place to kayak since you can choose to make it a one-hour trip or an all-day adventure.
For shorter trips, find a place in Limestone Bay where you can quickly turn back around to get to your car without having to get someone to drive it upriver.
This is a perfect place to cast your rod while kayaking in Alabama if you love fishing. The river is known for being an excellent place to go bass fishing since you’ll find spotted, largemouth, and rock species all swimming around in an easy-to-access place.
Beginner kayakers also love the fact that they can pull over and take a break just about anywhere along the calm water. Typically, the current runs only around 1.5 mph, which allows you to float along with minimal effort.
The mild current is one of the reasons why many people choose to make this the place where they first learn to paddle or teach their kids the joys of kayaking.
You’ve got several options for put-in spots along the Flint River. If you’ve planned for shuttling paddlers, then launch at Old Highway 431 near the Hays Nature Preserve.
Staying upriver of the preserve is best if you are still developing your paddling skills since you’ll avoid the log jams that tend to occur downriver. Also, consider making this three to five-hour trip a memorable experience by planning for some extra time to hop out and enjoy a swim or picnic on the shoreline.
If you’re looking for a bit of a different type of kayaking adventure than you’ll find on the river, then you’ll want to put this spot on your itinerary. The launch site is easy enough to spot as you pull up.
Just look for the 400-foot pier that extends into the bay, and you’ll put in nearby. This estuary is a mixture of fresh and saltwater, providing exciting opportunities to view the wildlife as you paddle.
Manatees and dolphins are possible sightings to expect in Wolf Bay, along with sea turtles and occasional alligators. The water here can get choppy during certain times of the day, so make sure to follow the shoreline closely if you are still building your paddling abilities.
Several amenities are nearby, such as picnic areas and restrooms, making it easier to enjoy a full-day adventure.
Hambrick Bat Cave
The TVA owns this popular cave, and you can take part in one of the most popular sight-seeing kayaking adventures in Alabama by choosing to paddle a short distance down the Tennessee River.
The cave is located about one mile upriver from Guntersville Dam. At dusk, as many as 60,000 bats can emerge from the cave to go on their nocturnal journeys.
With only a 15-minute trip from the TVA-owned public recreation area’s launch site just east and upriver of the Dam, you won’t do a whole lot of kayaking, but the memories last forever.
You’ll want to take this trip even if you are an experienced kayaker just for the spectacular view of the bats leaving the cave at sunset. It’s also a great way to introduce newcomers to the amazing adventures they’ll have by learning to kayak.
If your primary reason to kayak in Alabama is to enjoy the biodiversity, then get ready to feel like you want to drop an anchor and stay awhile. The Cahaba River starts in Trussville and flows for 194 miles north of Selma.
While it is home to 130 different fish species, it is perhaps best known for being the prime place to spot the Cahaba Lily that blooms from May to June and can only be found in Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia.
You’ll find several options for paddling along the river that range from calm areas where you can jump out and play on the rope swings or you can test your skills on more technical parts of the waterway.
In addition, you can put in at many different public access points just a short distance from Birmingham.
For example, the put-in site off of Old Overton Road in Birmingham has a small parking lot with a concrete slap launch site, or you can find a larger site for parking just off of Grants Mill Road in Irondale Alabama.
When you plan to kayak Alabama, keep in mind that this is just a list to help get you started exploring the unique, diverse biological regions where you can see wildlife and plants in their natural aquatic environment.
You can also find more challenging waterways that offer features such as whitewater rapids for those times when you want a bit more adventure. As you set out, remember to keep an explorer’s mindset.
From alligators to blue herons and the beautiful Cahaba Lily, you never know what you’ll find on your next paddling trip.
As always, remember to follow the standard procedures for kayaking safely, and bring along your water-resistant camera or smartphone to capture those unforgettable moments that only an Alabama kayaking trip can bring.