Best Places To Kayak In Alabama

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Alabama is known for southern hospitality and peanuts, but this state is also home to many impressive waterways and paddling locations. Kayaking, along with other water-based sports, is becoming more popular in this state, and many are beginning to take notice of Alabama for its kayaking opportunities.

Kayaking in Alabama offers something for every paddler. Calm rivers, scenic lakes, intense rapids, and even sea kayaking is all possible here. There is plenty of stunning wildlife to be seen as well as one-of-a-kind locations that every kayaker must experience. Alabama is a kayakers paradise.

Many paddlers are often surprised to learn that Alabama is one of the best states for kayaking, as this state is famous for so many other things, but the truth is that there is almost no place better for kayaking. Let’s take the time to explore what kayaking in this state is like and where some of the best kayaking locations in Alabama are.

What Does Alabama Have To Offer For Kayakers?

Alabama is a state that is famous for a variety of reasons. Alabama is the home of NASA, intense football rivalries, and its natural steel and iron resources, but what does this great state have to offer kayakers?

The waters in Alabama are plentiful and diverse. Alabama allows kayakers to experience still, peaceful, and tranquil water upon man-made lakes, calm journeys along pristine rivers, action-packed whitewater adventures, miles of beautiful scenery, and wonderful coastal adventures in the Gulf of Mexico.

Alabama has something for every paddler, and the waterways of this state are a kayaker’s playground. The rivers in Alabama are known for being in two categories: gentle, easy to traverse rivers with flatwater or Class I rapids, or intense and fast-moving rivers with plenty of Class V whitewater rapids.

The rivers here often turn from tranquil to intimidating quite quickly, but there are several sections of rivers in Alabama that remain calm and gentle for hundreds of miles.

The whitewater in the rivers is not to be taken lightly, and many paddlers state that Alabama whitewater is some of the most difficult to traverse.

With that being said, there are many calm rivers that have occasional obstacles that the paddler can bypass by portaging their kayak and re-entering the river beyond the obstacle. These types of rivers are the ideal practice conditions for beginner paddlers.

The rivers are one option for paddlers in Alabama, but there are also several lakes and dams available for kayaking as well. Every lake and dam in Alabama is a flatwater lake, which means there are very few dangers, and they are ideal for beginner kayakers or even those who have never used a kayak before. 

These lakes and dams are perfect for a family day out or for practicing your paddling skills and techniques, regardless of your kayaking skill level. 

Alabama is also home to 53 miles of coastline, which is ideal for saltwater kayaking. The coastal shores of Alabama line a small section of the Gulf of Mexico, accessible via Mobile bay, which is an ideal kayaking location on its own, or by way of the Gulf State Park, which is the preferred point of entry for many kayakers. 

Essentially, Alabama is famous for many reasons, and it’s time that kayaking is put on the list. Kayaking in Alabama is special, and there is something in this state that is perfect for every level of kayaker.

Beginners, intermediate paddlers, or hardcore veteran kayakers, fishermen, and kayak campers will all find something to enjoy in the waters of Alabama.

Is Kayaking In Alabama Safe?

Alabama is home to so many kayaking locations that it has been said that a person can kayak in this state for 200 days without stopping and never cover the same area twice. With all of this water to traverse and the diversity of the waterways in Alabama, is kayaking in this state safe?

Kayaking in Alabama is safe. There are some important safety protocols to adhere to when kayaking here, and general safety must be observed, but there is no reason to feel unsafe while kayaking in Alabama. This state is also home to one of the most efficient Coast Guard detachments in the world.

However, there are a lot of waterways, lakes, dams, and long sections of coastline to explore in Alabama, so it is important to follow basic safety guidelines and protocols when kayaking in Alabama. 

Always leave a float plan with friends, family, or the Coast Guard before setting off on a kayaking excursion, especially if you are embarking on a multi-day trip and follow the float plan that you set out.

This will let others know how long you intend to be and where to look for you if you are out on the water for longer than expected. 

There is a lot of wilderness in Alabama, so be sure to be careful when kayaking in the rivers. Know your area, understand your maps well, and always know your way back when kayaking here. 

The National Coast Guard has its headquarters in Mobile and is one of the best Coast Guard Units in the world. These people are responsible for the waterways and coastline of Alabama, and they are the main reason why kayaking in Alabama is so safe.

There are kayaking regulations to follow when kayaking in Alabama, some of which are important safety regulations, so it is important to follow these regulations closely.

Let’s take the time to learn the most important regulations regarding kayaking in Alabama, as well as other vital things to remember when paddling in this state. 

What To Remember When Kayaking In Alabama

Kayaking in Alabama is a special experience, and there is so much to do and explore on the water in this state, but there are some important aspects of kayaking in Alabama that must always be remembered before heading out with your boat.

The first consideration to remember is the weather. Kayaking in Alabama is always excellent during the summer months, as the weather is very temperate and there is not too much rain to be worried about.

However, the winter months can get very cold, and even colder water temperatures can make kayaking dangerous. Always be prepared for the weather that you may encounter when kayaking in Alabama.

Another consideration is the water that you will be paddling along. If you are kayaking on a river in Alabama, always be sure to scout the river and ask the locals what you may encounter on the water. 

There are many surprises in the rivers of Alabama, including whitewater, obstacles, sandbanks, and shallow spots that only the local paddlers know about. For these reasons, always be sure of your route, and always be sure you can handle the water you paddle.

Alabama is home to many forests and multiple state parks, which are ideal for kayakers, but also ideal for hunters. Always beware when kayaking during hunting season, and never set up camp outside of designated campsites during these months.

Along with these considerations, there are several laws and regulations that every kayaker must adhere to when exploring the waters of Alabama. A simple breakdown of the kayaking laws in Alabama include:

  • Kayaks do not require registration in Alabama unless they are motorized.
  • Non-motorized kayaks do not require a license in AL, but motorized kayaks do.
  • Motorized kayaks may not be operated by a person younger than 12 without a supervising adult.
  • All motorized kayaks must be piloted by a person who possesses a boater’s safety coarse certification.
  • Motorized kayaks can be operated by a person 14 years or older without supervision, provided the person possesses the required certification.
  • Kayaking in Alabama is illegal with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or higher.
  • Any person in a kayak under the age of 8 must wear a life jacket at all times.
  • All kayaks paddling in coastal waters must have a visual distress signaling device onboard.
  • All kayaks must carry and use sufficient lights when paddling after sunset and before sunrise.
  • Kayaks longer than 16 feet must have a sounding device, such as a whistle, onboard at all times.

All of these are laws that apply to every kayak and must be followed by every person using a kayak in Alabama. There are no exceptions to these laws, and everyone kayaking in Alabama must remember them and take them into consideration when planning a kayaking trip, regardless of where, when, and how long the trip will be.

The Best Kayaking Locations In Alabama

Alabama has enough kayaking locations to keep any paddler busy for months, but amongst the many beautiful kayaking spots, there are some that stand out as the best.

Let’s take the time to explore some of the very best kayaking locations in Alabama and what makes them so special.

The Sipsey River

The Sipsey River is located in Northwest Alabama in the Bankhead National Forest. This river is one of Alabama’s more calm rivers, but it is also among the most beautiful.

The water of the Sipsey is crystal clear and winds its way through a sandstone canyon within the national forest. The canyon is tall and offers stunning scenic views while traversing the river. 

There are two areas to look out for in the Sipsey River. The first is known as the Land of 1000 Waterfalls, as the area boasts a great number of small cascades that push their way through and over the canyon walls to find their way into the river. This is one of the most beautiful sights in all of Alabama.

The next section of the Sipsey to keep a lookout for is known as the 100-yard dash. This is a section of the river that gets a little more intense, but not anything more than an intermediate paddler wouldn’t enjoy.

The Sipsey is ideal for every paddler regardless of skill level, and the full-day trips that are possible here are sure to be enjoyed by everyone who visits.

Cotton Bayou, Orange Beach 

Cotton Bayou is one of the best kayaking destinations if you want to have a great day out. This bayou is such an excellent location for kayakers simply because it offers so much for such a small area.

Kayaking here allows the paddler to traverse a very large area if they want to, moving through the several bayous near Orange beach, into National Parks, and even out into open water if they choose.

For those who remain in the bayou, Cotton Bayou is home to several excellent restaurants, many interesting locations such as islands, and even boasts spectacular wildlife sightings that include dolphins.

This location is best for intermediate and advanced kayakers, as there is a lot that can go wrong when navigating such busy waters that can lead out to sea. Take your time and explore the waters of Cotton Bayou, and you will not be disappointed.

The Cahaba River

This river is a special place for kayaking, especially for kayak fishermen, because of the natural diversity here. This is the longest river in the state of Alabama and is home to more than 130 different species of fish.

The Cahaba is the perfect river for fishing from a kayak, but this long river offers incredible natural views and plenty of wildlife to see as well. 

The water on this river is not very rough, and some Class I and Class II rapids may keep beginners on their toes, but overall, this river is mostly calm and good for kayakers of all skill levels.

The length of this river also offers the opportunity for camping, kayak excursions, and multi-day trips that you will never forget.


At the end of it all, when looking for the best place to go kayaking, consider a visit to Alabama. Spend some real-time here and explore all that this state has to offer for kayakers, including still and calm lakes, gently flowing rivers, scenic views, raging rapids, and unique sea kayaking experiences.

Beginners, intermediate paddlers, advanced kayakers, fishermen, campers, hunters, and even novice kayakers will find something special in Alabama. Every kayaker should travel here at least once, as the experience is unlike anything else.