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Canoe the Cahaba
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Canoeing the Cahaba River

Canoeing is a wonderful way to explore a river and the land on either side of it.  A canoe can take you places that are not easily accessible from a vehicle, and it can take a large amount of gear with you too ! ! !  To my way of thinking, the ability of a canoe to carry a relatively large and heavy load of gear is its main advantage over hiking/backpacking.  Have a favorite cast iron skillet for camp fire cooking?  No problem with a canoe; NO WAY with a back pack.  Prefer a fold out chair to a tree stump?  Your canoe can handle it.  A canoe is the SUV of wilderness travel ! ! !

There are some special considerations that must be thought through in order for your canoe trip to be successful.  To take a canoe any distance down a river, you must first locate a river access point to put your canoe in and also an access point to take your canoe out.  The ideal access point should be close to a road, in order to minimize the distance that you must carry your canoe and gear.  Another thing to keep in mind is that once you trip is complete, you must have a way to get back to your starting point to pick up your vehicle.  It is for this reason that a canoe trip of any length will usually require that two vehicles be used in order to "shuttle" a vehicle down to the takeout for your use after your journey.

One of the main rules of canoeing any body of water is to always assume that you will tip over.  While this will not necessarily happen, it is always good to be prepared for the worse.  In the summer, tipping over may mean little more than a refreshing swim on a day trip.  The effects of a tip over in the cold winter months can be lethal for the unprepared.  For an overnight trip, you can use plastic trash bags to keep items such as your sleeping bag and spare clothes dry.  You should double-bag the items you want to keep dry.  There are several companies that manufacture "dry bags" designed specifically to keep your gear protected from the water.  Alabama Outdoors is only one of the local stores that carries a good selection of dry bags.

Cahaba River Canoeing Options:

  •   Alabama Small Boats offers a 10 mile trip down the Cahaba River.  This day trip actually ends just before you get into the Cahaba River WMA.  For $40.00, the good people at Alabama Small Boats will provide you with a canoe, life jackets, and paddles for two people. This option requires the least amount of effort on your part because they take you and your equipment to the put in point and you take out at the Hwy 52 bridge right next to their business.  This eliminates the need for two vehicles and a shuttle trip.  This trip is cancelled at water levels above 500 cfs.


  •   Through the Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area - An excellent source of information about canoeing the Cahaba River is John Foshee's book Alabama Canoe Rides and Float Trips.  This book is considered a classic among Alabama canoeists and will provide you with information about other canoe trips available in Alabama as well as detailed information about this specific trip.  The only drawback to the book is that it was originally published in 1975 and some of the information concerning access points is out of date.  In the book, this trip is referred to as Sections 7, 8, & 9.

The put in for this trip is at the Hwy 52 bridge in the parking lot of Alabama Small Boats.  The take out for the trip is the Old Slab.  The trip is 19.4 miles long and can be completed in two days. 

I have searched for an alternate take out location along the rout of the trip, but I have been unable to locate one.  If one could be found, the trip might be shortened into two sections, allowing each to be run in a single day.  The book, Alabama Canoe Rides and Float Trips, references two other access points, however as best as I can tell, they are no longer accessible (believe me, I've tried).

You will need a water level above 200 cfs to keep the bottom of your boat from dragging.  Use caution and good judgment at levels above 500 cfs.  At this level, hazards on the river increase substantially, and a greater amount of skill in boat handling is required.

The section of the Cahaba River that runs through the Cahaba River WMA contains no whitewater at "normal" water levels, and it should be appropriate for paddlers of all ages and levels unless the water level is high. There are, however, inherent dangers associated with any activity on any body of water.  Always wear a coast guard approved personal flotation device (ie. life jacket).  If you lack the skills to canoe a section of water, you should not attempt the trip.  The Birmingham Canoe Club is a great source of information and training.  Contact them and sign up for a class.


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Last modified: 01/28/07