While the fast-paced thrills of serious whitewater will certainly get your pulse pounding, lazier rivers offer the opportunity to drink in the surrounding scenery with all five senses. Watch a water bug skate the mirror surface, hear the cacophonous symphony of insects and frogs, smell the heady scent of honeysuckle in bloom.
Of all the water pursuits I’ve enjoyed, none does more to still my soul and lift my spirits than a canoe trip down a gentle river. And none of these trips have I enjoyed more than those taken with my dad. Like leisurely Sunday drives — just on water — these father-daughter paddling outings gave us time to just be together. Sometimes we’d talk about important stuff; sometimes we’d talk about things as inconsequential as the cool color combination on a passing dragonfly.
One of my favorite laidback float trips with Dad was on Terrapin Creek, near Birmingham, Alabama, but the list of liquid trails flowing slow and gentle all across the camellia state is a long one. To help narrow it down, I’ve listed a few favorites.
Choose the stretch of water that appeals to you, and pick your craft — canoe or kayak. Then relax and let yourself be lulled by the rhythm of your paddle carving the water.
Flowing peacefully through Piedmont, Terrapin Creek is perhaps the quintessential gentle river. There are a few easy rapids (just enough gurgle and roll to keep things interesting), but there’s plenty of flat water to traverse as well. And the abundant flora and fauna make wildlife watching a given.
THE SIPSEY FORK
Alabama has many beautiful waterways, but only one National Wild Scenic River, the Sipsey Fork of the Mulberry Fork, part of the Black Warrior River. To experience the best part of this stream, take a canoe trip down the Upper Sipsey Fork near Double Springs. This float takes you through quiet, woodland hills within the Bankhead National Forest. At some points, towering rock bluffs shoot straight up from the banks; a few are over 100 feet high.
THE CAHABA RIVER
Alabama’s longest free-flowing river, The Cahaba is a nature lover’s nirvana. Thanks to its biodiversity, the Cahaba River has been recognized as one of Alabama’s “Ten Natural Wonders” by the Alabama Environmental Council. Its real claim to conservation fame is a humble flower—the delicate white Cahaba Lily, a threatened plant species. Check out the portion of the Cahaba below Centerville. It’s slow moving with plenty of sandbars to stop and get out on. Around Brent, it meanders through an area with lots of Cahaba Lilies.
THE PEA RIVER
In Southeast Alabama, the Pea River is a favorite coastal float, with a steady current that usually keeps any stringent paddling at bay. Its banks are graced by thick stands of old trees and multiple sandy beaches beg you to stop, drag your boat up, and just sit for a spell in the sunlight. This tributary of the Choctawhatchee River comes by its name honestly. Much of its water is pea-green in color, thanks to an abundance of moss and algae. The section of the Pea around Geneva is particularly pleasant.
Graceful and wide, the Tallapoosa River boasts clear waters that are relatively calm on the lower stretch that begins just below Tallassee, just right for an enjoyable day of drifting. From that point it joins the Coosa River between Wetumpka and Montgomery to form the Alabama River. This piece of the river has a soft, sandy bottom in many places and deep pools perfect for a dip.
The Bartram Canoe Trail system traverses the many rivers, streams, sloughs, and bayous of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the second-largest delta in the country and one of the most biologically diverse sites in country as well. Put in at the 5 Rivers Delta Center outside of Mobile to begin an adventure into the area’s waterways and wetlands. This resource Center took its name from the five rivers (Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley) that converge at the Delta and flow into the bay and was designed for outdoor recreation, conservation, and land stewardship education.