Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to do the whole trail from the Georgia state line on the Coosa to Fort Morgan?
The first paddler on the trail made the trip in 48 days, but spent a lot of his time meeting with local reporters and community leaders in support of this epic trip. Your trip might not take as long. If you're not a strong paddler your trip could, of course, take longer.
Do I have to do the whole thing?
No, and most people won’t. There are plenty of access points for day trips on any of the rivers, and there are numerous places to spend the night for overnight trips. Some areas of the river have much more access than others, so plan ahead carefully. Some areas will offer sandbars on which to pitch a tent. Other areas will allow camping at public or private landings. Floating platforms have been build in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta for overnight camping along the Bartram Canoe Trail, which runs for a ways adjacent to the Alabama Scenic River Trail. Within the cities of Gadsden, Wetumpka, Montgomery and Selma, a traveler can access many amenities from the rivers.
Which part is the most fun?
There’s something to do, see and learn on every mile of the trail. But the most exciting part (for paddlers, anyway—this stretch is not recommended for powerboaters) begins below Jordan Dam and runs into takeouts in Wetumpka. Two local outfitters will provision you and your group with everything you need including transportation, boats and guidance. See the Outfitters section on the home page of this website.
What type of boat do I need?
Powerboats should be comfortable on most of the trail except for low water events provided that they have maps and a depth finder to stay within the channel. Some portions of the rivers have navigational aids present, and some don’t—but should. Be prepared to stay on top of your navigation, particularly when the water level is low. Powerboats must trailer around the dams between the Georgia state line and Jordan Dam. The turbulent waters below Jordan Dam and the following eight or so miles into Wetumpka are not suitable for most powerboats.
For paddlers, the choice is wide-ranging. The longer a paddleboat is, the faster it will go for the same effort compared with a shorter one. A full-size 17-foot touring kayak should have no problem on any part of Trail with the exception of the turbulent stretch of the Coosa between Jordan Dam and downtown Wetumpka. For this section, locally known as Moccasin Gap, a shorter, more maneuverable boat is desirable. A twelve-foot boat has been used for the entire trip.
A shorter boat will also be more maneuverable in some parts of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, though a long boat with a rudder will work about as well, especially with care to ensure adequate water depth and, in some cases near and in Mobile Bay, an eye on the tides.
What should I take on my Alabama Scenic River Trail Trip?
A complete list of everything you might need on a trip depends on you, your experience, your common sense and your ability to think through a situation. It also depends on the weather conditions, how far you are going at one time, and how you intend to travel.
Bring food. At a minimum, plan on bringing food and water for everyone. You’re boating, remember, not backpacking. Let the boat do the work. If you’re an outdoor person, you already know how much you need to bring. If you’re not, call an outfitter and learn as you go.
Bring a way to communicate. Cell phones are great near cities and in certain rural situations, but don’t be your life on being able to call 911 from every mile on the river. Have a map and know where your next (and most recent) access to civilization is.
Marine VHF radios are another option. marine police, lock operators, commercial boaters, marinas and some recreational boaters monitor channel 16 of these devices, which can be used to call for help when someone is listening.
Bring first aid. A first-aid kit should accompany you on every trip you take. Be sure to include sunscreen and a hat for sunny days and in cold or chilly weather consider warm clothing an essential first-aid item.
Bring the requisite and good-sense safety stuff. Somebody on your trip may turn over. What will they do for dry clothes? Bring extra and keep it dry in a dry bag that you can get from sporting goods and outfitters stores. Don’t depend on plastic bags; you can’t trust them. Some kayaks have dry cargo compartments that supposedly mean that you don’t need to dry-bag critical items like sleeping bags and clothing. Don’t trust them unless you have tested them.
Bring an extra paddle for every group. A lost paddle can turn an otherwise great trip into a disaster.
Bring a way to keep cameras and cell phones dry. Small dry bags and hard-shell cases for cameras and cell phones are a must.
Bring a way to navigate. Anyone embarking on a river for any distance without at least a map or knowledge of the area shouldn’t be going. If you have a GPS, take a waypoint at the put-in and, if possible, the takeout or else know for sure where they are on the map and GPS. You only have seconds to get information off a GPS or map when you need it most if you’re paddling; your hands are always needed for something else.
Bring a way to illuminate. Anytime you are outdoors for the day or several days, your chance of being out unexpectedly after dark is about 100 times greater than you have planned for. Everyone on your trip needs a readily-available flashlight handy at all times.
Paddleboaters who are used to paddling on lakes should heed this piece of advice when setting out on rivers and streams: don’t let a bowline or “painter” hang loose from the boat at any time. A loose line, particularly one with a knot, loop or carabiner on it should be secured within the boat or left off the bow altogether. A line tied to the bow can get caught on any snag or branch hanging from or floating in a river or stream, leaving the paddler permanently facing upstream (or worse, upside down), unable to reach the line to cut it.
Powerboaters should not go on any part of the trail without a depth finder and a good map. This is especially true on the Coosa River.
That sounds good. I've decided to go on the Delta section. In what ways it is different from the other segments of the trail?
If you're going into the Delta Section (see our route map), be advised that there are no signs, confusing intersections if you do not have a very good map, and/or a portable GPS/compass, and no nearby support facilities. A sea kayak with rudder is best, and doubles (tandem boats for two) are available. Portable toilets are a requirement on the Bartram Trail area—these can be bought at most any big retail outlets or sporting good stores. They fold compactly, are light and use disposable plastic bags. Each floating camping platform on the Bartram Canoe Trail has a private area for the use of these toilets. Don't be caught without one, you will be fined! You'll want disposable bags and disposable paper and bags to take your trash out with you. You'll want a tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, and maybe a folding chair (there are tiny padded ones that you can use in conjunction with your sleeping pad, check with a camping store); all your own food, provisions, water filter equipment (yes, you need this) or many bottles of water (gallon a day per person is normal for this type of exercise). Some experienced paddlers recommend taking rablets of 1000 mg Vitamin B-12 (begin taking them 2 weeks ahead, if you have a mosquito problem or don't want to have a mosquito problem, and daily on your trip). Flashlights and batteries; lantern; munchies; pots and pans, fuel, stove, utensils, paper plates, bio-degradable washing fluid and plastic scrubber, cups, bowl, matches / lighter, your meds as needed; cap, sun lotion, a solar long sleeve shirt is available to ward off burns, and dry bags for keeping things dry. We suggest a map (our Guidebook in a zip lock), a GPS, and a cell phone or VHS weather/emrgency band/radio. Check with our area outfitters - Fairhope Boats (ask for Bob or Harriett) to outfit you - they are the experts in that area. Fairhope Boats can be reached at 251 928 3417.
I want to include my travel on the Alabama Scenic River Trail in a vacation that will take me through Alabama, so I need to rent a boat and have someone pick it up at my destination so I can continue on my trip. I’ll also need a ride back to my car. Is this possible?
Yes, in some sections of the trail, particularly the stretch from Jordan Dam to Selma and in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta/Mobile Bay region. Call any of our outfitters for arrangements.
How do I get my kayak or canoe around the dams on the Coosa river where there are no locks?
The short answer is that you have to carry them. The best answer is that the portages vary from one dam to another, and potential Trail travelers should read the descriptions in the Paddlers tab at the top of the page.
A set of kayak or canoe wheels made for single-person transport of such boats can be had at outfitters and small boat supply stores. They fold for on-deck or in-boat storage and will make your portages much easier.
Alabama Scenic River Trail in-river buoys mark the beginning of each portage and ASRT blue signs are provided along all portage trails.
Can I lock through the dams on the Alabama River?
Yes, paddlerboaters and powerboaters alike are invited to utilize the locks and the skilled lock operators at the US Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Alabama River, assuming that there is enough water in the river to meet the Corps’ lock operation minimum standards and that a lock operator is on duty. Telephone numbers for lock operators are given in the Paddlers and Powerboaters sections of this website.
What about the tides as I near the Gulf of Mexico?
To inlanders, the tides seem to be the most mysterious and vexing part of coastal boating because they are its least understood component. Many have heard the stories and lore of kayakers whisked out to sea, pursued by rescue craft unable to catch up with them for a frighteningly long while.
These stories are true enough in other parts, but the tides don’t exert so much influence on the waters of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. In fact, the most dangerous aspect of low tide in the bay—especially near the causeway—is the chop set up by winds in the shallow waters.
And not only does the tide vary by time of day, it varies by depth. Tides everywhere are caused by the tug of the moon’s gravity on the earth’s water. Tides are apt to be greatest nearest a full moon and less when the moon is darker. There is about a 20-30 minute difference between the times of the tides from one day to another. In other words, if high tide is at 4:00 on Monday, you can expect the water to start going out at about 4:20 to 4:30 on Tuesday, the day after.
The farther up the Delta, the Alabama, and the Tombigbee Rivers you travel (there are no dams on the Alabama below Claiborne and no dams on the Tombigbee below Coffeeville), the less the water is affected by the tides from the Gulf, but the effect is there. No matter where you are below these dams, you need to be aware that whatever obstacles are exposed to snag your boat at normal water, the effect will be worse at low tide. When water is running high because of rain, high tide can kick in an element of danger that would otherwise not be present.
Is there a magic tide depth number to look for when planning to get on the water? According to Officer Jeremy Doss, the State Lands Division employee who’s out nearly every day with a boat and a chainsaw to see that the Bartram Canoe Trail area is kept clear and safe, the answer is no. He advises to watch local TV weather before you go out because the coastal stations show the tide as part of the weather. If those numbers don’t mean much to you because if your inexperience with tides, Officer Doss strongly suggests stopping in at local stores, bait shops and marinas. You’ll find the best-informed opinions there.
Another angle is suggested on the tour maps issued for the Bartram Canoe Trail. The maps list the number for the US Army Corps of Engineers lockmaster at Claiborne Dam (1 888 771 4601), where river depth at the dam is logged. The maps list the optimum range of depth at Claiborne as it affects each segment of the Canoe Trail. This is a roundabout way of knowing the general water level, not limited to tidal levels, but above or below which the waterway is considered unsafe.
The Internet offers a number of options for those who just want the numbers without the advice (search “Alabama gulf tide” or similar). The website tbone.biol.sc.edu offers a tide chart for hundreds of sites from Florida to Texas. Two-day information is presented along with sunrise, moonrise, sunset and moonset. The site also features a tide predictor for each area that shows the expected tides in time windows up to a month, with calculations extending out for quite a few years. The predictor allows you to customize various colors for day or night tides, rising or falling levels, and other elements. I found a listing for Lower Bryant Landing on the Tensaw River that looked just like the kind of information you could plan a good trip around.
While the site offers no tide predictor, the accuracy and easy-to-read format provides a chart of the water levels during different times of the day over a three-day period at the National Weather Service’s www.tidesonline.nos.noaa.gov/geographic.html (or simply go to www.noaa.gov and search for “tides”).
What counties does the Alabama Scenic River Trail pass through?
The trail passes through these counties: Cherokee, Etowah, Calhoun, St. Clair, Talladega, Shelby, Coosa, Chilton, Elmore, Autauga, Montgomery, Lowndes, Dallas, Wilcox, Monroe, Conecuh, Clarke, Baldwin and Mobile.
Alabama Scenic River Trail Guidebooks and other map products can now be purchased online by clicking here
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