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Cahaba River in Alabama - Weekend Trip Report

by  Throc

A self-supported trip created by Throc

Trip Overview

I've previously reported on a trip on this same stretch of river that we did last year. My only complaint during the trip in June 2010 was that the water level was too low. My group decided to attempt this same trip this year during the rainy season in hopes of having some higher water levels. Our plan paid off.

Six people took this trip this year. The plan was to go about 12 miles and camp the first night. The second day, we planned to travel about 12 more miles and camp on an island we had seen the year before. We would finish the last six miles of the trip and be on our way back home by 2:00 Sunday afternoon. The trip plan fell through right about the time we pulled out on our way to meet the outfitter and never got back on course.

Our scheduled meeting time with the outfitter was 9:30, we finally arrived around 10:45. After some hustle and bustle, we managed to actually be putting in around 11:30 that Friday morning and I ad a feeling we wouldn't make the 12 miles planned for the afternoon. Much to my surprise, we passed the 10 miles point about 5:00. This 10 mile point is where our vehicles were parked and it was the last take-out for another 20 miles (the planned end of our trip). About a half mile after the 10 miles point, the first problem arose. One canoe in the group flipped after hitting a rock and everything in the canoe was floating down river. After an hour of running down gear and getting the guys settled back in the canoe, I realized that we were about to run into a problem.

In this part of the country, at this time of year, it's dark between 7:30 and 8:00. We found ourselves finally getting going again good on the water around 6:15. The dilemma was that I knew it was getting colder and we only had about a hour left to find a spot to camp and get a fire going. That's not what happened. The same canoe that flipped after the take out flipped again about 7:00 and by the time we got situated again, it was dark.

Now I have never paddled in the dark before and neither had anyone else on the trip. I knew we needed to find a place to camp but I also knew that paddling in the dark on a river isn't the safest option. We pulled out our headlamps and flashlights and took down the river slowly. There are not any major rapids on the river but there are several spots with Class I type rapids. The fog rising off the water made the lights useless. My heart started thumping every time I heard what sounded like a waterfall when we approached the shoals. All-in-all, we went through three small rapids in the dark. After the third rapid, there was a small sandbar on river left and it was the best thing I had seen all day.

After getting off the river around 10:30, we got a fire going and got camp set up. I figured we had gotten through the worse part of the trip so I slept easy. When I awoke the following morning, I found out that two guys on the trip forgot to bring sleeping bags. Usually in Alabama this isn't a problem, but that night, it happened to be a nice 48 degrees on the river. The two guys didn't sleep at all and stayed up all night by the fire just to try and stay warm. Upon hearing this news on the second morning, the group decided to push for the end on day two.

I made a call to the outfitter and he let me know that he could pick us up that evening. I figured we had gone farther than planned because we paddled well into the night. Everyone packed up and we set out for the day.

We reached the island we planned on staying at for night two around 3:00 on the second day. At that point, I knew exactly where we were and we knew we could make the end before dark. I contacted the outfitter and let him know when we would arrive at the take-out. We paddled the rest of the trip and arrived at the take-out about 6:45 PM. The outfitter arrived shortly there after and we all headed home.

This trip was far and away better than the previous year. With the water level running ~550 cfs this year, the river had plenty of water and we didn't have to drag that canoes once. The major lesson learned though was to not underestimate Alabama weather. For the two that didn't bring a sleeping bag, that was a hard lesson to learn. This is a very fun trip and I might do it again but next year, I'm taking the boys on something new.


Primitive camping only. Be considerate as there are no public campgrounds. Most surrounding land is commercially owned or privately owned. Sandbars are available but can be few and far between with high water. Low water, sandbars abound.


Wenonah Northfork canoes provided by the outfitter and my Wenonah Cascade


Contact David Butler with Canoe the Cahaba. His website is He knows this river up and down and can provide an extreme amount of useful information. He's very friendly and is a great asset for planning any trip on the Cahaba.


John Foshee's "Alabama Canoe Rides and Float Trips"
Cahaba River near Helena, AL USGS Gauge

Trip Details

  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)

Trip Location