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McKiernan Creek in Alabama

Trip Overview

This trip takes place on McKiernan Creek. This area is also called "Donnagan Slough."
I put in at the Shoal Creek boat ramp near Killen. I crossed the Tennessee River and paddled West along the South bank of the river for approximately one knot.

I entered McKiernan Creek and began paddling downstream. I encountered no boat or jet ski traffic. McKiernan Creek is about two knots from the TN River to the River Road (also known as "Brick Road).

I did not see any vehicles parked at the bridge - an unsanctioned, but common fishing area. Had there been any vehicles present, I would have paused under the bridge and called out before I came out from under the bridge - one time I failed to do so and was nearly struck by a fisherman's lure as he cast into the slough. The area South of the bridge is known by locals as "Donnegan Slough."

There were two herons fishing and I admired their simple grace and effectiveness. Although I stopped paddling and tried to observe them quietly, they were clearly displeased with my presence, squawked very loudly, and took wing.

The wide section of the slough is a semicircular area about 50 yards in width. This area has some extremely shallow sections in periods of little rain. My area has had some rain lately, and this area was easy to paddle.

The South end of the slough is fed by three small creeks. I entered the first creek. There was another beautiful blue heron fishing. I was able to sit and watch the large bird for several minutes before it loudly took wing.

I paddled upstream until my progress was blocked by a fallen tree. I tied my boat to the tree and sat on my stern deck for a water break.

After my break, I explored the other two creeks. There were two beaver on the middle creek and they allowed me to get quite close to them. This creek has turtles in warm weather, but I did not see any on this trip. Beaver are supposedly nocturnal, but I have seen them repeatedly on this creek during daylight hours.

I paddled until my path was again blocked by a fallen tree - only a few minutes. The creek was to narrow to turn my 16' kayak around, so I had to paddle backwards some way to find a turnaround. The creek was narrow; I had to exit my kayak and manhandle it to turn it around.

I headed for the third creek and began to paddle up it. A blue heron was poised on a tree branch about twenty yards upstream. I must have been close to its nest, as it berated me loudly and took off with its wings beating angrily. The creek was beautiful in cool weather.

I paused at an area of the creek where I had a startling encounter during the summer. There is an area of bank lined with snake holes. I had paused there during a warm weather trip, lingering in one of those moments with no aircraft or road traffic noise. I lingered so long and so quietly that I actually observed two snakes leaving their holes and entering the water. They were nonvenomous - there are venomous snakes in the slough and creeks and the two kayakers I know refuse to accompany me to "the slough" for that reason.

I waited in the same area, but it is cool weather and there were no snakes to be seen. I paddled backward until I found a spot I could turn around without exiting my vessel and headed back to the slough.

I paddled around the slough for a few minutes and then headed back to the river. My trip upstream McKiernan Creek to the TN River was uneventful other than a crescendo of barking dogs.

I paused at the entrance to the river and saw that there was no commercial traffic nor any speeding boaters. The river crossing was moderately difficult as I was paddling upstream and there was a noticeable current, probably 4-6 knots. There is a good bit of fetch there, and I had to a little wind to contend with as well. The TN River is about a knot wide at this point and it is an invigorating bit of paddling - I always paddle quickly when making a river crossing - I have encountered too many barge tows to assume that I am the only one on the water just because the weather is cold or it is a weekday.

I made the crossing without incident and paddled up Shoal Creek to the boat ramp next to the marina. One of the live-aboard boaters had his dog out and the dog swam up to me in a harmless, curious manner. It was a beautiful black lab and I thought about tying my boat off and swimming with the dog. The dog and owner had disappeared by the time I tied off and walked over to the marina. I started to call out for them, but thought that might be intrusive.

I loaded up and headed for home. This was a nice little trip. It is always great to see wildlife. Getting so close to the two beaver was really nice. I would like to go back at night and observe the beaver, but there is so much substructure in the water that it is a daylight only trip.

McKiernan Creek/Dunnegan Slough is practically unknown to kayakers. Be aware of venomous snakes in warm weather - they WILL be there.
This is a short trip, but the small creeks off the slough are restorative. Recommended.


Boat ramp. Concrete sea wall with tires and mooring rings to tie off kayak. It is always littered and dirty there. Be careful for broken glass and fishhooks laying about.

There are no lights, but this is probably not a location to paddle at night - even with a companion. There is often substructure at various points on Shoal Creek.




Lee Hwy @ Shoal Creek Bridge. Boat ramp is on the SWest corner of Lee Hwy and Shoal Creek, immediately West of the marina.

  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip