Me and my girlfriend both enjoy a good weekend Kayaking/Camping trip. We had just really met and gotten to know each other well enough to plan a trip together. So we leave out, and start the drive to the Sipsey. Everything was going way too smoothly, but this is Alabama, evening thunderstorms are apt to popup at any time with with little warning (I'm not big on watching TV either). About halfway down Hwy 36 the bottom dropped out of the sky, and visibility was about 4' tops. But we trudged on, and made the T at hwy 33, and headed south. Keep in mind, roads are not incredibly well marked here so be on your toes. About 5 or 6 miles down the road we found a put in off to the left (we didn't plan this very well). So we stopped there, took a look at the put in, and checked the water to make sure it wasn't too low. Water was ok even for this late in the year.
Once put in we decided to cruise upstream a bit to see what kind of water we ran into. The farther we got upstream the less water, so we decided downstream was the best plan of action. So downstream we head, about 100 or so yards downstream we found the first area we had to drag across, it was short and within 50' or so we were back in the boats and rolling along. The water here is shallow, likely only about 6 to 8 inches in most areas the first 1/2 mile of the trip or so with 3 or 4 short drags, and a couple that were just deep enough my girlfriend could paddle across. Canoes may have more issues than we did in Kayaks. Then we started getting slowly deeper in depth, sometimes long stretches of 3 to 6 feet water. But it was getting dark fast, and we needed a place to camp.
We found a sandbar just wide enough for my 2 man backpacking tent and decent enough to store the kayaks where they wouldn't float off. Every flat spot around this river is either up steep banks that are barely climbable and definitely not doable with gear so we took what we could get given the situation. We got the tent stood up and staked in as well as we could in the sand bar, and right as we pulled the rain tarp over it started raining again. So we flipped the boats up onto the back side of the sandbar tossed the gear in the tent and decided it was time to soak in the river since we were already getting wet. We really didn't want to sit in the small backpacking tent all night. So we found rocks big enough to sit in the river and once sitting on them the water was just about waist deep and relaxed.
After a rainy short rest of about 3 hours I woke up and noticed it was still raining so I stayed awake the rest of the night keeping an eye on the water level around the sandbar. Everything stayed safe and reasonable the rest of the night so I let her get plenty of sleep. The next day after the rain stopped we packed up and headed downstream and the weather turned absolutely incredible, and after maybe 2 more short drags we hit the main part of the river, and it widened and deepened enough to easily paddle and the current was near still. So we paddled a couple of miles downstream enjoying the gorgeous scenery taking any of the small sidestreams we found, and followed the sound of any waterfall we could hear.
This place is beautiful, and the solitude of being the only ones on this part of the river was well worth the trip. While paddling we made sure to scout out any and all potential camping spots because of the height of the banks and cliffs, and the lack of level camping areas near the water. There are a few man made climbs and such that lead to some decent camping areas, but nothing easily reachable and convenient enough to tickle our fancy. Everything was either overly sandy, up a steep climb, not level enough, or soaking wet. But somewhere in the vicinity of a couple of miles downstream on the left bank we heard a very loud waterfall and noticed a fairly narrow feeder stream opening. This is the spot! Once we went through the opening we found it opened up to a nice little lagoon, with a very nice waterfall (the rock below the waterfall actually worked as a small waterslide too!), with a deep undercut cliff, and enough flat area to camp comfortably.
This area is likely claimed quick during certain times of the year, it has seen some use no doubt. But it was perfect. So we decided to claim it now, we climbed up the short 4 or 5 foot area, tied the kayaks to a root of a tree nearby, unloaded our equipment and setup a nice camp and laid everything out to dry in any sun we could find. I needed a nap because of my lack of sleep.
The place was great, the feeder stream was cold water keeping the area nice and cool, and little sunlight was penetrating until later in the evening. So once I got an hour or so of rest we climb back in our boats to head further downstream. There is great scenery all the way down. In the deeper areas we saw one canoe, one jetski, and one small motor boat. There was still plenty of solitude that day so we stopped at some areas for a fast dip in the river on some rocky areas near the bank. There are areas of rocks easy to climb out of your boat onto, and pull the boat up with flat tops to sit and relax on, and swim from. It made for a very enjoyable day. This trip is well worth taking for a nice relaxing weekender.
Just some info on the trip, the put ins are not overly well maintained or designed, the decent down the steep bank with boats is a pain in the rear. They made an effort to create a concrete walkdown, but it washed out and there is a small ladder that you can use to not slip down the slope while carrying a boat. It's not overly nice, but it worked well enough for us.
Don't expect to find too many excellent camping areas other than the one we found on Saturday, but even after a couple miles downstream from there, and checking every possible area upstream to the put in, there isn't a whole lot that allows easy access to the water. Prepare to camp in tight quarters, or climb some steep and high banks. Come early enough in the day where you will have time to find a nice camping spot before it gets too late, it could be a while downstream before you find another if you skip one. And be ready to relax.
Don't expect much as far as accommodations near the river, there are some camping areas that are trail accessible and areas with ladders up the bank and such to access camp areas, but it is a backwoods area. Expect to really camp, no bathrooms or buildings here. It's a wilderness no more, no less.
Our gear list contained the following.
One Sierra Designs Tengu II tent (for the kayaker this is a terrific tent with a ton of vestibule space).
2 Marmot 30 degree bags (Iforgot the sleeping pads like a moron...)
2 Wilderness Systems Pungo 120s
Jetboil cooking system with extra cups.
assorted foods and clothes
first aid kit
bottle of our fav spirit
packable pillows, etc etc etc.
No fees or permit requirements that I know of at all.
From Huntsville, AL head south on 231 until you hit hwy 36, take a right onto 36 and travel to where the road ends onto hwy 33. Take a left onto 33, about 8 to 10 miles down the road there is a put in on the left side of the road.
We didn't do a lot of planning, I never have and never will. Planning too much takes away from the adventure of the trip.