Wheeler Wildlife Refuge is on the Tennessee river near Decatur, Alabama. I paddle there several times a year.
During the winter months the water is lowered and there are thousands of birds. This past weekend we (I use the term "we" as usually I paddle with my wife.) saw several hundred sandhill cranes. We also saw an angry beaver that swam in front of our boats slapping it's tail on the water. There are plenty of turtles and a few alligators. We have seen gators from a few inches up to 8-9' in length. There aren't many as the locals seem to kill them whenever they get the chance.
On the north side of the lake we like to paddle in Limestone cove near Mooresville, there is a boat ramp and we have just launched from the bridge near town. The open part of the cove can get rough as it is shallow. This area is where we have seen the most gators.
On the south side of the lake we launch from a gravel parking area just east of the visitors center. This area starts out wide and shallow but becomes deep and narrow once you enter Flint Creek. Here is where we usually see the sandhill cranes during the winter. We have also seen a couple of small gators, beavers and a lot of turtles and wading birds. Oddly we have seen very few snakes at the refuge and no poisonous snakes.
There is a large Bat cave on the north side of the river that we have not visited . There is also a large creek on the south side of the river a few miles east of I-65.
The biggest danger in the streams is the large number of downed trees forming strainers that could be a hazard. There is no whitewater other than a good sized chop that can form on windy days on the open bays.
There are usually fishermen around and sometimes you can hear duck hunters. I have never fished this area but have heard that the crappie fishing is great at times. I fish regularly out of my kayak, but usually prefer the Warrior River for fishing.
It's very hot in the middle of summer with bugs. This is a large area and could be enjoyable for several days of paddling. Winter is best for birds.
There are numerous restaurants and motels in the area
no fees or permits
Go north on I-65 about 70 miles from Birmingham. There is a sign for the refuge just before crossing the TN river. There is a visitor's center.
You can visit the web site for Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. It has maps and a lot of information.