Alabama is river country. A map of our state’s topography reveals a land crisscrossed with squiggly blue lines indicating more than 5,300 miles of accessible waterways. Alabama’s Scenic River Trail is the longest and most diverse river trail in America. Running the course from mountain streams to whitewater rapids and the river delta to the Gulf of Mexico, spending a day on the water is practically an Alabama birthright.
When you’re ready to shed your landlocked life, it’s easy to hook up with the state’s network of more than 50 adventure outfitters whose job it is to help you get your feet wet—literally and figuratively. One of our state’s most experienced outfitters is Coosa River Adventures, a locally owned business that has been taking folks from all over the state down the Coosa River for the past 26 years. Owner Chris Carter has made it his personal mission to make sure everyone experiences the natural wonder of the river via an action-packed kayak tour that’s safe for beginners and fun for the whole family. Ready to take the plunge and explore The Coosa? Here’s everything you need to know before you go.
Located a stone’s throw away from downtown Wetumpka, Coosa River Adventures was around long before Wetumpka got its taste of the spotlight as the first town selected for a makeover on HGTV’s “Home Town Takeover” reality series.
Before you hit the road, call ahead to make a reservation for your self-guided tour. Trips leave at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. with extra times often offered on holiday weekends. You’ll have the option to choose a single or double sit-on-top kayak rental, which cost $34 or $65, respectively. Pro tip: You’ll pay a little less if you bring cash. Upon arrival, check in and pay at the outfitter’s cabin, grab a lifejacket, then head to the property’s big oak tree where Chris will give a safety briefing before you begin your adventure.
Once everyone’s been briefed on how to navigate the waters safely and smartly, you’ll load a school bus and head upstream to the launch, where your kayak and a day of fun await. When you arrive, you’ll hear the rush of Jordan Dam, a 100-foot wall of concrete that releases water to control the river’s flow. This serves as the backdrop for your launch. Alabama Power schedules the water flow that ranges from 2,000 cubic feet per second to 10,000 cubic feet per second. The flow on most weekends ranges from 4,000 to 8,000 cfs, but can be higher with a forecast of heavy rain.
The trip takes paddlers along seven miles of the Coosa River back to where you started. 75 percent of the run is flat water and the other 25 percent features class II and III rapids. The tour is divided into four distinct sections, each separated by areas of rapids. All are suitable for novice paddlers, so long as you follow two main rules: 1) Always paddle where the water flows naturally and 2) If you fall out of your kayak, keep your nose and toes out of the water until you can get back in your kayak.
On an 8,000 cfs day, you won’t have to do much paddling on the flat portions of the tour, and you’ll see a little more action in the rapids section. Be warned: You will get wet! All along your path, you’ll get to take in the wild, natural beauty of the Coosa River Valley, where lush swamplands merge into thick forest and 100-year-old Cypress trees hang low over the water. Don’t be surprised if you see a great white heron swoop down to catch a fish in the active waters. As you traverse the river, you’ll find several islands and rock outcroppings that make convenient pitstops for a quick swim, picnic, or lounge in the sun along your way.
The tour typically takes 3 to 4 hours, fewer on a high flow day, but Chris encourages paddlers to take their time and enjoy the gorgeous views, so long as they make it back to the finish by 6 p.m. Once you’ve had your fill of the river, Coosa River Adventures staff does the hard work of loading your kayak back up. All that’s left for you to do is head back up to the cabin to change out of your wet clothes and reflect on a perfect day on the water.
Helpful Tips and What to Bring
- A small soft-top, zip-up cooler. These are best for strapping to the front or back of your kayak. Don’t forget bungee cords for added security!
- A swimsuit or clothes you don’t mind getting wet
- Water shoes for exploring the rocky shoals
- Waterproof or dry bags to store your phone or other valuables, should you decide to take them on the kayak. Warning: Even if you don’t tip your kayak, water will splash into your boat.
- Snacks or lunch for a picnic
- Deflated floats if you intend to port for a while and enjoy the river
- Fishing poles. The Coosa River is known for its great fishing. Many anglers love fishing out of their kayaks on the tour.
- The trip is ideal for large groups—church camps, organizational team building, family reunions, etc. Large groups are eligible for a 10 percent discount for weekday trips.