Find the Boat That’s Right for You
Kayaks are generally the top-of-mind craft when thinking about getting out on the water affordably and with minimal effort. While they are fairly easy to lug from car to water, a kayak’s length and weight might make them tricky to transport from home to launching point. Kayak trailers or roof racks — either bought or rigged at home — are a good option, as is having a fellow paddler on hand to assist with lifting. To avoid the lift altogether, consider an inflatable kayak (available in kid sizes, too). And don’t forget a few nice-to-have accessories, such as a dry bag, padded seat cushions and fishing rod holder.
Perfect for: Young kids just learning to paddle
Length: 6 to 9 feet
Weight: 18 to 36 pounds
Price Tag: $75 and up
Good to know: Because of their light weight, youth kayaks are fairly easy to paddle short distances. Most kid-sized kayaks are rated for 130 pounds or less. Pro-tip: Consider attaching a tow rope in case little Johnny tuckers out just off shore.
Perfect for: Beginner paddlers
Length: 10 to 12 feet
Weight: 35 to 50 pounds, depending on length
Price Tag: $300 and up
Good to know: This style makes it easier to reboard in the event of a capsize. In addition to having a higher center of gravity, these vessels are usually wider than sit-inside kayaks. Because there is no cockpit, however, paddlers are exposed to the sun, wind and water.
Perfect for: Skilled kayakers looking to travel long distances on calm water
Length: 16 feet +
Weight: 50 to 80 pounds, depending on length
Price Tag: $600 and up
Good to know: Depending on the design, these vessels are able to carry heavy loads. The touring kayak’s long, slim hull makes it easy to paddle and fast, but less stable and less maneuverable.
Perfect for: Paddlers of all skill levels
Length: 10 to 12 feet
Weight: 30 to 50 pounds, depending on length
Price Tag: $350 and up
Good to know: The enclosed cockpit keeps the kayaker warmer and drier than its counterpart. Beginners should look for kayaks with a high degree of “initial stability,” which is a measure of how stable the kayak feels when sitting upright directly over the center of the boat.
Ah, canoes. They probably hearken back sun-filled summer camp days. The nostalgia often associated with canoes might keep eager paddlers away from them, thinking they are obsolete crafts. However, they are just as relevant today, especially for couples, families or groups looking to float together. These vessels move more slowly through the water than kayaks, making them the perfect choice for those wanting to take their time in the great outdoors. Two important factors to keep in mind when shopping are the bow’s entry line (the blunter, the slower; the more narrow, the quicker) and the canoe’s bottom (the flatter, the more stable upon entry; the rounder, the more stable in rough water). For transport, roof racks or a trailer are a good option.
Perfect for: Flat-water paddling
Length: 16 feet, on average
Weight: 50 to 75 pounds
Price Tag: $500 and up
Good to know: Although its stability is a plus, it also makes it a little less versatile than other styles. Recreational canoes are ideal for birding, photography and fishing.
Perfect for: Calm lakes or whitewater rivers, extended trips
Length: 16 to 17.5 feet
Weight: 50 to 75 pounds
Price Tag: $250 to $1,000+
Good to know: The longer the canoe, the more speed it can pick up, yet the more difficult it is to control. These canoes can easily accommodate a week’s worth of camping equipment.
Although paddling of any sort is great exercise, paddleboarders tout the calorie-torching combination of strength, balance, core and endurance (hello, previously unused muscles!) needed to power these stand-up crafts. To determine what size board you need, there are a few factors to consider: your height; intended use (yoga vs. cruising); typical water and wind conditions; and if you plan to share it with others. When looking at options, it is always best to invest in a board that will get the most use. Getting your board to the water will require a roof rack and/or tie-down straps (be careful, the board’s fin can act as a sail). Practicality aside, stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) offer a fun way to navigate the water from an unusual perspective — standing affords a unique vantage point of the water below and the horizon ahead.
Perfect for: Recreational paddlers, long-distance excursions, racers
Length: 9.5 to 12.5 feet
Weight: 30 pounds
Price Tag: $400 and up (more fiberglass equals higher price)
Good to know: Fiberglass SUPs travel smoothly and quickly. They are, however, easily dinged or cracked.
Perfect for: Paddlers looking for a more affordable option
Length: 9.5 to 12.5 feet
Weight: 50 pounds
Price Tag: $250 to $600
Good to know: Plastic SUPs are very durable and have onboard storage. They can be customized (unlike fiberglass models) by adding fishing rod holders or seats with backrests.
Perfect for: Beginners, travelers, paddlers with limited storage
Length: 9.5 to 12.5 feet
Weight: 17 to 22 pounds
Price Tag: $200 and up
Good to know: Depending on the manufacturer’s quality, inflatables are just as rigid as other boards and are extremely stable. When deflated, they roll to the size of a sleeping bag.
Time to Launch
From the swampy waters of the Delta and tranquil creeks of Foley to quiet stretches of the Western Shore’s most well-known rivers and bayous, this list encompasses a wide range of waterways for any type of paddler out there. Text by Hanlon Walsh
Just southeast of Fairhope lies the charming, sleepy town of Magnolia Springs. Begin your journey at Jesse’s Restaurant, where a public boardwalk leads down to the bank of the Magnolia River. From small, cold-spring-filled channels, to wide and calm stretches of the river, Magnolia River is a paddler’s dream. If you’re feeling brave, take a plunge into the legendary “cold hole,” the perfect way to cool off during a hot summer’s day of paddling. Afterward, follow the locals inside to Jesse’s for a round of appetizers and cocktails.
Tucked away from the tourist-ridden, traffic-filled Highway 59 is the laid-back fishing community of Bon Secour. Large shrimp boats line the water’s edge, and residents leisurely go about their business in this quaint and historic little town. Start your journey at Aquila Seafood and wander up the quiet, remote waters of Bon Secour. If you don’t own a boat, start further up the river with Beach ‘n’ River Canoe and Kayak Rentals, a local outfitter that offers both rentals and guided tours. Finish your day with cold beers and raw oysters on the shaded patio at the Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar.
Just off the east end of Broad Street sits this oft-overlooked launch (both literally and figuratively — it’s a popular gazing spot for birders and gator-seekers, yet it’s not frequently thought about when paddling). From the launch, paddlers can head south into Arlington Channel, which borders Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. Those looking for a longer excursion can head north, winding left at Garrows Bend and into Garrows Channel. For a post-paddle shady respite, picnic gazebos are onsite.
The ultimate three-for-one paddling special: Fly Creek, Rock Creek and Mobile Bay, all in the same trip. Start your trip at the launch at the end of Fairhope’s Sea Cliff Drive, across from Sunset Pointe, and hug the shorelines of the Bay, heading north until you arrive at Rock Creek, a small and shady creek only accessible by water or private land. Once you’ve explored enough, turn around and head back up the Bay to Fly Creek. If you don’t mind some maneuvering around logs and branches, channel your inner
Columbus and continue paddling past any sign of civilization for a true wilderness experience. Paddle to shore just before sunset to enjoy the view with a signature dish and a specialty cocktail from Sunset Pointe at Fly Creek Marina.
Sometimes all it takes to discover a new area is just a simple turn off the main highway. There’s a lot more to Foley than the outlet mall and the beach express. Just off the Foley Beach Express and down County Road 20 lies Wolf Creek Park, a quaint establishment and part of a movement by the City of Foley to promote ecotourism. At the launching area, paddle out of the small cove and head north until you arrive at the intersection of two creeks: Wolf Creek and Sandy Creek. Both creeks are typical of many smaller waterways found throughout Baldwin County: peaceful, narrow and shady with cool temperatures and rope swings aplenty. Once you feel paddled out, head to Wolf Bay Lodge for their famous “Cha Cha” dip and a salty margarita to complete your Foley fill.
Begin your journey at Williams Brooks Park, a spacious park with a boat launch and pavilion located next to the Highway 43 bridge. With very little boat traffic and several routes to choose from, this is a perfect destination for those who like to stray from the beaten path and explore different inlets and tributaries. Afterward, enjoy ice cold beers (if you have any left) from your cooler under the shady pavilion at William Brooks Park.
If you’re more of a point-to-point paddler, take two cars and follow the crisp, cool current of Fish River. Begin your journey with a leap from the rope swing at Bohemian Park before making your way downstream. Enjoy the winding, tranquil upper stretches of the river for the first half of the trip, with no motorboats anywhere in sight. The current gradually begins to stop, and the river starts to widen as you journey down the river. If you want to deviate from the main course, there are several smaller intersecting creeks that make for great additional side trips. Leave your other car at Big Daddy’s Bar and Grill and reward yourself with a bowl of gumbo and a margarita on the riverfront.
If you’re a Delta newcomer like myself, there’s no better place to get your feet wet than paying a meager $5 launching fee at Buzbee’s Fish Camp, located just off of the Highway 225 bridge in Spanish Fort. Start your journey by heading east up the wide, quiet waters of Bay Minette Creek, and keep an eye out for several small side channels to explore along the way. On your way back, paddle past the launching point and under the bridge into the calm, marshy waters of the Bay Minette Basin just in time for sunset. Reward yourself for a long day’s worth of paddling with fresh seafood, cold beer and live music on the deck at the Bluegill Restaurant.
Embark on your journey at the launch next to the River Shack, near the Dog River bridge. (At the time of print, the restaurant is under renovation, but the launch is open.) Head west around the bend as you admire the impressive fleet of boats at the Dog River Marina before making your trek north across the open water. Once you reach the other side, continue paddling as the river narrows and make your way into Perch Creek. The sound of motors begin to fade in the background as you wind around the open creek waters, surrounded by abundant marshland. The water gradually narrows and straightens with several different routes to choose from.
Leave the people behind and head to Memories Fishing Camp, the county-owned launch on Fowl River Road. From the launching area, paddle north and explore these peaceful waters on your own terms. When the river is no longer navigable, turn around and slowly make your way back into civilization. As you head south from the starting point, the river gradually winds and widens. When it’s time to call it a day, head over to Pelican Reef Restaurant for their famous garlic crab claws and a glass of wine.
Bayou La Batre
Head south to the “Seafood Capital of Alabama” where Forrest and Bubba made their mark, the peaceful little fishing town of Bayou La Batre. Begin your paddle at the public launching area where the bayou meets Portersville Bay before making your way up the bayou. Shipbuilders with hard hats diligently work while fisherman on massive shrimp boats set out for another day on the job. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see one of the boats pass under the bayou’s famous vertical lift bridge. If shrimp boats and shipyards aren’t your thing, take a detour from the industrial bayou to Carls Creek, where excellent swimming and a massive rope swing await. At the end of the day, quench your American or Asian hunger cravings with a stop at Von’s Market & Eatery.