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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Floating Alabama's Sipsey River

Alabama’s Sipsey Fork (commonly called the Sipsey River) flows south through the William B. Bankhead National Forest. Sipsey Fork is Alabama’s only stream classified as a “National Wild and Scenic River.” Floating the upper Sipsey Fork by kayak or canoe takes you through some of the wildest natural areas left in Alabama. High rock bluffs rise along the river’s edge, thick hardwood forests creep to the shoreline and the river meanders through isolated hills and valleys. Periodically you will glimpse waterfalls cascading from the bluffs and rushing tributaries flowing into the main channel.

The Sipsey Fork is an easy Class I float and low water may require short portages around shoal areas. The best times to float the river are April through June and September through November, not only to avoid hot summer temps and insects but also for the fishing. Bluegill, sunfish, spotted bass, white bass, largemouth bass, and channel catfish can be seen in the river.

There are three floatable sections:

The first section extends from the Thompson Creek access off Forest Service Road #208, downstream to the Sipsey River Recreational Area at the crossing of Winston County Road #60. This nine and one-half (9.5) mile stretch of stream will take about ten hours to float and is within the Sipsey Wilderness. Attempting this stretch should be restricted to the wetter months to avoid having to drag your canoe or kayak over the shoals.

The second section is from the Sipsey River Recreational Area at County Road 60, downstream to the access point at the Highway 33 crossing. This nine-mile trip takes about nine hours to float. It too can be difficult to float during times of little or no rainfall.

The final section is from the access point off Highway 33, downstream to Highway 278 bridge, about ten miles. This stretch starts out with a healthy current but ends up in the slow headwaters of Smith Lake and the last few miles are lined by summer houses and fishing cabins.

DETAILS:  Canoes and kayaks can be rented from Winston Outdoors, 205-489-5000, http://www.smithlakervpark.com/

Information on river levels can be checked with Winston Outdoors and with the local Forest Service Office, 205-489-5111. Always check water levels before going to avoid dragging your boat or encountering unsafe water levels.


  1. Hey Tom, I was thinking of floating from HWY 33 to 278 this weekend Saturday Nov. 3rd. I've got a 17' Necky Looksha IV touring kayak. Do you think I can float the section below the put-in without having to drag the boat this time of year? Also, any noteworthy campsites in the first 2 to 3 miles? Thanks buddy, I just moved to Birmingham from Knoxville and am having withdrawals! Nice post as well.

    1. Sorry, I was in the Smokies last weekend. did you do the river? Anyway, we haven't had any rain this week so I don't expect the Sipsey to be any higher than it was when we did this trip last (Oct 26-28). I was in a kayak and had to do some (minimal) dragging. Check water levels before you go but you should be OK if you put in at 33. There are a half dozen nice campsites (sand bars) in the first 2-4 miles. Don't wait too long--the banks get steeper, the water deeper and sandbars few and far between.

  2. I was sixteen when two of my cousins and a friend floated West Sipsey fork. We dragged our canoes a long way. Ran out of food, ate crawfish, and got sun burnt when we arrived at Smith Lake. Then we proceeded to reduce inventory at the Dairy Queen. Randall Castleberry