Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge

After telling about the perilous storm on the Cahaba River that we encountered in my previous post, I wanted to make sure and follow up with some successful Cahaba River encounters. On our next 2 floats on the Cahaba, we came and went from the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. Near West Blocton, Alabama, it is a popular spot in the month of May due to the presence of the rare and beautiful Cahaba Lillies. Shannon enjoys adventures, however, he does not enjoy an afternoon of wading in one spot to look at some flowers blooming. Back in May when they were at their peak, I went over and spent a few hours literally wading through the Cahaba Lillies by myself. It was fantastic. I want to show you this before I tell you about the float, because I want you to see what it looks like when the beautiful Lillies are actually in bloom on the Cahaba, near the NWR.

“One of the most iconic plants of the Cahaba River is the Cahaba lily, an aquatic flowering plant which grows only in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. A type of spiderlily belonging to the amaryllis family, the Cahaba lily is noted for the striking beauty of its three-inch-wide white flowers. The lily requires a very specialized habitat—swift-flowing water over rocks and lots of sun—and thus is restricted to shoal areas at or above the fall line.” From

At some point in the start of the pandemic, we decided that we wanted to attempt to float every section of the Cahaba. (Here’s that map again) As we ended last at the Living River Take out, we decided to start from there the next time we floated it.

  • Side note – you can’t actually come and go from the Living River camp, which is privately owned. The only reason we were able to do it the one time we did, was because it was closed down for the pandemic. Little did we know this was highly unusual, even off season. You have to start down the road that leads to the camp and look to the right on the way down for a small cut in the trees. There, you’ll find some public land that you can access an acceptable launch spot. We left a vehicle parked on the side of the road here, and it was all in one piece when we returned

This was near the end of June, and it had already been hot and dry in Alabama. Shannon had been checking the water level (that’s a good link) to see if it was floatable. When the streamflow is in a good range, the blocks reporting it will appear green. As they get lower they appear yellow, and when it’s ridiculously low they turn red. This particular day, they were red and yellow. On a good day in this section it really needs to be between 1000-2000cfs and we were at roughly 300cfs.

Jango sporting her new life vest!

I didn’t expect to see any Cahaba Lillies blooming. Our float was in late June, after Father’s Day, which is extremely late in the season. Fortunately, the water was low enough in the areas where the Cahaba lily plants were bunched up in the middle that I had plenty of time to step out of my boat and snap photos of them. Shannon honestly could not understand why I needed to do this.

You can see where the foliage around the flower has turned brown with the loss of the water level.
You have to find the Lillies in this picture like where’s Waldo

Even with the water level so low, we still had a really nice float. The Cahaba River is truly a beautiful place, with plenty of wildlife. The one question my mother almost always asks me after a float is, “did you see any snakes?” She absolutely hates snakes and is horrified to imagine the we may occasionally come in contact with them. This day was one that I was able to give her the first official snake sighting of the season. We saw several, one of which Shannon identified as a water moccasin. I was very happy that it was over near the bank and not inside of my boat, but it didn’t bother me. We always see Great Blue Heron when we’re there, and it has driven me batty to not be able to ever get a good photo of them. Usually, they’re so still, and undetectable until you’re right up on them. That’s usually when they take off in the other direction. With the water and the risk of peril extremely low, I actually had time to note where they could be on this float and get my iPhone camera out and ready to catch them.

There is a blue heron in this picture somewhere. Let me know if you see it.

In spite of the snakes, we still found plenty of good spots to get out and dip ourselves into the water to cool off. There are plenty of places to stop, and more than enough exposed sandbars when the water is low. The float from Living River to the NWR took us about 5 hours or so, a nice day float.

On this late June, low water level day, we ended at the Cahaba National Wildlife refuge. I’d been a few times before, and while it’s a convenient spot to put in and take out boats, it can be pretty crowded with locals who frequent this area to keep cool in the summer. The “main” road is gravel, and as it’s one lane, can get crowded and difficult to maneuver when the crowds are present. It was absolutely packed this day, likely due to the extreme heat and the need for people to find a place to cool off. The NWR is mostly shaded, and there are many spots along the bank to play. There’s a very small beach which stays crowded, and a wooden ladder up a small tree trunk to a rope swing. Plenty of younger paddlers come to this area and sort of paddle up and down the 1/4mile long stretch (give or take) of the refuge itself, and there are many teenagers, and equally as many families with small children. In my experience it has always been kid and family friendly, and people always seem to be having a good time. That being said, I personally do not enjoy going there during the month of May at any point on the weekends. It’s the most popular spot to view the blooming Cahaba Lillies and the crowds are massive. I’d recommend taking off a day of work and going on a Monday morning. That’s what I did and it was perfect. There were approximately 3 other people in the vicinity. Bliss.

The water doesn’t look to be as low as it was. It was still a lot of fun.

About a month later, in mid-July, we went and floated the next section with Shannon’s life long friends, Tom and Krista. This time it had rained a considerable amount the week prior, and the water was flowing! We were thrilled about getting to have some faster moving water, with possibly far less paddling. We put in this time at the NWR and floated down to Pratt’s Ferry.

Krista took this picture of Shannon and me. I think. Or that could be Krista floating by Shannon. Anyway it was taken that day.

We had a great time with Tom and Krista floating that section beyond NWR. Also, the water level was much higher than it had been in June, which made for a fun paddle for all 4 of us. It was also due to this fact, and the near constant paddling in rapids and fast flowing water that I didn’t take many pictures. Here’s a video Shannon took with his Go Pro of Tom ahead of us, and me floating past. It reminds me of the Grizzly River Rampage at Opryland! A great childhood memory. And this was just as much fun!!!

I hate that Krista didn’t get adequate photo representation on this trip. She and Shannon used to live next door when they were kids and they’ve been close ever since. She and Tom are a lot of fun to be around, which is an extra bonus. Next time I’ll get more pictures, Krista!

If you get a chance to float the Cahaba River, I know someone who has a business who will take you on a float. Bill Andrews at Treeline Expeditions. Their children went to school with my children and I can vouch for their character and goodness!!

5 thoughts on “Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge

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