There are a number of paddling outfitters who offer boat rental and shuttle services for float trips in the northern Alabama / southern Tennessee area. This section of the website is intended to serve as a guide for those who are interested in checking out the beautiful waterways of the region but who don't have a boat or available means of transport.
The information listed here is informational only. We do not have "favorite" outfitters, but we are curious about your experiences -- so if you have information to share about particular outfitters, leave a comment for other readers.
NACK - North Alabama Canoe & Kayak
For Huntsville locals, one of the most well-established and convenient outfitters is NACK. Located on U.S. Highway 72 near Moontown -- about 15 minutes east of downtown Huntsville -- NACK has been around a few years now, and has an excellent selection of kayaks and canoes, with an emphasis on Mad River and Jackson boats.
NACK previously offered trips and shuttle service for a number of area waterways, but in recent years they have begun to focus mostly on trips down the Flint River, just east of Huntsville. The Flint is an excellent, Class I river that is flat and easy to float. The website lists a number of trips, but the two most popular ones seem to be Ryland Pike to Little Cove (about 3-5 hours) and U.S. Highway 72 to Little Cove (2-4 hours). In the past, NACK has also offered service to the nearby Paint Rock River east of Huntsville on U.S. Highway 72, and the incredible Sipsey River in Bankhead National Forest near Moulton, Alabama.
NACK also offers a really cool guided "twilight" float down the Flint on Tuesday evenings in the summer. You have to register ahead of time, and must be at NACK by around 6:15 pm. This is a really popular trip, and we highly encourage any marginally-experienced paddler to try out this trip. It starts around 6:45 pm and ends around 10 pm. No flashlights are allowed, so you really learn how well your eyes adjust to the darkness.
One of the more intriguing outfitter services in the Huntsville area is UnPhiltered Kayaking. The reason is that they offer, from what we can tell, the most diverse array of kayaking adventures around, with an emphasis on guided trips to lakes, bat caves, and other flat-water locales. We know the owner, Phil, through correspondence only at this point, but we fully intend to take part in one of his trips in the near future. He has a vision that is somewhat different than the river-kayaking services, some really nice sea kayaks, and a lot of motivation to get creative.
Update: UnPhiltered now offers kayak rentals at Guntersville State Park. Among other offerings, we are really excited about his paddle trip to the Hambrick Bat Cave. The photos from his Facebook Page are phenomenal, and having personally experienced the nightly emergence of bats at Saunta Cave near Scottsboro from the land, we suspect a water-view would be doubly-cool.
Speaking of personal experience, we have also personally experienced our own version of his Gator Paddle at Limestone Bay. This one is not for the faint of heart, but it gives you a chance to potentially get up close to one of America's coolest predators. In any event, Phil's trip options seem to be expanding all the time. We suspect that if there is somewhere you want to experience by kayak but haven't yet, he will put together a trip for you.
Another newer outfitter is Alabama Eco Adventures, based in Decatur. We haven't used them yet, but what is impressive about this group is that they are not focused on just one river. The AEA motto is "From the Sipsey Wilderness to Little River Canyon and everything in between." We have to say, that's pretty impressive. Most outfitters have found it too expensive to serve such far-flung areas, but we are really excited AEA is filling the void. This will give many people the chance to paddle Cotaco Creek, Bear Creek, Brushy Creek, and our local lakes, which many local outfitters don't serve.
Another feature that AEA offers is guided overnight trips. So, if you aren't very familiar with paddling or would just like some company, this group sounds like a good bet. Additionally, AEA is offering a few backpacking trips.
The Elk River near Fayetteville, Tennessee is a very clean, dam-controlled river that flows from Tim's Ford Lake to the Tennessee River. In the sections near Fayetteville -- which is just about an hour north of Huntsville -- the river is fairly narrow (around 40-50 feet wide), slow-flowing, cold, and great for swimming and fishing. Two outfitters service the Elk. The one we've used more frequently is Elk River Canoe Rental in Kelso, Tennessee.
Elk River Canoe Rental has been operating for a number of years and does a great job providing entertainment in its "Stress Free Zone." You can either bring your own boat and pay a nominal fee for shuttle service, or rent one of the many canoes or kayaks available at the business. Elk River Canoe Rental also offers camping trips, and actually has a camp site at the main location of the business.
There are a wide variety of available trips, all of which are listed on the website.
Kelso Canoe Rental is another top-quality outfitter serving the Elk River. Kelso offers all of the standard features you would expect from such a business, though the emphasis is really on canoes rather than kayaks. They are a great outfitter for those interested in canoe camping, as the owners have erected a number of actual tree houses on the Elk for adventurous campers to sleep in. We haven't tried them, but we imagine they are pretty cool.
Prices are comparable to those of Elk River Canoe Rental, and the service is comparable as well. Like Elk River Canoe Rental, Kelso is located conveniently to Huntsville, about 1 hour north in Kelso, Tennessee.