The following information is updated periodically. Last updated in July 2016.
What to Look For
In the Huntsville area there is very little whitewater unless you're willing to travel an hour or two. Therefore, this guide will focus on kayaks suited for flatwater. There are two major categories of kayaks: sit-inside and sit-on-top. We at Huntsville Outdoors aren't huge fans of sit-on-tops because, well, we've just never seen the benefits. I'm told they're good for big people or people scared they'll get trapped inside their kayak. I'm 6'1" and paddle in a LiquidLogic Marvel (previously a short Old Town Otter) with no problems. Rolling also isn't an issue but if it's something that worries you, consider a sit-on-top.
If you're into fishing, most brands have an "Angler" model or two available. The difference is the addition of rod holders, more secondary stability, and usually more neutral colors.
We're partial to American made stuff but obviously cost is going to be a big factor for many people. Having been kayaking for a few years now, here's some features we recommend be near the top of your wish list:
- Drain plug - good luck getting all the water out of your 'yak without one. And if you store your kayak in your garage like we do, you can pretty much guarantee mildew and an unpleasant smell. Fortunately, there are several aftermarket drain plug kits that install in minutes with a drill and screwdriver. So consider this feature optional when purchasing.
- Cushioned seat - or at the very least a molded seat. If you're planning to take a 6-hour float, your caboose will thank you. Just make sure it's a non-slip seat so you're not sliding all over the place while trying to gain traction in the water.
- Cup holder - trust us--you can't paddle and hold a beer at the same time. There are aftermarket cup holders for kayaks and if you don't mind how you look, a koozie with a neck strap is an inexpensive solution.
- Paddle holder - so you want to take a picture of some redneck's pet raccoon (yes, we've seen it) so you set your paddle on the bow only to watch it slide off into the water as you reach for your camera. The next few seconds determine if you're chasing your paddle downstream or not. Either way, you've missed a golden photo opportunity. I've seen two types of paddle holders: clips that your paddle snaps into and a molded depression on the side of the kayak with bungee straps to hold your paddle in. The molded depression looks nicer and is impossible to damage but requires two hands.
- Foot braces - Helps put more power in your paddle stroke.
Dick's usually has a decent selection of kayaks and frequently has sales. Be sure to check out both locations (one on University and one in Jones Valley) as their selection varies between stores. Dick's typically has several sub $300 kayaks for beginners as well as some fishing kayaks. From what I'm told, Dick's will assist with tying a kayak on your car.
At last visit, they were carrying the Future Beach Trophy 126, Perception Rhythm, Field & Stream Eagle Run 12, Old Town Trip Angler, Potomac PathFinder 100, and Pelican Pursuit 140T (tandem). They also had some canoes such as the Old Town Guide 158 and 169 and Coleman Scanoe. Looking at Old Town's website it doesn't look like the Guide comes in a 158 or 169 model so they're either specially made for Dick's or I read the name wrong.
Previously the Man Cave, Leaf in Creek opened in May of 2013 in Hampton Cove but moved to Memorial Parkway in 2015. Leaf in Creek serves as the ONLY legitimate Jackson Kayak seller in the Huntsville area, but they have a great selection of long guns and pistols, camping gear, apparel, knives, and even a saltwater fish tank.
Gander Mtn has a pretty typical selection with a couple different Old Town and Perception kayaks. They also have a few Mad River canoes and kayaks. Last time I was in there they carried the Old Town Dirigo 120, Perception Prodigy 120, Prodigy 135, and Caster 12.5 Angler. As for canoes, they had the Old Town Saranac and Mad River Adventure 14.
Kinnucan's - Madison
Kinnucan's is located in the new Target shopping center on 72E. It's a regional outfitter out of Auburn with nine locations. They carry a couple Evoke kayaks and several YOLO stand up paddle boards. If you haven't been to Kinnucan's I recommend going. They have an eclectic assortment of outdoor equipment, clothes, shoes and just random stuff.
Werner's Trading Company - Cullman
This is truly a store to behold. It's not big, but it's a wonderfully local outfitter for not just kayaks and canoes, but all manner of outdoor apparel and gear. It has a great selection of whitewater kayaks and canoes, with an emphasis on Necky and Old Town, but it's worth checking often because the selection varies. What makes the store really interesting is that in addition to kayaks, they have a top-quality BEER selection, and deal in homebrew supplies, Boy Scout merchandise, and Big Green Eggs. I really encourage a visit to this place, and if you are someone who drives between Huntsville and Birmingham often, I would suggest stopping by every time you go through Cullman. It's less than a mile off the Interstate and always serves as a fun distraction. If you go, be sure to check outside around the back of the store to see the full boat selection -- they only keep a few inside, but there are plenty more in storage.
Guntersville Outfitters - Guntersville
Located on Gunter Avenue in the middle of lake-side Guntersville, Alabama, this is an excellent location for an outfitter. And if you are looking for bikes or clothing, it's the place to go. For kayaks and canoes, however, G'Ville Outfitters doesn't have the best selection. On the up-side, they do carry a few brands that you just can't seem to find anywhere else in the northern Alabama area: Liquidlogic kayaks, Native Watercraft canoes. They used to carry emotion Kayaks but I don't believe they do anymore. Last time I was there, they had a Liquidlogic Mist 9.5 kayak, an Emotion Edge, and a couple sit-on-top Ocean Kayaks that are probably popular on a big lake like Guntersville. I was told they were expecting to receive a new crossover kayak, the Liquidlogic Remix XP, within the next few weeks. That's an excellent addition to the inventory, as it is nearly impossible to find a good crossover flatwater/whitewater boat in this region.
Terrapin Outdoor Center - Piedmont
You'll just have to visit this place to understand the magnitude of their selection. There are literally hundreds of kayaks scattered around. It's about two hours away in the middle of nowhere but it's definitely worth the drive. The main building houses the more expensive whitewater kayaks and such. Next to it is a barn-like structure with four rows each probably 40 yards long filled with kayaks. Then there are more kayaks strewn about in the front and side yards. Just down the road is the owner's home which sits on Terrapin Creek.
I won't list their selection here because a) it would be too much to list and b) they do a decent job keeping their website updated.
They also offer kayak and canoe rentals with shuttle service if you're interested in an eight-mile float trip down Terrapin Creek ending at the owner's home. The guys here at Huntsville Outdoors are planning a trip soon so check back for a full trip report.
Bass Pro Shops - Nashville, TN
Bass Pro in Nashville has a typical selection of recreational canoes and kayaks. You certainly aren't going to find exotic brands like Jackson, Liquidlogic, Bell, or Necky, but you will find a good number of trusted, popular recreational brands, with a strong emphasis on Old Town boats. That said, the trip to Bass Pro is a fun one even if you elect to get your boat elsewhere. It's such a massive store with so many outdoors items that you can easily waste hours there. Plus, it carries some sentimental value for your writers, as both Eric and Davy purchased their first Old Town canoes from Bass Pro in Nashville.