Kayaking Little River Canyon

Suicide and Beyond
  |  Gorp.com
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This section is called Suicide — with good reason. This is a six-mile run of Class III and IV whitewater. This section is only for experienced boaters with advanced whitewater skills. Starting just below the 35-foot drop of the Little River Falls, the Suicide section is a treacherous run with pinning hydraulics, undercuts, and keepers. Add to this the difficulty of getting in and out of the steep-walled canyon for help and you can get in big trouble here. Even if you have the skills to attack Suicide, make sure you have adequate support and the guts to portage when in doubt. There have been a number of fatal kayaking accidents on Suicide. The end of this section is marked by a low stone wall and the remnants of a chairlift on the right side of the river.

This landmark gives Section Four its name — Chairlift. If you choose to run only this section and skip Suicide — a move I recommend for all but the most skilled — you will hike down a trail that begins at the top of the canyon next to the abandoned chairlift. The old chairlift is about all that remains of an amusement park that used to be here. Located on the edge of Canyon Rim Drive, the 3/4 mile trail is a steep and rocky 500-foot descent down to the river. The hike down is not easy — especially with a kayak on your back — but the reward is worth it. This is the most popular part of the river. It is challenging without being threatening — unlike Suicide. The run is about six miles long and is primarily Class III. One Class IV rapid — Bottleneck — may present some problems for kayakers and should be scouted before running. It can be easily portaged if needed. Give it a look before running. Like the rest of the Little River, water levels dictate your actions. Bottleneck is a highly technical drop, which requires slicing through an S-turn, and dropping over a potentially lethal ledge that has a knack for pinning the unwary.

Unlike the Suicide section, which is almost continuous whitewater, Chairlift's exciting rapids are broken up by long stretches of flatwater. But don't despair, the flatwater drudgery is more than made up for by the exciting rapids. Most of the rapids come just below your launch point. After the first two miles the flatwater pools start. There are some fun rapids in this stretch including a challenging sequence called Eddy Hop, a series of small plunges that is a great place to refine your technique. Blue Hole is a technical plunge through a garden of huge boulders. One of the best is the Class III Johnnies Creek Rapid. This is one of the prime play spots on the river and you'll see kayakers trying out their eddying and surfing here. Johnnies starts as a long rock garden then funnels you over a smooth tongue into a chute that ends up in a nice standing wave. A mellow Class III, Johnnies is a good place to play and practice your moves.

Below Johnnies, the final mile or so is an easy float to the take-out at the developed campground at Canyon Mouth Park. Lean back and admire the scenery as you paddle. It's worth the time and trouble to take a short hike up the canyon to Johnnies Falls, hidden in the folds of the canyon.

Any kind of float trip down the Little River is pretty much a no-go during the summer months due to dry Alabama summers. Try a late fall, winter, or early spring run and you'll have better luck. But no matter when you go, you'll have to pinch yourself as a reminder that you're in the heart of Dixie.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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