Kayaking Little River Canyon

Into the Gorge
  |  Gorp.com
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Little River
A bend in the river. (Photograph by Garth Fraser)

The preserve offers a variety of outdoor activities. Hikers picking their way through the rough and tumble undeveloped trails along the canyon floor. Bikers pedal up and down the paved roads along the 23-mile long Canyon Rim Drive on the canyon's western rim. And rock climbers cling to the canyon's steep gray walls. But one of the biggest draws of the canyon is the 25 or so miles of paddling water flowing through its heart.

There are four different sections Little River to run. The variety of water these four sections present run from easy floats over gentle ripples to rip-roaring whitewater that approaches the wildest runs the southeast has to offer. Little River is a free-flowing run, which means it is entirely subject to the whims of Mother Nature — no dams control the flow of water in the canyon. A little bit of rain in these mountains means a lot of water rushing through the narrow canyon walls. And a lot of water can quickly become a serious situation. Always check local conditions before running the Little River.

Section One starts just below Lake Lahusage Dam near the tiny Alabama town of Mentone and continues for 8.5 miles on the river's east fork. This is a rocky run over boulders and large flat tables of rock. This section flows through a rock-walled valley with little evidence of human habitation. All of the river, but perhaps this section the most, are very susceptible to water levels. Normally Class II-III, at high levels the meandering and rock-strewn riverbed demands Class III and IV technical skill levels to navigate its twisty course. The rocky riverbed can mean a fun ride at the right water levels. At low levels, you will not have any fun — you'll be dragging and scraping. The trip on Section one can best be described as an attention keeper, with constant boulders, rock ledges, rapids, twisting runs, and overhanging trees. This section ends at the confluence of the East and West forks of the Little River.

This confluence marks the beginning of Section Two. The river widens here and the ride becomes milder. The boulders are less prevalent and the rapids consist mainly of small ledges and a few slight drops and gentle standing waves. This is a six-mile run through low wooded hills and low cliffs — a nice open-boat run. The take out is at a small dirt road just before Highway 35. If you see the Highway 35 bridge, get out quick! Just below the bridge is Little River Falls.

The falls is a dramatic introduction to Section Three. The topography undergoes an immediate and spectacular transformation here. The upper part of the river was bordered by low hills and was easily accessible. The deep gorge of Little River Canyon begins below the falls. And with the deep gorge comes wild water.

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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