Paddle and Prowl: Slip Through Alabama's Wild Places on a SUP!
Paddle boarding along Alabama's scenic rivers, lakes and coastal shorelines provides an unparalleled perspective for spotting the state's diverse wildlife. Glide across glassy backwaters, weave through lush wetlands, and cruise within inches of the water's surface to discover a front-row view of nature. Peer over banks to spy nesting birds, paddle close to shorelines to admire basking turtles, and drift silently into shallow coves to catch glimpses of feeding herons and egrets. Whether you are a veteran paddler or new to the sport, stand up paddle boarding lets you explore Alabama's abundant wildlife habitats as never before. From bottlenose dolphins surfacing alongside your board in Mobile Bay to great blue herons eyeing your approach along forested river bends, paddle boarding unveils an intimate experience with animals in their natural environments. This article highlights 20 of the top locations statewide to spot amazing wildlife from the unique vantage of a stand up paddle board.
#1 The Bay at Bayou La Batre.
Gliding through the shallow waters of the Bay at Bayou La Batre offers paddlers an up-close view of dolphins, manatees, seabirds and other marine life in their natural habitat. As Alabama's "Seafood Capital," the bay serves as a nursery for fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters. Paddle boards allow explorers to cruise along grassy shorelines and navigate through lush seagrass beds while getting an eye-level perspective of the bay's diverse ecosystems. The best wildlife viewing here is in summer and early fall when populations swell. Quietly floating through, paddlers may spot pods of bottle-nosed dolphins surfacing to breathe, West Indian manatees grazing on vegetation and great blue herons stalking the shallows.
#2 Swampy Bottom Canoe Trail.
Winding through remote swamplands and hardwood bottoms in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, this trail treats paddlers to sightings of alligators, river otters and over 200 species of birds. Drifting along in solitude immerses you in the sights and sounds of the swamp. Around each bend are potential encounters with wildlife in an otherwise inaccessible habitat. Alligators lay sunbathing with just their eyes and snouts above water while herons and egrets patiently hunt the shorelines. The calls of warblers, woodpeckers and barred owls fill the air as colorful butterflies flutter by. Prime viewing is in spring and fall when migratory birds pass through. But any time of year offers chances to spot deer, otters, mink, beavers and more.
#3 Choctaw National Wildlife Refuge.
Home to Alabama's largest swamp, the Choctaw Refuge spans over 17,000 acres of wetlands, woodlands and waterways where paddlers can spot a tremendous diversity of wildlife. Cruising the tea-colored waters of the Tombigbee River, you'll drift among massive cypress trees draped in moss where Prothonotary warblers nest. Alligators, turtles and snakes bask on logs floating in the still backwaters. Paddle through flooded hardwood forests amid singing birds like tanagers, buntings and vireos. Winter brings flocks of ducks and geese while herons and egrets feed in the shallows year-round. Careful observers may catch glimpses of elusive river otters and mink moving stealthily along the banks.
#4 Perdido River.
Lined with towering longleaf pines, cypress trees and hardwoods, the Perdido River winds through scenic wilderness perfect for paddling. Spot ospreys and bald eagles soaring overhead in search of fish while great blue herons stalk the shorelines. Softshell and snapping turtles bask in the sun on logs and riverbanks. Alligators slide silently into the water at your approach. Migratory songbirds like prothonotary warblers flit through the trees alongside woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches. Aquatic mammals like river otters and beavers make stealthy appearances. Paddle in spring to enjoy colorful warblers singing from branches and wildflowers blooming along the banks.
#5 Conecuh River.
Flowing through the Conecuh National Forest, this blackwater river surrounded by hardwood floodplains offers superb wildlife viewing opportunities. Paddle boards grant access into remote swamps and oxbow lakes abundant with birds. Spot prothonotary warblers, parula warblers and yellow-throated warblers flitting through cypress and tupelo branches dripping with Spanish moss. Wading birds like egrets and herons stalk the shallows while barred and great horned owls watch from high perches. Alligators slide from banks into the dark river waters at the sound of approaching paddles. Spot turtles warming on logs, river otters fishing and white-tailed deer coming down to the banks to drink.
#6 Lake Jackson.
Tucked into the rolling wooded hills near Florala, pristine Lake Jackson offers paddlers a chance to spot bald eagles, ospreys, herons, kingfishers and migratory waterfowl. Glide across the glassy lake and pause along the cypress-lined banks to spot basking turtles and sunning alligators. Keep watch for river otters fishing along the shoreline and deer coming down to drink. As you paddle along, listen for the raucous calls of fish crows and the drumming of woodpeckers in the forests surrounding this peaceful lake. Free of motorized boats, Lake Jackson rewards patient paddlers with excellent wildlife viewing and fishing opportunities.
#7 Mobile-Tensaw Delta.
Nicknamed America's Amazon, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta offers unparalleled biodiversity and wildlife viewing opportunities. Paddling the peaceful waterways and swamps beneath cathedral-like cypress trees dripping with moss, you’ll be immersed in nature. Alligators patrol the dark waters, turtles stack up on logs and snake slither through stands of pickerelweed. Watch for shy river otters fishing and American mink prowling the banks. Snowy egrets, great blue herons, wood storks and white ibis stalk the shallows while barred owls watch from above. Prothonotary warblers and parula warblers flit through branches of tupelo, magnolia and swamp privet. And in winter, canvasbacks, scaups, mergansers and other waterfowl flock here by the thousands. Prime viewing is October to April.
#8 Lake Martin.
Alabama’s largest lake offers paddlers over 750 miles of scenic wooded shoreline to explore. Watch for osprey diving for fish and keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring overhead. During winter months, spot loons, buffleheads, mergansers and other waterfowl. In spring, neotropical migrants like scarlet tanagers, warblers and orioles pass through the lakeside forests. Quiet coves lined with cypress trees and grassy marshes offer chances to spot great blue herons, resident and migratory songbirds, basking turtles and more. With abundant wildlife and scenic vistas around each bend, Lake Martin is a paddler's paradise.
#9 Coosa River.
Lined with rocky bluffs, sandy beaches and hardwood forests, the Coosa River winds through scenic wilderness where paddlers can spot beavers, river otters, white-tailed deer and a tremendous diversity of birds. Watch for ospreys diving for fish and eagles soaring overhead. Great blue herons stand statue-still in the shallows while belted kingfishers chatter from low perches. Spot migratory songbirds in spring and fall as well as woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and more year-round. Scan sandbars and banks for basking turtles and sunning snakes. A variety of waterfowl flock here during winter months. And River Ruisp, the largest event in paddle sports, is held on the Coosa River each May.
#10 Lake Eufaula.
At 45,000 acres, Alabama’s largest manmade lake offers paddlers ample opportunities to spot diverse wildlife along its wooded shorelines, cypress-studded coves and grassy wetlands. Cruise the shallows scanning for basking turtles or pause to watch alligators slide silently from banks at your approach. Wading birds like egrets and herons feed in the shallows while ospreys and bald eagles soar overhead. Spot migratory waterfowl like buffleheads, ruddy ducks and hooded mergansers in winter and neotropical migrants such as scarlet tanagers and orchard orioles in spring and fall. The scenic lake harbors excellent populations of crappie, largemouth bass, catfish and more for fishing enthusiasts. Paddle Lake Eufaula year-round for great wildlife viewing.
#11 Dauphin Island.
Paddling the calm waters surrounding this barrier island treats you to sightings of dolphins, shorebirds, waterfowl and other coastal wildlife. Navigate through grassy marshes and glide along sandy shorelines looking for least terns, American oystercatchers, piping plovers and Wilson’s plovers. Watch for jumping mullet pursued by dolphins and jack crevalle. Scan sandbars for loafing brown pelicans, royal terns, laughing gulls and more. The island’s location on the Mississippi Flyway also makes it a prime stopover for migratory waterbirds. Paddle the island’s tranquil sound side or surf the waves of the Gulf for different wildlife viewing opportunities. Spring and fall offer excellent migration watching.
#12 Chickasaw National Recreation Area.
This National Park Service site protects scenic woodlands and wetlands perfect for paddling and wildlife watching. Glide across Lake Chicard or Lake Purdy and you may spot river otters swimming and fishing, prothonotary warblers fluttering through branches and white-tailed deer coming to drink. Scan treetops for owls and hawks and watch for kingfishers, flycatchers and swallows hunting over the water. Pause along the lakes’ wooded shorelines to watch turtles basking on logs and listen to choruses of frogs. While cruising through flooded cypress forests, keep watch for stealthy mink and alligators. Chickasaw NRA offers excellent birding and wildlife viewing year-round.
#13 Conecuh National Forest.
Spanning over 83,000 acres, this national forest provides extensive river floodplains, swamps and pine savannas prime for wildlife viewing from a paddle board. Cruise along the Sepulga River surrounded by towering tupelo, cypress and longleaf pines where you may spot ospreys, swallow-tailed kites and bald eagles overhead. Alligators dive from banks at your approach while turtles stack up on logs. Spot shy river otters fishing and mink prowling the shorelines. Seasonal wildlife ranges from wintering waterfowl to breeding warblers in spring, including prothonotary, Swainson's, hooded and yellow-throated warblers. For beautiful scenery and plentiful wildlife, paddle the Conecuh in spring or fall.
#14 Lake Tuscaloosa.
Paddling across the 5,885 acre Lake Tuscaloosa allows wildlife enthusiasts to spot ospreys, herons, coots, and migratory ducks. Glide along the wooded banks and through coves lined with towering pine trees in search of river otters and beavers. Keep an eye out for basking turtles and alligators slipping into the water. Scope the shallows for herons and egrets feeding as well as songbirds flitting through lakeside branches. With ample opportunities to spot wildlife along its secluded wooded shoreline, Lake Tuscaloosa rewards patient paddlers.
#15 Sipsey River.
Surrounded by forested bluffs, this wild and scenic river offers paddlers opportunities to spot whitetail deer coming to drink along the wooded banks. Great blue herons stand statue-still above their reflections as kingfishers chatter nearby. Scan surroundings for black vultures, turkey vultures, hawks and kites circling overhead. Neotropical migrants like hooded warblers, cerulean warblers and Louisiana waterthrushes nest in the forests lining the river and can be spotted in spring. Listen for the eerie calls of barred owls echoing through the forest. While seldom seen, keep watch for river otters, mink and beavers going about their business beneath overhanging trees and branches.
#16 Lake Guntersville.
Nestled between the Appalachian foothills and rolling farmlands, Lake Guntersville offers paddlers stellar wildlife viewing opportunities. Spot ospreys diving for fish and bald eagles soaring overhead. Watch for loons and grebes in winter months. Scan treetops and shorelines for kingfishers, flycatchers, swallows, herons and more. Pause along wooded coves and inlets to watch for stealthy river otters and basking turtles. Keep an eye out for jumping striped bass and hybrid bass that give away feeding schools. And in late winter and early spring, watch for migratory waterfowl like scaup, buffleheads, ruddy ducks, and common goldeneye among the lake’s many islands and backwaters. Prime viewing spans November through April.
#17 Lake Harris.
Nestled in the Talladega National Forest, pine-ringed Lake Harris offers paddlers scenic wilderness to spot wildlife. Glide close to the wooded shoreline and watch for great blue herons, belted kingfishers, and swallows. Listen for the drumming calls of pileated woodpeckers and the raucous cries of fish crows echoing across the water. Scan banks and logs for basking turtles and keep watch for river otters fishing along the edges. With limited development, Lake Harris provides an excellent venue to paddle and appreciate nature in solitude.
#18 Cahaba River.
Winding through remote wilderness west of Birmingham, the Cahaba River corridor provides a peaceful setting to spot wildlife from a paddle board. Drifting along, watch for stealthy river otters fishing the rapids and shy kingfishers perched over the water. Scan sandy beaches forTracks and sign reveal where raccoons, deer, turkey and bobcats frequent. While passing through stands of towering hardwoods draped in moss, listen for the drumming of woodpeckers and the ethereal calls of barred owls. Watch for painted turtles basking on logs. And look for snakes like water moccasins and black racers swimming across the river ahead of your board. For beautiful scenery and chances to spot shy wildlife, paddle the free-flowing Cahaba.
#19 Lake Wilson
Tucked into Alabama’s scenic Talladega National Forest, pine-fringed Lake Wilson offers paddlers opportunities to spot ospreys, kingfishers, herons, waterfowl and shorebirds. Scan the wooded banks for great blue herons, spotted sandpipers and more. Watch for the antics of belted kingfishers as they chatter and dive for fish. In winter, spot loons and migratory duck species on the water. With limited boat traffic and access, the peaceful environment allows wildlife observers and anglers to appreciate the solitude. Lake Wilson rewards those who love nature and paddling.
#20 Lewis Smith Lake.
Surrounded by scenic woodlands and bluffs, Lewis Smith Lake spans over 21,000 acres and offers paddlers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. Watch for ospreys diving for fish and eagles soaring overhead. Scan the wooded shorelines for great blue herons, kingfishers, cormorants and more. Seasons dictate what wildlife you may encounter - from loons and grebes in winter to neotropical migrants heading north in spring. Hardy paddlers can also spot migratory waterfowl and lingering bald eagles during winter months. With hundreds of miles of forested shoreline and numerous wooded coves to explore, Lewis Smith Lake serves up excellent year-round paddling and wildlife watching.
As this sampling of destinations shows, Alabama serves up remarkable wildlife viewing opportunities for paddle boarders. Coastal dolphins, inland river otters, soaring eagles, migratory songbirds, bellowing alligators and other species reveal themselves to those who quietly explore by paddle board. Beyond the exhilaration of the sport itself, paddling Alabama's waterways provides connections with nature unmatched by powerful motorized boats. Silently skimming across scenic marshes, lakes, rivers and shorelines, paddle boards grant intimate access into the heart of the state's wild places. For adventurers seeking new perspectives, paddle boarding offers an unrivaled way to admire Alabama's abundant wildlife up close and personal in its native habitats.
Tips, Tricks, and Fun Articles await.
Here are a few quick links to help you keep going, don't forget to check our blog out for more tips and expert advice. For wildlife tips check out our blog and this article on Beginners Guide To Bird Watching. And don't forget to read our article on Stand Up Paddle Boarding and Wildlife Encounters. For a complete guide of where to paddle board in every state, this one is for you! The best places to paddle board in the United States a state by state tour of where to paddle board with Glide Paddle Boards.
Or perhaps something international is what you are looking for, then these two articles will help out. Check out the ultimate guide on finding places to paddle board near you for tips and tricks on finding new and exciting places near you! And for international spots Epic Spots Globally To Paddle Board is for you! And check out the Glide O2 Angler and why it makes an incredible platform for birding and wildlife viewing.