Find the nearest USGS stream gage online and look at the discharge and/or gauge height readings.
Consult the Cahaba River Swim Guide to find out if there are any water quality alerts for the area.
Make sure the chances of rain will be low and that temperatures will not be too hot when you are on the river.
Staying Safe on the River…
As with most rivers, water levels and conditions on the Cahaba can vary widely and change suddenly. River recreation involves inherent dangers. Paddle, tube, and swim at your own risk. In order to stay as safe as possible on the Cahaba River, it is important to plan thoughtfully before you go and to take certain precautions while you are on the river.
As you plan your trip, consider these guidelines:
- Think about the time of year. In general, February through May are ideal months to paddle most stretches of the Cahaba. The hotter summer months often render the upper reaches of the river around Birmingham too shallow to easily paddle or tube, while the lower reaches often still remain navigable.
- Check the weather. Make sure the chances of rain will be low and that temperatures will not be too hot when you are on the river.
- Check the water level. Find the nearest USGS stream gage online at https://waterdata.usgs.gov/al/nwis/nwis and look at the discharge and/or gauge height readings. You should never paddle on or swim in the Cahaba when the water level is high during and/or after storm events. High water levels create fast currents and dangerous conditions, and are represented by the peaks that appear on the gauge graphs. Wait until the water has reached its base-flow level, which is represented by the lowest points on the graph between the peaks.
- Check the Swim Guide. Not all sections of the Cahaba are safe to swim in each day due to some pollution issues, and these conditions can change due to season and weather. Before you go on your trip, consult the Cahaba River Swim Guide at https://www.cahabariverkeeper.org/swimguide/ to find out if there are any water quality alerts for the area(s) where you want to go.
- Estimate how long your trip on the water will take. Most canoers and kayakers can paddle at about 2 miles per hour (not counting time to portage arouns shallow shoals or get through other obstacles that may be present), so divide the number of miles by 2 and that will give you an estimate of the minimum time it will take to paddle to the take out. It is difficult to estimate the average time it takes to tube a stretch of river because of a number of variables, but tubing is always slower than paddling. In order to ensure you get to your take-out in a reasonable amount of time, only take tubing trips on segments of the river with access points that are three miles or less apart.
- Don’t get caught by the setting sun. Start your trip early in the day and make sure you will have plenty of time to complete your trip before it gets dark.
- Make sure you have a shuttle. Most paddling and tubing trips on a river are one-way trips, traveling downstream. Be sure to know where your take-out location will be and make arrangements for transportation at the take-out.
- Secure your boat. Should you need to leave your canoe or kayak at the take-out while you shuttle back to get your car at the put-in, consider bringing a locking cable and hiding it in the woods and securing to a tree.
- Take water, food, hat, and sunscreen. It is always a good idea to take plenty of drinking water and food as well as a hat and sunscreen.
- Take your cell phone. While you may not always have a cell signal, we recommend that you take your phone regardless and keep it in a waterproof case. In case of emergency, dial 911.
- Take a map. You can print out maps of paddling routes on this website, complete with landmark features and distances of those features to the next take-out. These maps can be an invaluable resource to help you understand where you are going and where you are.
- Tell others before you. You should always tell others where you are going and what time you should be back.
- Paddle, tube, or swim with someone else. You should always recreate on the Cahaba with at least one other person.
- Take a life jacket. Wear a properly fitted-life jacket approved by the U. S. Coast Guard.
PLEASE FOLLOW THESE IMPORTANT GUIDELINES WHILE ON THE RIVER:
- Watch out for obstacles. Watch out for underwater obstacles and avoid fallen trees and other debris, which can be hazardous. The Cahaba changes often, and fallen trees and debris move downriver, so even if you’ve paddled a section before and think you are familiar with it, always keep a lookout for these hazards.
- Stay on the river and do not trespass. Stay on the water between access points and do not venture onto adjacent private property anywhere along the river. Camping is prohibited in all locations except where noted on the Alabama Scenic River Trail website at https://www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com/rivers/cahaba-river/.
- Do not litter. Please do not litter and take your trash with you.
- Be a river steward. Please consider picking up any littler you see and leave the river better than you found it!
- Do not dive. If swimming, do not dive headfirst.
- Be respectful of others. Respect others on the water or fishing from the bank, and give them plenty of room as you pass.