Welcome to Alabama's Freshwater Coast

Paddling the Tallapoosa River

The Lake Martin area is home to a variety of outdoor adventures, but paddling the Tallapoosa River is easily one of the best kept secrets. A growing number of kayaking enthusiasts travel to Lake Martin each year to experience the scenic shoals, wildlife encounters, and iconic Cahaba lilies found on the Tallapoosa.

Stretching across the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain Range, the Tallapoosa River flows for nearly 260 miles through the rolling hills of the Piedmont Province. In the Lake Martin area, access to the river is granted by the 25-mile Harold Banks Canoe Trail. The trail consists of a combination of flat waters and shoals rarely ranked above class I on the International Scale of River Difficulty, perfect for a peaceful, family-friendly adventure. 

Photo by Scott Baker

There are a variety of outfitters in the Lake Martin area providing services to help make any paddle a successful one. From canoe and kayak rentals to river shuttle services to guided river paddles and fishing trips, experienced outfitters assist in planning trips down this designated section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail.

The Harold Banks Canoe Trail is divided into three manageable sections:

Single Day Paddles

Bibby’s Ferry: This 5-hour float winds 8.25 miles beginning at Bibby’s Ferry, just across the Tallapoosa County line in Chambers County, ending at Germany’s Ferry Bridge. This section features unique spots such as the Baptistry and Fish Trap, brisk shoals, flat waters, incredible fishing, and a public campsite.

Germany’s Ferry: Beginning at Germany’s Ferry Bridge, this 6-hour float winds down the river for nearly 10 miles and ends at Horseshoe Bend Bridge. This middle section includes crisp, blue waters, fishing spots, mile-long Griffin Shoals, and a reminiscent paddle through historic Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.

Horseshoe Bend: This widely popular 4-hour float stretches 6 miles across the most scenic portion of the Tallapoosa River. It begins with public access at Horseshoe Bend Bridge and ends at Jay Bird Creek public access point. Horseshoe Bend is a lower river section and features numerous patches of Cahaba lilies, Peters Island, Laura’s Leap, Irwin Shoals, and a public campsite at Jay Bird Creek. For more excitement, be sure to bear left or right to paddle the swift side shutes. 

Photo by Alabama Tourism Department

Cahaba Lilies 

Each year, thousands of Cahaba lilies make a grand appearance on the Tallapoosa River. First described by American botanist William Bartram in 1773, this rare aquatic flower thrives in rocky shoals at the Fall Line. Cahaba lilies, also referred to as Shoal lilies, are unique to the southeast, specifically Alabama, Georgia, and parts of North and South Carolina.

The Tallapoosa’s flowing waters and abundant sun exposure give life to distinctive, fragrant three inch blooms seen only during late spring from around Mother’s Day to Father’s Day – and, as if the lilies are not unique enough, they only open up in the evening with individual flowers lasting 24 hours. While the flowers are most prominently found in Alabama at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge, the Tallapoosa River offers panoramic views of Cahaba lilies at the Horseshoe Bend section of the Harold Banks Canoe Trail.

Photo by Alabama Tourism Department

Tallapoosa River Fest

Tallapoosa River Fest brings together kayakers and outdoorsmen from across the southeast to Lake Martin to paddle the Harold Banks Canoe Trail in celebration of the river’s iconic Cahaba lilies, vast wildlife, and host of unique landmarks and attractions. In conjunction, the Town of New Site hosts a variety of craft vendors, educational workshops, food trucks, and live entertainment for the whole family.

The 2024 Tallapoosa River Fest takes place on Saturday, June 1. While registration for this event has closed, be sure to check out the festival in New Site and start making plans for next year’s paddle!

To learn more about local attractions, events, dining, or places to stay, check out our website! Stay up to date and keep up with all things Lake Martin by following us on social media.