Two unspoiled rivers in northern Alabama offer nature lovers quiet opportunities to enjoy fishing, paddling, and birding. The Flint River and the Paint Rock River are two of the last free flowing tributaries of the Tennessee River basin in the northern part of the state. But unlike the Tennessee River and its four popular TVA impounded lakes, the Flint and the Paint Rock rivers are relatively unknown and uncrowded. Outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy recreational activities while having the waters pretty much to themselves.
The Flint River headwaters begin in southern Tennessee and flow south into Madison County, Alabama north of Huntsville. The Flint, with its two main tributaries- Brier Fork and Mountain Fork, meanders for more than 65 miles before joining the Tennessee River. Development along the river is minimal, and anglers will enjoy excellent fishing. They will find spotted bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, channel catfish, and longear sunfish among the fish species in the Flint River. The upper section of the river is suitable for both wading and fishing from canoes. The section below Hwy 431 is excellent for float fishing in flat bottom boats.
The lower sections of river are enjoyable for canoeing and kayaking. River depth is generally 2-5 feet with some small Class I rapids. Paddlers may encounter some fallen trees. Good places to put in / take out are at river crossings along Hwy 72E, Hwy 431S, Old Hwy 431, Cloud Cove Road, and Hobbs Island Road. There are no facilities along the river.
Walkers can enjoy the Flint River Greenway in Madison County near Owens Cross Roads. The 1.8 mile paved trail runs through Hays Nature Preserve. The trail connects on the northern end with Big Cove Creek Greenway, which continues another three miles north. Trail users may spot wildlife including deer, rabbits, and a variety of birds. A pedestrian bridge over the river provides scenic views. Parking is available at each end of the greenway, off Hwy 431 and Old Hwy 431.
The pristine Paint Rock River flows from southern Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau south through Jackson, Marshall, and Madison counties in Alabama. It empties into the Tennessee River below Guntersville Dam. The river is largely undeveloped, with the best water access points at county road bridge right-of-ways. The river is home to a diverse variety of aquatic life including 100 species of fish and 12 species of rare mussels. The Alabama lampmussel and the pale Lilliput mussel are only found in the Paint Rock River.
For those who enjoy birding, the Roy B. Whitaker Paint Rock River Preserve is one of 50 stops along the North Alabama Birding Trail. The Nature Conservancy maintains the preserve, located off US Hwy 72 between the towns of Gurley and Paint Rock. Birders may be rewarded with sightings of grasshopper sparrows and scissor-tailed flycatchers in the grassland or great-crested flycatchers and redeyed vireos which nest in the woodlands. Spring and fall migrations bring other varieties of birds to the area. Admission to the preserve is free.
Two outfitters in the area provide rental boats and shuttle service. North Alabama Canoe and Kayak in Huntsville rents canoes and kayaks by reservation on the Flint River. Float trips of 1.5, 3, and 4.5 hours are available. Rates are $ 45 per person for single boats and $ 35 per person for double boats, which includes paddles, personal flotation device, and shuttle. Tubes rent for $ 20 per person. Shuttle service for those with their own boats is $ 15 per person. Alabama Eco Adventures will rent canoes for $ 50 per day and kayaks for $ 35-45 per day on both rivers. Shuttle service is available.