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Fascinating Floats

Drift and paddle your way through the many waterways in the South on these compelling kayak adventures.
By Don Redman

There is no more majestic setting than sitting atop a kayak, just inches above the water, watching the sun rise above the horizon. It is a setting attracting more adventurers nationwide who desire to get closer to nature, and when you’re in a kayak, you can’t get much closer.

spoonbill

In Title: A kayaker exploring the estuaries and marshes of the coastal waters near Grand Isle, La.

Above: A roseate spoonbill is among the birds and other wildlife you can experience close up during a kayak excursion. Kristen Wray/Calmwater Charters photos

Below: In addition to being good for sightseeing and exercise, kayaks are perfect for fishing as well. Kristen Wray, Calmwater Charters photo

fishing

The Gulf South isn’t known for whitewater most associated with kayaking, but fortunately for us, there are ample opportunities to traverse the many waterways in our region, from the wide-open expanses of the Gulf of Mexico to the narrow bayous and streams lacing the countryside.

Here are selected destinations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to explore by kayak that make enjoyable day trips or overnight outdoor adventures.

Southern Louisiana is bayou country

An influx of sit-on-top recreational kayaks and the extremely popular fishing kayaks has boosted the enthusiasm for kayaking in bayou country. In fact, kayaking has become so popular in recent years that it’s almost certain there is a kayak outfitter near you.

For the do-it-yourself kayaker, the list of possible adventures is virtually limitless. In south Louisiana, the Jean Lafitte National Park includes the Barataria Preserve outside Marrero that offers fantastic kayaking opportunities. Three kayak launches–Bayou des Familles, Twin Canals and Lower Kenta Canal–are within the preserve. Kayakers will see a variety of trees, plants and wildlife natural to the Louisiana Delta, including bald cypress, water tupelo, barred owls, great blue herons, great egrets, white ibis, and alligators.

Check with visitor center rangers for rules and current conditions because some waterways are impassable during periods of low water. Fishing is allowed within the preserve with a valid Louisiana state fishing license.

Almost two dozen federal wildlife refuges sprinkled across Louisiana also provide excellent kayaking opportunities, each with a designated area to launch your kayak, including Bayou Sauvage near New Orleans; Big Branch Marsh in St. Tammany Parish; and Bogue Chitto north of Slidell.

The Kisatchie National Forest and many state parks offer a combination of camping sites and easy access to bayous, lakes, and rivers. The forest has five ranger districts stretching through several parishes from Alexandria west to Leesville and north to Winnfield.

The south-central coast of Louisiana also offers abundant opportunities for kayaking, and the St. Mary Parish Department of Tourism in Patterson, La., has created a paddle guide that details at least 10 kayaking trails in the Atchafalaya Basin.

Another fascinating kayak adventure can be had near Grand Isle at Elmer’s Island Wildlife Refuge, which is becoming increasingly popular with kayak fishermen. The state-managed refuge is a 230-acre tract of barrier beachfront located near Louisiana’s “boot tip” that’s well known for excellent fishing opportunities for many popular species such as speckled and white trout, flounder, redfish, and Spanish mackerel.

If you don’t own a seaworthy kayak but still want to have a try at fishing on coastal waters, give Wray’s Calmwater Charters a call. Operating from their bayfront home in Grand Isle, Danny Wray and his wife Kristen offer a variety of packages that put the customer up close with coastal wildlife. Watch birds in the estuaries, paddle with dolphins or fish. Once you’ve been taken for a ride atop a kayak by a bull redfish, you’ll be hooked for life.

Try “blue water kayaking” with Calmwater Charters for a more extreme fishing experience. For these trips, up to four kayaks are loaded aboard a large bay boat and then hauled offshore to the deep blue, where they are then deployed for a full day of fighting big fish like mahi mahi, cobia and bonita.

Kayaking in Mississippi

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is also home to several kayak outfitters offering rental packages, as well as guided extended trips. Wolf River Canoe and Kayak, located in Long Beach, offers guided trips on the Wolf River. Paddle through peaceful woodlands and observe wildlife, fish, swim or simply relax. Camp on pristine sand beaches.

The South Coast Paddling Company in Ocean Springs also offers guided tours and kayak rentals. South Coast Paddling has developed a series of half day, full day and overnight trips on area coastal waterways including trips to Deer Island, Old Fort Bayou Blueway, Davis Bayou and the Pascagoula River.

Kayakers may want to explore the Mississippi District of the Gulf Island National Seashore. Davis Bayou Area is a real treasure tucked away in Ocean Springs, offering visitors a variety of activities from kayaking along the bayou and the Mississippi Sound to camping, fishing, hiking and biking.

Horn Island, part of the national seashore, is a favorite destination for experienced kayakers. Camping on the barrier island is allowed, and Horn Island offers visitors fun activities like beach combing, bird-watching, swimming and fishing. Be advised that the seven-mile trip from Davis Bayou to Horn Island is across open waters that can suddenly turn rough. It is a trip advised only for experienced sea kayakers.
Leaving the coastal marshes behind, Red Wolf Wilderness Adventures offers rentals and paddle trips on the Black Creek through the Desoto National Forest. The Black Creek Wilderness area is located north of Gulfport near Wiggins. The Black Creek is the state’s only federally designated Wild and Scenic River.
In addition to exploring Mississippi state parks for kayak adventures, there are countless opportunities to have fun on the water throughout the state. Some of the more popular waterways include the Okatoma River, the Bogue Chitta and McGee’s Creek.

Alabama’s scenic rivers

Kayakers will be interested in exploring the 631-mile Alabama Scenic River Trail. The nation’s longest single-state river trail, it begins at the Georgia state line on the Coosa River and winds its way south to the Gulf of Mexico. Kayakers float past magnificent wildlife preserves, steep stone cliffs and secluded Delta creeks.

The Bartram Canoe Trail near Mobile is also an excellent venue for kayaking. The Bartram Trail is within the 250,000-acre region of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, the nation’s second largest river delta. A variety of excursions are available from day trips to overnight stays on above-water camping platforms, which require registration.

Don Redman is associate editor of AAA Southern Traveler.

Kayaking Safety

As with any outdoor adventure, always prepare for the unexpected when kayaking. Advanced preparation can literally be a lifesaver. These tips can help you make a plan.

  • Make sure to share your travel plans with someone who can notify emergency officials if needed. Let that person know where you are going, when you are departing and when you expect to return.
  • Always carry an emergency first-aid kit, potable water and survival gear. Most states require floatation devices for each person aboard a watercraft.
  • In some areas, you may encounter alligators. Play it smart. Never feed alligators and avoid their nests. If an alligator is blocking your path, don’t attempt to simply pass it by silently. The animal may not realize you are there until you are upon it, and you may find yourself in between an alligator and its escape route–a very dangerous place to be.

–Don Redman

May/Jun 2010 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Information on Louisiana’s outdoor adventures is available by calling
(800) 99-GUMBO
(800-994-8626) or click on the state tourism’s Web site, www.louisianatravel.com/
outdoors
.

The Mississippi Department of Tourism offers an invaluable booklet, the “Mississippi Adventure Guide,” that is full of listings of outfitters and waterways perfect for planning your next kayaking adventure. For details, call (866) 733-6477 or visit www.visitmississippi.org/
outdoor_rec/


Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has information about the Scenic River Trail and Bartram Canoe Trail, plus other fishing and outdoor adventures, at www.outdooralabama.com or call
(334) 242-3486.

To visit these waterways, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana and Mississippi through the Reader Service Card, found in this issue online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com


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