The Cahaba river has so many runnable sections that John Foshee broke it into about 14 of them in his Alabama Canoe Rides and Float Trips guidebook. Of the four sections that have any real whitewater, this is by far the furthest downstream. Interest in this section is mainly generated by the three long shoals that serve as ideal habitat for the Cahaba Lilly. The Lilly is indeed the star of the show, a ~2' high white and yellow flower that grows right in mid-stream. They bloom between about Mothers Day to Fathers Day, with peak around May 20. The third set of shoals down from put-in (Hargrove Shoals) is the largest stand of these flowers in the world.
This part of the Cahaba is wide. The shoals are class basically I-II, though they may approach easy class III here and there with surfing waves at high water. The three main shoals slope fairly evenly, with one abrupt 24" drop at the end of Hargrove. Stay generally to the left on the first two shoals, generally to the right on Hargrove. Hargrove is about 1 mile long. After this, it gets deeper and easier for the most part. Tandem canoes are at home here, take a fishing pole if you wish. Lots of threatened fish and snails. Good swimming abounds with a rope swing 150 yards above the takeout.
Level is somewhat important, though this can be run down to a low level. Even at 850 cfs there will be much scraping on the shoals. Go anyway if you want to see the lillies all the way down to 400 cfs or less. Somewhere a bit above 1000 cfs the scraping will subside. It can be a challenge to catch enough water during lilly season. Too much H2O, probably above 2000 cfs, puts the lillies under water.
Put in at Piper Bridge, Take out at River Bend Rd on Nature Conservancy property. -- with help from Shane Hulsey
Section 11 of the Cahaba River, extending six miles (see Foehee pg. 87), was running at about 800 cfs when sixteen paddlers in eight boats put in near Piper on county road 24 north of Centerville, Alabama. Everyone met trip leader Mark D'Agostino at the Calera exit (288) I-65 at 10:00 am for the caravan along state route 25 past Montevallo toward Centerville. An alternate approach to section 11 of the Cahaba is I-20/59 south from Birmingham. Take the Caffee Junction exit (97) and go south past Woodstock to West Blocton. I believe this is a little more direct from Huntsville but Mark D was scouting other streams in the area (actually delivering boats to Hoover area friends) so he made the approach from the Calera direction.
The flotilla included Mark D, daughter Helen and a guest; David Whitten and son Daniel; Murray and Kay Carroll; Robert and Edna Andrews; Bob and Brenda Barnett and grandchildren Cris and Haley; Mike and Kathy Campbell; and this solo paddler.
It was a warm day and quite a number of other paddlers were on the river as well as land lubbersalong the banks watching the river go by. The Shoal Lily (known locally as the Cahaba Lily) was in full bloom and in great abundance especially at mile long Hargrove Shoals where from a distance the display looked like a "pasture" of white flowers. This lily and its long slender leaves grow upright out of the shallow water to a height of two and a half feet or more. A beautiful sight. There are several organizations working to preserve the Cahaba. What a valuable resource!
The take-out is at county road 26. Parking at both ends of this float trip is adequate. From take-out to Huntsville is one hundred fifty miles via I-20/59/65.
Three events of note (beside the beautiful lilies): Mark D, considering it was such a hot day, took his canoe full of paddlers for a swim at one of the lovely little shoals; Kathy conducted a very pleasant shuttle in her wonderfully air-conditioned van; and Murray stayed behind with all the nondrivers to portage the canoes up that steep trail to the parking area. Murray, I promise next time to take all the gear out of my canoe before the portage. Thanks. And thanks to Mark D for a well planned and enjoyable trip down this scenic section of the Cahaba River.