Coosa River (AL): whitewater action for beginners, with the class III Moccasin Gap drop.
This is a wide, dam-controlled river that provides some roller coaster rides and exciting rapids.
SKILL LEVEL: Beginners and above. Beginners may well be swimming, but most of the rapids are open and clear, so you are likely to just be swept downstream. (Roll on your back and keep your feet up and pointed downstream.)
SCENERY: Mostly wild.
LOCATION: Near Wetumpka, Alabama.
ONLINE GAUGE: Yes, check out dam releases here.
We have done the Coosa River trip downstream from Jordan Dam and over Moccasin Gap many times, but we are definitely not seasoned whitewater paddlers. This is the Florida paddler take on the Coosa River; and, while we know how to paddle, we don't have much whitewater down here.
Much of the 7-mile stretch of the Coosa River below Jordan Dam is flat-water paddling, but the adrenaline-inducing and fun-filled rapids more than make up for the effort. The first class II rapid is about 1.5 miles below the dam. There are several other smaller rapids that give a nice bouncy ride and add a little zip to your pace, but you will know Moccasin Gap when you get to it. About 3.5 miles below the dam, there is a definite drop in the horizon and you can hear the water churning.
We like to get off on the rock island to the left of the Moccasin Gap to take a break and scout things out a bit before proceeding. This is also a great spot to watch other paddlers brave the rapid. If you watch the videos we have posted on the Photo Albums page, there is one where you'll hear one of my friends in the background declare, "I'm not doing that!" It definitely looks intimidating, but it is really just a straight shot. Most of us have skirted along on the right edge of the drop -- but you don't want to go too far right. (Water level definitely makes a difference, so it is worth scouting.) We have actually had a few paddlers go too far right in the Gap and get sucked off on a different route. You can skip the class III drop altogether by taking a class II rapid to the left of the island, but where's the fun in that?
There are three more class II rapids below Moccasin Gap that are just as much, if not more, fun. Depending on the water level, you may need to do some maneuvering in some of these. We have probably had just as many people tip at one of these rapids as at Moccasin Gap. The next rapid below Moccasin Gap also offers a nice rock for a break. We access it from the downstream side.
There are some helpful and friendly canoe and kayak rental operations in the area. We have rented kayaks before and paid to take out at their locations. If you need a kayak or a shuttle, you should definitely check them out. Going downstream to Gold Star Park does involve more flat-water paddling, but it is a nice takeout.
Our favorite campground in the area is at Fort Toulouse, which overlooks the Coosa River downstream from this trip. If you like mountain biking or hiking, you should also try out the Swayback Bridge Trail, which is right near Jordan Dam.
For the serious whitewater paddler perspective on the Coosa River, you can check out the websites American Whitewater or Alabama Whitewater. The Alabama Whitewater group has a great "flow page" that shows water levels across the state at a glance.
The 7.4 mile trip on the Coosa is what I would call a "destination paddle." We drive to Wetumpka and spend a few nights just to paddle this section of the river (and to explore Fort Toulouse and bike on the Swayback Bridge Trail). The Coosa is enough fun that we typically paddle it two days in a row. Everyone is generally a little more confident on the second day. There are several big islands that split the 500-foot wide river, and we usually stay to the right because that looks like the direction of the main flow for most of them. On day 2, we have taken the route less traveled for a new experience and have just as much fun.
The character of the river is dictated by water releases at Jordan Dam. Typical dam release levels are 2,000, 4,000, 6,000 and 8,000 cubic feet per second (CFS). Serious whitewater paddlers, like levels of 6,000, 8,000 or higher. We'll take a pass above 6,000. We've done the three lower levels and enjoyed them all. There is considerably more exposed rock at 2,000 CFS, and there are bigger standing waves at 6,000 CFS.
For our group, the preferred boat is a Sit-on-Top kayak. SOTs can easily handle all of the rapids on the Coosa with ease. Standing waves are not an issue when the water runs right through your scupper holes. Of course we have people with whitewater boats who also do great. Above 4,000 CFS, I'd suggest a skirt for a regular kayak or flotation for canoes. Be safe and have fun!
River Miles reflect the approximate distances from the previous launch site.
LAUNCH SITE MAP (Click on map for directions)
I like this dry bag because it has shoulder straps and a water bottle pocket. I've been hauling this a lot lately.
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LAUNCH SITE DETAILS
Launch: Short, paved ramp.
Parking: Large gravel parking areas. Isolated, but there is a lot of traffic in warmer months.
Facilities: Portable toilet.
Notes: Can be quite busy when canoe liveries are running.
Gold Star Park
Launch: Long paved ramp. Busy launch for motorboats.
Parking: Plenty of paved parking. Visible.
Facilities: Flush toilets. Picnic tables. Pavillions. Walking trail.