The Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa Rivers

Above: Harold Banks, likely the most experienced Tallapoosa paddler in the state, strikes out once again above Martin Dam. 

The Alabama Scenic River Trail was the longest single blueway in a single state at the time of its inception in 2008, at which time its original 631 miles were designated with National Recreational Trail status. Since that time, the Alabama Scenic River Trail organization has expanded the trail system to over three thousand miles of accessible streams, which is yet less than half of its potential, a condition of the state’s bountiful water recreational potential. 

The diverse partnerships that form the trail along the Tallapoosa rivers is a smaller replica of the network of partnerships that form the vast Alabama Scenic River Trail system as it grows throughout the state. The Alabama legislature, Alabama Trails Commission, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, US Army Corps of Engineers, Alabama Power Company, Auburn Extension Service, neighboring county commissions, individual paddling enthusiasts and others support the concept of the trail and have avidly participated in its development. All lands along the Tallapoosa rivers are under the stewardship of the Alabama Power Company who is working with the Alabama Scenic River Trail to establish access, portages and campsites where such are needed.

Paddling on the Tallapoosa rivers is enhanced by Alabama Power’s periodic water releases.

Click here to see a video of how Alabama Power Company's partnership with the Alabama Scenic River Trail has provided the essential ingredients of a Tallapoosa experience.

Above, Dadeville paddler Harold Banks, likely the most experienced Tallapoosa paddler in the state, strikes out once again above Martin Dam. Click here to download a much larger version for trip planning.

The Tallapoosa and Little Tallapoosa rivers begin across the Alabama state line in Georgia and flow generally westerly to join at the upper of two large recreational lakes on the system, Lake Wedowee near Lineville. From Lake Wedowee, the Tallapoosa flows south to join the Coosa River (and thereby the main part of the National Recreational Treail (NRT) -reccognized Alabama Scenic River Trail) at Ft. Toulouse near Wetumpka where the Alabama River is formed by these confluences. On the way, the Tallapoosa forms Lake Martin with its bustling recreational scene including the expansive Wind Creek State Park and numerous marinas. The rivers flow through the ancient Creek Indian lands that were the last strongholds of native American culture in the southeast until the arrival of Andrew Jackson’s army at Ft Toulouse. Horseshoe Bend National Military Park and site of one of the nation’s most famous battles, lies along the Tallapoosa as do countless historic points of interest. Ft. Toulouse was visited in its time by Jackson, Tecumseh, French Territorial Governor Bienville and Star Spangled Banner author Francis Scott Key. 

Scene at the ramp at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.

The word Tallapoosa means pulverized rock (tali = rock, pushi = pulverized) and the sparkling quartzite bottoms and shoals, which long survived the people who named the rivers, provide an inviting stop through the looping runs that one extreme provide stretches of days of  complete solitude and on the other provide the bustling boating and camping mecca of Wind Creek State Park on Lake Martin. Wind Creek State Park is said to be the largest state park in the country.

The area was the seat of the greatest of the southeastern Indian towns. Settlements like Tuckabatchee are described in the Travels of William Bartram, a colonial account of a trip through the area, as astonishingly European in fashion. Tallassee is the site of an Indian town that grew up around the near-endless source of easily-acquired fish that gathered below the impassible falls there. The area was a main target of Andrew Jackson as he demolished Emuckfaw, Autossee, and dozens of other towns.

The Indian trade route that stretched between Memphis and Charleston lay along the north side of the Tallapoosa. A major intersection among Indian trade routes crossed the Tallapoosa below the present-day town of Tallassee.

The Tallapoosa has been dammed for power generation and flood control, but, because of the ridge-and-valley nature of most of the river’s basin, it has kept the appearance of a natural river. Except for the recreational and residential development on its two lakes, the river twists on, set deep in its banks, over  sparkling bottom through shoal after rock-spangled shoal.

The fact that the Tallapoosa rivers flow through isolated and even desolate areas has already been mentioned, but the rural nature of virtually all the communities along these rivers must be stressed. By far the largest town in the counties through which these rivers flow is Alexander City with its 15,000 inhabitants in Tallapoosa County. Typical is the town of Wadley on the Tallapoosa. With its modest main street storefronts, this community of 640 is within an easy walk of the Tallapoosa. A single boat rental operation and an ice cream shop have been established there. Beyond the likes of communities like Wadley there is but solitude and the river.

Click here to download  PDF file of all four Alabama Power Company Official Portages. Marked satellite images detail the routes.

Despite the rural and small-town nature of the Tallapoosa basin, the rivers attract a wide variety of traffic. The rivers’ proximity to Atlanta makes it a favored, if not favorite, destination for paddle-crazy Georgians. The city of Auburn with its active student population is less than an hour away from Lake Martin via US Highway 280, which crosses the Tallapoosa  on the upper reaches of the lake. Birmingham is only a half hour farther away by the same highway. Tuskegee and the Tuskegee National forest are less than half an hour from the Tallapoosa. Between the Talladega National Forest near Anniston and Lake Eufaula, this is the best water recreation serving the diverse local population of the area.

JayBird Creek Campsite (32.95648  -85.81032)

Jaybird Creek Campsite at Mile 26.9 left descending is the uppermost campsite on what is considered to be the waters of Lake Martin proper. This modest primitive campsite is located just past the entry of Jaybird Creek. The land immediately adjacent to the creek is not part of this campsite; it is owned by a private hunting club but is a popular spot for campers. The Jaybird site is just downstream of the hunting club property and is marked with an Alabama Scenic River Trail Official Campsite sign. 

If the small space of the campsite is occupied, haul up a hundred yards to the spacious field behind the riverfront site. Road access is via Rock Springs Road/Boone Valley Road.

Above: The approach to Jaybird Campsite

Bakers Bottom (32.95130  -85.86638)

River Mile 22.5 River Left Ascending. This campsite is 4.5 miles above the Highway 431 Bridge over Lake Martin. It is associated with Bakers Bottom Ramp at the end of Kerley Patten Road. The campsite is on the tip of the second finger of land northwest of the ramp, approximately 1/4 mile away.  It is the first campsite below Jaybird 5.5 miles upstream.

Above: Bakers Bottom Campsite

Bay Pine (32.83880  -85.87064)

Bay Pine Campsite is located at Mile 12.5 on an unnamed island near the well-known Bay Pine Marina. 

Above: Bay Pine Island

Paces Ferry (32.78423  -85.89153)

Paces Ferry Campsite at Mile 8 is in the main channel of the Tallapoosa where the historic Paces Ferry operated. When we visited this campsite on November 15 2013, there was no sign nor post found. 

Paces Trail (32.77716  -85.87792)

The ADA accessible ramp at Paces Trail Ramp is on southern tip of Paces Trail. The signed ASRT landing site is on the opposite end of the point, visible on a channel approach from upstream.

The Paces Trail Campsite is approximately 4 miles east of the channel and about two miles north of a straight line from the channel to Blue Creek Marina. The corresponding mile marker in the channel is Mile 4.5. The ramp here is the only ACA compliant access in the vicinity.

Above: Beach area for paddlecraft on the approach to the campsite.

Cheeseburger Island (32.69707  -85.91153)

Cheeseburger Island, as it is locally known, is the smaller of two islands at Mile 1.25 on Lake Martin. The campsite is in sight of the dam and almost in site of the Alabama Scenic River Trail portage on the left side of the dam at the Alabama Power ramp there. The island is about half an acre in size and is a very popular gathering spot for boaters.

Above: Cheeseburger Island Campsite sign.