Complete Guide to the Bartram Canoe Trail in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta



The map shown above can be downloaded in a much larger form for trip planning by clicking here. The Trail Description text near the bottom of this page contains 13 "trails" that the Bartram is divided into. The rectangles on the map above show the general area of these excursions. Much more information can be found by following the links in the Trail Descriptions, including printable maps of each trail.

About the Bartram Canoe Trail
The Bartram Canoe Trail provides the best way to see and explore the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, our nation's second-largest river delta. It encompasses a vast wetland characterized by estuarine marsh, cypress-tupelo swamp and bottomland hardwood ecosystems.

The Bartram Canoe Trail is essentially a series of land-based campsites and water-based floating platforms that provide overnight stops that support multi-day trips. Paddlecraft access points are provided that allow explorers to go on a number of day trips, too.

The Bartram Canoe Trail was created in the mid-2000s by the Alabama State Lands Division and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, utilizing mostly land secured by Alabama Forever Wild. The Trail is named for explorer William Bartram, who, on assignement from the King of England, explored Georgia, Florida and Alabama in the years just before the American Revolution in an effort to catalog every species of plant and animal he could find in the name of the Crown. The result of his journeys was the book The Travels of William Bartram, which became a best seller in a Europe hungry to know more about the wild American frontier. Bartram had a profound influence on the world beyond his scientific leanings. His work remains one of the best accounts of the various Indians he encountered, and his writing can still bring their lives back to us. His descriptions of the Alabama river country inspired the geographic references in Samuel Taylor Coleredge's poem Kubla Khan. For many Europeans who could never travel to America, Bartrams's studies became many an armchair explorer's guide.

Bartram traveled the Delta near Stockton, Alabama, where he discovered the evening primrose. The path he followed became a part of the stage coach road from the land office in Milledgeville, Georgia and the territorial campital in Natchez. One of those stops, the Stage Coach Cafe in Stockton, still operates as a popular restaurant and is not to be missed by visitors to the area.

Inside the restaurant, the walls in the hallway where patrons wait in line to pay their tabs are almost papered with the area's history. It was in this line that Greg Lein of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was standing when he had the opportunity to read an article pinned to the wall. The article outlined the dream of a local resident to create a canoe trail through the delta. Greg took this seed of an idea back to Montgomery with him and in following years made the local dream a state treasure.

Most of the information on this section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail website was taken from the poster developed by Mr. Lein and his office to support travelers on the trail. It has been slightly reorganized here because the freedom of the Internet allows it to be so. The thumbnail map above can be downloaded in a much larger size for study by clicking on it. The orange boxes on it contain references to the various trails that have been established through the Bartram. Below, on this page, you will find references to individual trail maps. Clicking on these links will take you to a page with a map (with detailed printable map available for download) and complete trip information.

Land-based campsites may be used at any time by anyone without reservations. Floating platforms hold a limited number of campers, and reservations are required. Regulations for the entire trail are as follows:

Floating Camping Platforms—Rules for use
The floating camping platforms on the Bartram Canoe Trail are limited to canoe and kayaking groups of eight or less. In the Dead Lake Island slough there are two separate platforms to accommodate larger groups. Below are Rules for Use specific to the floating Platform Campsites.
 
1. When camping on the floating platforms, group size is limited to eight.
2. Pets are not allowed on floating camping platforms.
3. Open fires are not allowed on open camping platforms.
4. Camp stoves are required for cooking on floating camping platforms.
5. Each party is required to have a compass, map, flashlight, and portable toilet with disposable bags.
6. The floating platforms can be reserved for only one night. A group can reserve the platforms at different locations when taking multiple night trips. A platform reservation is from 12 noon to 12 noon. For reservations, visit www.bartramcanoetrail.com.
7. Feeding or harassing wildlife is prohibited. Do not discard garbage or food on or near the floating platform.
8. The floating platforms will be inspected after each use. Damage to platforms will be assessed and will be the responsibility of the user.
9. Visitors may be held financially responsible for unnecessary rescues.

Trip Planning
Taking time to plan your trip can significantly enhance your experience. Be aware of the Rules for Use and take pride in what this region has to offer. Leave no trace of your presence so the experiences for those who follow are as pleasant as yours. Review the information provided for the trail you plan on using; obtain water level information to optimize your enjoyment and safety. While most trips are without mishap, be aware and prepared for potential hazards. For information about local outfitters, motels and restaurants, contact the area Chambers of Commerce: www.northbaldwinchamber.com, www.cbchamber.org and www.mobilechamber.com.
 
Significant factors relating to the Delta water levels
Public use of all water routes within the Delta is greatly influenced by water levels of the area's rivers. Trail routes within the northern portion of the Delta are especially influenced by water levels on the Alabama River. The first upstream impoundment on the Alabama River from the Delta is Claiborne Reservoir. Operation of Claiborne Dame by the US Army Corps of Engineers is the single most influential factor affecting the water levels on the upper Delta. Review the information provided with the respective trail description for optimal water levels. This information is helpful in trip planning and trail selection. For water level information at Claiborne Dam, call 1-888-771-4601 and work through the menu options to select Claiborne Dam tailwater, or check the Army Corps of Engineers' website at http://water.sam.usace.army.mil. Additional information can also be found at http://al.water.usgs.gov.
 
Leave no trace
Show respect by minimizing your presence and impact in all ways. Take pride in your ability to pass through an area without leaving any sign of your presence. Never discard garbage or food scraps in the swamp, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem. Such items pollute the environment and attract unwanted animals. Avoid disturbing wildlife (and other visitors) by keeping quiet and not approaching them too closely. Avoid disturbing plants and other natural features by leaving them in place and building fires only at designated sites. Deposit all human waste in a toilet. Campers on overnight canoe trips are required to use portable toilets between facilities. For information about how to enjoy the outdoors while "leaving no trace," visit www.lnt.org.

Trail Descriptions
Clicking the links in these descriptions will take you to a page with more detailed information about each trail segment, including a printable map of each trail.

Click on the red headline of any section to go to more detail and map.

1. Globe Creek Trail
Starting in the upper reaches of the Mobile-Tensaw Forever Wild Property, this trail begins in a small waterway that meanders through mature bottomland hardwood forests. This trail offers numerous opportunities to view the diverse wildlife and plants of this unique ecological region.

2. Red Hills/Proctor Creek Trail 

Crossing he open water of Tensaw Lake to these small feeder creeks offers an opportunity to explore the remote backwaters. Many limbs and sunken trees prohibit access to most motorboats, providing the perfect opportunity for the smaller canoes and kayaks to enjoy the solitude.

3. Douglas Lake Trail 
Traveling down Tensaw Lake and into Douglas Lake, this trail is characterized by its lake-like setting. This flatwater paddle into Douglas Lake provides an opportunity to witness the large cypress trees reminiscent of the old Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

4. Richardson Island Trail 
Departing from Rice Creek Landing, this simple trail follows Rice Creek, Briar Lake and Tensaw Lake around Richardson Island. Paddle this simple route and its several back sloughs that offer opportunities for fishing, bird-watching or just quiet solitude.

5. Fisher Island Trail 
After crossing Briar Lake and the Tensaw River, the trail follows Bayou Jessamine into what is locally known as Jug Lake. Paddling up this bayou allow for a unique experience of observing the wildlife and plants of an interior delta island.

6. Indian Mound Trail
After crossing briar Lake and Tensaw River, the trail follows the entire length of Bayou Jessamine into Bottle Creek. A short paddle downstream, a pullout on the west bank sandbar and a ten-minute hike allows one to gaze into the past at a collection of large mounds constructed by Indians of the Mississippian Era.

7. Two Rivers Point Trail
Departing from Rice Creek Landing, the trail runs the east side of Richardson Island and follows the entire length of the picturesque Bayou Tallapoosa into the Tensaw River. After an overnight stay at the land-based Two Rivers Point Campsite, the trail returns to Rice Creek Landing via Bayou Jessamine. The opportunity to visit Bottle Creek Indian Mounds should not be missed along the return leg of this journey.

8. Spoonbill Sandbar Trail
Launching from French’s Lake Coastal Access Kiosk, this overnight trip provides an interesting chance to witness the vast bottomland hardwood forest of the upper Mobile-Tensaw Delta. The land-based Spoonbill Sandbar Campsite on the Alabama River allow for an overnight experience in the style of William Bartram himself.

9. Spoonbill Sandbar/Two Rivers Point

TrailThis route is a combination of overnight routes #1 and #2, resulting in a three-day, two-night experience. Launch from French’s Lake, Holley Creek or Boatyard Landings.

10. Jug Lake Trail
Departing from Rice Creek Landing, this overnight trail follows Rice Creek, Briar Lake and the Tensaw River around Richardson Island, with a stopover at the Jug Lake camping platform. This trail offers a mixture of more secluded smaller water and open bigger water.

11. Canal Island Trail
Starting in the upper reaches of the Mobile-Tensaw Forever Wild Property, this trail begins in a small waterway that meanders through mature bottomland hardwood forests. After spending the night on the Canal Island Camping Platform you can enjoy Tensaw Lake and its backwater sloughs.

12. Dead Lake Island Trail
Traveling down Tensaw Lake this trail provides the opportunity to explore the backwater sloughs and tributaries of Tensaw Lake. This camping platform area has two platforms and can accommodate a larger group.

13. Canal Island/Dead Lake Island Trail
This two-night/three-day trail consists of a mixture of the small water of Globe Creek and Bayou Tallapoosa as well as the more open water of Stiggins Lake and the Tensaw River.

Campsite information
In addition to the campsite information on this page, the Alabama Scenic River Trail maintains informative information on these official campsites at the links below:

Hubbards Landing
Two Rivers Point - Land
Spoonbill Sandbar - Land
Canal Island Platform
Dead Lake Platform
Jug Lake Platform
Dead Lake Island Platform
Cloverleaf Camp
Blakeley Park
Meaher State Park

Cloverleaf Camp is near the official bounds of the Bartram Canoe Trail. Blakeley State Park and Meaher State Park, both farther away on Highway 225 to the south, provide full-service and primitive camping for those who need a base camp to access the Bartram Canoe Trail.

GPS Coordinates for Bartram Canoe Trail features
Boatyard Landing                                         N31.1768                                                      W87.84068                                                  
Canal Island Platform Campsite                   N31.08983                                                    W87.89123                                                  
Champion Cypress Tree                              N31.001028                                                  W87.911472                                                
(200 yards @ 206 degrees from tree on bank marked “5” in blue)                                                                                               
Dead Lake Platform Campsite                     N31.0439                                                      W87.9155                                                    
French’s Lake                                              N31.13568                                                    W87.84518                                                                                    
Holley Creek                                                N31.1824                                                      W87.85417                                                                                    
Hubbard’s Landing                                      N31.0637                                                      W87.87028
Jacintoport Campsite                                  N30.82159705                                              W88.04618424                                            
Jug Lake Platform Campsite                       N31.01173365                                              W87.90813999                                            
Rice Creek Landing                                     N31.01578                                                    W87.8636                                                                                      
Spoonbill Sandbar Campsite                       N31.16797                                                    W87.89384                                                                                    
Two Rivers Point Campsite                         N31.01968                                                    W87.96262
Upper Bryant Landing                                 N31.04437                                                    W87.87635


An overview of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Experience

Claiborne Lock and Dam and the adjacent Isaac Creek Campground are the upstream gateways to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the second-largest river delta in the nation. Launch from Isaac Creek Campground and paddle or motor straight for the locks to get downriver of the dam. Lock schedules and information are available from the lockmaster at 251 282 4575. If you arrive and need to pass the dam when the lock is not operating, or if you simply prefer to tote your boat, a takeout is available on the east bank just before the dam. The paved road will allow paddlers to portage past the lock and put in below the dam.

The following information with detailed maps and historical information can be purchased in a pooster-style waterproof edition that folds to pocket size in our online store.

About thirteen miles downstream of the Highway 84 Bridge, Randons Creek comes into the nearly straight southwest leg of the river. This place was the site of what has come down to us as the Great Canoe Fight.
 
Gainestown Landing at Irvin Creek is just past the power lines, and Choctaw Bluff follows ten miles downriver.
 
Once you pass under the power lines at mile 7.5 you’re in the realm of Alabama’s Bartram Canoe Trail, a peaceful maze of Alabama jungle designed for the paddling naturalist and outdoor-seeker (see more Bartram Canoe Trail information on reverse side).  Floating platforms and land-based campsites have been established to accommodate canoe and kayak travelers. To use the floating platforms, reservations must be made online at www.bartramcanoetrail.com Land-based Bartram campsites do not require reservations. Excellent maps with detailed preparation and day trip information are available at no cost by calling or writing Five Rivers Delta Resource Center at 251 625 0814. This is a perfect spot to paddle just west of the main trail route and explore the Delta bayous.
 
The most direct route south through the delta without taking a side trip on the Bartram Canoe Trail is to follow the Alabama River to mile zero at its confluence with the Tombigbee and the beginning of the Mobile River.
 
From there, follow the Mobile River about 10 miles and guide east (left) onto the Tensaw and follow it due east to Two Rivers Point Campsite as shown on the map. The Two Rivers Campsite is part of the Bartram Canoe Trail, but is not one of the floating platform campsites and therefore does not require a reservation for use. Note that the campsite is beyond the point on the Tensaw side.
 
This area of the trail requires careful navigation but the rewards are great in terms of solitude, wildlife and waterfowl, and natural beauty.
 
From Two Rivers Campsite, continue in the Tensaw 1.3 miles to the next main fork, and steer right into Bottle Creek. A trail to several large Indian mounds can be found as the kink in Bottle Creek doubles back south. The trail can be seen on the right when first heading south, but a careful search may be in order because the appearance of the entrance changes with the seasons and water levels. These mounds are on the National Register of Historic Places and must be treated with the utmost respect.

The Trail follows Middle River under the twin spans of Interstate 65 and into the Tensaw. Soon after, look on the left bank for a primitive campground established by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The campsite is open to Trail travelers. About five miles south of this campsite is Cliff’s Landing, the first in a series of public landings and campsites.
 
Powerboaters may make their way off the Mobile River and up Dead Lake to the Mobile County River Delta Marina and Welcome Center.
 
Approximately seven miles below I-65 on the left is Cliff’s Landing followed in little over a mile by a railroad bridge. The first creek entering the river from the left offers Hurricane Landing situated about a mile off the river.  Just a mile past this point to the right is the sand-beach tip of Gravine Island, a busy place where camping is not tolerated. A shortcut to Hurricane Landing via a gas pipeline.
 
Just south of and in sight of Gravine Island is Cloverleaf Boat Launch and Landing. A grassy area there is available for camping by prior arrangement by calling 251 455 3992.  A small fee is asked for use of the ramp. About a mile south of this is Historic Blakeley State Park, immediately identifiable by the eco-tourboat Delta Explorer and the immense boardwalk that spans the front of the old town of Blakeley.
 
South of Blakeley Park, the trail hugs the east bank as it empties into Mobile Bay. Sardine Pass will appear on the right. Motorboaters should beware the sandbar that runs across the mouth of Sardine Pass. Go a bit south, then in toward shore. The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center’s impressive docks appear on the left with the lodge-like buildings and their unmistakable green roofs. A short paddle around the bend is Bartram Landing, the floating canoe and kayak dock connected by a walkway to a paved loading zone and public restrooms.
 
Across the Blakeley from Five Rivers to your left is the inlet to Bay Minette followed, heading south, by Scott’s Landing which appears just before the causeway.

Meaher State Park is an excellent stop within the city of Spanish Fort. Below Meaher, the opportunities to land or camp on public properties of campgrounds become more scarce. Meaher State Park has an outlying “beach” near the causeway that can provide a convenient place to overnight on the Alabama Scenic River Trail. Through-paddling campers may stop here and camp overnight, but there is a small fee for doing so. Walk west past the big boat ramp parking lot and into the campground (they now have hot showers and a bath house) and find the attendant on duty.
Paddlers planning to camp overnight on the eastern shore between Meaher State Park and Ft. Morgan are encouraged to contact the Mobile Bay Canoe and Kayak Club or area outfitters. Information can be found at http://baykayaker.blogspot.com/.

Leaving the seclusion of the network of waterways in the lush delta, the trail ends under the wide-open skies and waters of Mobile Bay. To finish the trail at its terminus near Ft. Morgan (the Ft. Morgan public ramp appears before the Ft. Morgan Ferry) on the tip of the Ft. Morgan peninsula, paddlers will need another night or two of accommodation before making an end to a long trip.
 
New Delta Campsites and Access Points
In 2011, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources broke ground on efforts to expand the original portion of the Bartram Canoe Trail to reach the lower Delta and terminate at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center. Two land-based campsites have already been cleared. The first is at the Jacintoport Forever Wild site in Saraland. The second is on the southern bank of the entrance to The Basin just off the Tensaw River.

The Jacintoport Campsite aims to be a crown jewel of the trail on its high perch on an oak ridge overlooking beautiful Bayou Sara. The campsite is easily accessed by launching at the Saraland Boat Ramp, Steele Creek in Satsuma, or even the Mobile County Marina and Welcome Center. The 5,000-acre Jacintoport site is worth a visit by land or water and includes extensive hiking opportunities. A night around the beautiful campfire rings at Jacintoport will prepare paddlers for the return trip the next morning.
 
Additional campsites, portage areas and routes are still being planned for the lower Delta. Visit  www.bartramcanoetrail.com for the latest trail updates.