Where to Paddleboard in Alabama: 5 Sweet SUP Spots

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While stand-up paddleboarding was born in the Pacific Islands, the sport has made its way from the coast to many of America's inland waterways. About one-sixth of Alabama's surface area is comprised of water, so there's an abundance of places to grab a board and go for a paddle. From Lake Guntersville in the north to Cotton Bayou on the Gulf Coast, beginner SUPers can find placid water and beautiful surroundings throughout the state. If you're a veteran paddler who prefers to surf ocean waves, Alabama also boasts 50 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline.

Ready to give paddleboarding a go—or find some new spots to explore? The following guide on to where to paddleboard in Alabama includes five sweet spots to check out on your next (or first!) SUP outing.

1. Lake Nicol

Lake Nicol near Tuscaloosa
Lake Nicol greets paddlers with calm waters, lush forest and towering bluffs. Tuscaloosa Paddleboard

For decades, Tuscaloosa locals and University of Alabama students have ventured to Lake Nicol to sunbathe atop the cliffs towering over the water. But in the last few years, the lake has been discovered for paddleboarding. Located about 20 miles from Tuscaloosa, Lake Nicol lies near a residential area, but it still evoke a vibe of serenity, as the forest and 60-foot bluffs provide an attractive backdrop. Also, jet skis and water skiing are not allowed on this 384-acre lake, so you’ll share still waters with other paddeboarders and kayakers. From the lake’s boat ramp, you can paddle a couple of miles to the north or south, and there’s a chance you’ll see bald eagles or osprey. If you need gear, Tuscaloosa Paddleboard provides board rentals on weekends.

2. Lake Guntersville State Park

Spanning 69,000 acres, Lake Guntersville is one of Alabama’s most popular places for all sorts of water sports, including SUP. For a perfect day trip, put in at Short Creek and head upstream, where the inlet narrows and you’re sheltered from the lake’s main channel and motorboat traffic. As you’re paddling, keep an eye out for bald eagles, which nest in the state park. Though the regal creatures are more common in winter, this is still one of the best spots in the park to see them. You’ll likely encounter wood ducks and great blue herons, too. If you need to rent paddleboards, visit the Country Store at the campground entrance in Lake Guntersville State Park.

3. The Gulf Coast

Gulf Coast Paddle Company provides several opportunities to learn how to enjoy paddle boarding along the Gulf Coast.
Gulf Coast Paddle Company provides several opportunities to learn how to enjoy paddle boarding along the Gulf Coast. Gulf Coast Paddle Board Company

No area in the state provides a greater variety of paddleboarding options than the Gulf Coast. Whether you want to ride waves at the beach or cruise the still waters of a back bayou, you’ll find something that suits your taste and ability.

If you’re trying paddleboarding for the first time, head to Cotton Bayou in Orange Beach. Because this is a no-wake zone and the water is relatively calm, conditions are better for those still learning to balance on a board. In the bayou, you also have the opportunity to see dolphins and several species of birds. If you want an even more secluded spot surrounded by nature, try Soldier’s Creek north of Orange Beach.

More experienced paddlers can have a great time cruising offshore or surfing at all of the Alabama beaches, from Fort Morgan to Gulf Shores to Orange Beach. But, you can also venture to the back bays to explore coves and small islands. If you love wildlife, paddle out to Robinson Island, which serves as a bird sanctuary.

4. Oak Mountain State Park

Gliding across Double Oak Lake, surrounded by green hills, it's easy to forget that bustling Birmingham is just a few miles away. Located near the South Trailhead in Oak Mountain State Park , Double Oak Lake provides a convenient escape from the city and a hassle-free place to try stand-up paddleboarding. At the lake marina, you can rent SUPs by the hour and launch easily from a floating boat dock. Another bonus for this lake? It's relatively small—just 75 acres—so it primarily attracts paddlers and swimmers, rather than boaters. However, it gets crowded on busy weekends, so you’ll enjoy more solitude if you visit during the week or arrive at 10 am when the marina opens.

If you have your own board, you can also put in at Lunker Lake or Oak Mountain Lake near the North Trailhead in the state park. Compared to Double Oak, these bodies of water are larger and receive less traffic, but there are no places to rent boards and other gear.

Smith Lake

Paddleboarding Smith Lake Cullman AL
Cruise Smith Lake on a paddleboard. Smith Lake Paddle Boards

From the put-in, beginner paddlers might want to go left and stay near the shore to avoid boats and other watercraft in the main channel. If you’re an experienced paddler, you can venture out to Goat Island and return to the swimming area for a 3-mile round-trip. To avoid high winds, crowds, and hot temperatures, try to hit the lake in the morning. If you need to rent paddleboards and other gear, visit Smith Lake Paddle Boards , which also offers lessons.

If You Go

  • To beat the heat, crowds and high winds, begin your SUP session early in the morning.

  • Wear a PFD and sunscreen while paddling, and pack water and food for your outing.

  • Be aware that paddling a board is much more difficult in the wind. If you're new to the sport, it's pretty windy, consider rescheduling.

Written by Marcus Woolf for RootsRated in partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.