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Lugging a Kayak to Alabama's DeSoto Falls Was Totally Worth It

To our knowledge, it hadn’t been done before. My friends said we couldn’t do it, and honestly, I believed them. Imagine our surprise when it worked out perfectly.

By: Merritt McKinney + Save to a List

DeSoto Falls is a massive waterfall in North Alabama. The top of the waterfall is easily accessible with maintained paths and fenced overlooks. However, you cannot comprehend the sheer size of the waterfall from its crest. Luckily, there is a mile-long path shooting off from a side road that leads you to the base. The bottom of DeSoto Falls offers a less trafficked and less touristy view of the magnificent waterfall. From here, you begin to understand the magnitude of the falls. Still, I just was not close enough.

This leads us to my million-dollar idea: “Let’s bring a kayak!” I looked online to see if anyone had done this before, and besides one professional riding his yak from the top of the falls to the bottom, I could find no evidence this had been done before. I talked to my friend who has visited the falls several times and he said I was insane. He said that the ‘hike’ was more like a climb up a steep mountain with impassible rocks and thick tree coverage. But by this time, my mind was made up. Nothing was going to deter me.

We made it to the trailhead early on a Saturday morning fully expecting a tough challenge. We brought one kayak among the three of us so that two could be carrying the kayak while the third assisted through the difficult terrain. We carried it along the overgrown trail until we ran into some hikers coming the opposite way who proceeded to tell us they had gone the wrong way. We turned around and found our missed turn. From there, the difficulties began.

We immediately began down an extremely steep grade with just enough clearance on either side of the kayak. We strategically navigated switchbacks that were not wide enough to turn the kayak around. We stepped over waist-high boulders and loose rocks that gave way beneath our feet. We also took a lot of breaks. It was exhausting and treacherous.

Finally, we met the river into which the waterfall flowed. We could hear the repetitive sound of water crashing growing louder and louder. We knew we were close. We continued upstream until Desoto Falls revealed itself. We made it.

We knew we would eventually have to lug the heavy kayak back up the path we struggled so hard to bring it down, but now was the time to reap our reward. One at a time, we paddled out to the base of the falls. Thirty feet out from the base, I became drenched by spray. It was a struggle to idle near the flume as the strong current pushed me away. I would paddle as hard as I could to get even closer. Ten feet from the base, I was overwhelmed. Water began to pummel down on top of me and fill my kayak as I battled to get as close as possible. I looked up to see what was like the world’s largest rain cloud repeatedly dumping every drop of water it could contain directly on top of me. It was magnificent – something I’ve never experienced before.

We took turns paddling out to observe the waterfall and eventually had to carry the kayak back to the truck. Carrying the kayak back up the mountain was even tougher than coming down. I look back at this experience now and think how crazy it was that we accomplished this adventure. It will go on my list of all-time greatest trips. However, I’m not sure there is a definitive lesson to be learned. As I’ve stated numerous times, it was extremely difficult to get the kayak to the waterfall and we will probably never do it again. We just as easily could have failed. But we didn’t and that is why I will continue to push the limits for the best adventures. Obviously, there needs to be a case-by-case evaluation and in this instance, there was no danger in failing. But because we tried what others said would be too much work, we experienced what no one else ever has. Now that we’ve proved its possible and completely worth the pain and effort, hopefully others will follow.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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