The following information is updated periodically. Last updated in May 2023.
What to Look For
In the Huntsville area there is very little whitewater unless you're willing to travel an hour or two. Therefore, this guide will focus on kayaks suited for flatwater. There are two major categories of kayaks: sit-inside and sit-on-top. We at Huntsville Outdoors have an assortment of both. Sit-insides will be lower in the water and many have matching skirts to keep water out during rought water. Sit-insides have gained popularity in the last few years.
If you're into fishing, most brands have an "Angler" model or two available. The difference is the addition of rod holders, more secondary stability, and usually more neutral colors.
We're partial to American made stuff but obviously cost is going to be a big factor for many people. Having been kayaking for a few years now, here's some features we recommend be near the top of your wish list:
- Drain plug - good luck getting all the water out of your 'yak without one. And if you store your kayak in your garage like we do, you can pretty much guarantee mildew and an unpleasant smell. Fortunately, there are several aftermarket drain plug kits that install in minutes with a drill and screwdriver. So consider this feature optional when purchasing.
- Cushioned seat - or at the very least a molded seat. If you're planning to take a 6-hour float, your caboose will thank you. Just make sure it's a non-slip seat so you're not sliding all over the place while trying to gain traction in the water.
- Cup holder - trust us--you can't paddle and hold a beer at the same time. There are aftermarket cup holders for kayaks and if you don't mind how you look, a koozie with a neck strap is an inexpensive solution.
- Paddle holder - so you want to take a picture of some redneck's pet raccoon (yes, we've seen it) so you set your paddle on the bow only to watch it slide off into the water as you reach for your camera. The next few seconds determine if you're chasing your paddle downstream or not. Either way, you've missed a golden photo opportunity. I've seen two types of paddle holders: clips that your paddle snaps into and a molded depression on the side of the kayak with bungee straps to hold your paddle in. The molded depression looks nicer and is impossible to damage but requires two hands.
- Foot braces - Helps put more power in your paddle stroke.
Dick's usually has a decent selection of kayaks and frequently has sales. Be sure to check out both locations (one in Bridge Street and one in Jones Valley) as their selection varies between stores. Dick's typically has several sub $300 kayaks for beginners as well as some fishing kayaks. From what I'm told, Dick's will assist with tying a kayak on your car.
At last visit, they were carrying--in order of price--several $150+ Field & Streams, $180+ Lifetimes, $200+ Pelicans and Sun Dolphins, evoke, American-made Perceptions, Vibe, Quest, and some others. They also had some canoes such as the Old Town Saranac and Discovery.
They also have a great selection of kayak paddles.
Academy Sports + Outdoors
Previously the Man Cave, Leaf in Creek opened in May of 2013 in Hampton Cove but moved to Memorial Parkway in 2015. Leaf in Creek serves as the ONLY Jackson Kayak seller in the Huntsville area. I haven't been by in a while but they seem to be specializing in the fishing and hunting models.
Walmart and Sam's Club
In season, Walmart and Sam's Club typically carry 2-3 low-end models perfect for kids. I've only ever seen Lifetime models in the $200-$300 range.
Werner's Trading Company - Cullman
This is truly a store to behold. It's not big, but it's a wonderfully local outfitter for not just kayaks and canoes, but all manner of outdoor apparel and gear. It has a great selection of whitewater kayaks and canoes, with an emphasis on Necky and Old Town, but it's worth checking often because the selection varies. What makes the store really interesting is that in addition to kayaks, they have a top-quality BEER selection, and deal in homebrew supplies, Boy Scout merchandise, and Big Green Eggs. I really encourage a visit to this place, and if you are someone who drives between Huntsville and Birmingham often, I would suggest stopping by every time you go through Cullman. It's less than a mile off the Interstate and always serves as a fun distraction. If you go, be sure to check outside around the back of the store to see the full boat selection -- they only keep a few inside, but there are plenty more in storage.
Terrapin Outdoor Center - Piedmont
You'll just have to visit this place to understand the magnitude of their selection. There are literally hundreds of kayaks scattered around. It's about two hours away from Huntsville but it's definitely worth the drive. The main building houses the more expensive whitewater kayaks and such. Next to it is an indoor/outdoor structure with four rows each probably 40 yards long filled with kayaks. Then there are more kayaks in the front and side yards. Between Davy & I, we've bought 10+ kayaks from these guys. Super nice folks. Did I mention they have great prices too? They may make their money back on the accessories though. I checked a couple prices for life jackets and paddles and found them to be a bit steep personally.
I won't list their selection here because a) it would be too much to list and b) they do a decent job keeping their website updated.
They also offer kayak and canoe rentals with shuttle service if you're interested in a four-mile float trip down Terrapin Creek starting at their shop and ending a short van ride away. It's an easy float and a good duration for a family with kids. This float can get CROWDED.
Bass Pro Shops - Nashville, TN
Bass Pro in Nashville has a typical selection of recreational canoes and kayaks. You certainly aren't going to find exotic brands like Jackson, Liquidlogic, or Necky, but you will find a good number of trusted, popular recreational brands, with a strong emphasis on Old Town boats. That said, the trip to Bass Pro is a fun one even if you elect to get your boat elsewhere. It's such a massive store with so many outdoors items that you can easily waste hours there.
Music City Outdoors - Nashville, TN
This is where you go if you've been kayaking for a while and are ready to step it up. They specialize in high end boats: Crescent, Feelfree, Nucanoe, Hobie, Native, and many more. According to their website, they've got a handful of kayaks under $1,000. The prices go up from there. About half their inventory is over $2,000 maxing out at $5,500. I haven't been to this shop yet but planning a visit soon.