Paint Rock Canoe offers weekend adventure
Day after day, Amanda Vest sits in a windowless office. But every weekend from May until September, she and her husband, Lucas, bring their kayaks from Decatur to Paint Rock Canoe.
“I work in finance, so I sit at a desk all day,” Vest says. “This is my exercise and time to be unplugged from electronics.”
Others similar to Vest come from near and far to spend leisurely weekend days on the Paint Rock River. Paddlers can rent from Paint Rock Canoe’s fleet of 50 kayaks, choose one of its canoes, or, like Vest, put in their own canoe for a fee. The river is classified as category 1, meaning it’s fairly calm water. Most visitors choose the 4.4-mile route, which usually takes between three and four hours to complete. There is also a 14-mile route for the more adventurous.
Rachel O’Neal’s family has owned property near the river for generations. “People didn’t have access to that part of the river,” she says. So five years ago her family decided to purchase a fleet of kayaks and to allow people onto the property. Their venture, Paint Rock Canoe, is based in a building they recently acquired near the river that was once used as a sewing factory.
O’Neal and her brother, Jay, operate Paint Rock Canoe. Together they handle everything from reservations to making sure the bathrooms are clean. “We want to keep it a family business,” she says.
“I’ve always loved kayaking,” O’Neal says. “I’ve done it for years. My brothers and I were fortunate to actually grow up where we could be out in nature. When we finally decided to open, it just worked out, and our dad, Paul, was on board.”
Opening access to the public allowed more people to get out and enjoy the river.
“We had talked about it for a few years but never did it because we were so busy,” she says. “It came at a good time. We’ve always wanted to do it; we’ve just never had the space. It’s truly a blessing to go down there and be around these people. Every year it’s grown, just by word of mouth. During COVID, everyone wanted to get out of the house and spend time outdoors.”
What to Expect
Generally, the best time to paddle the river is from May until mid-September, but if bad weather comes and affects the water level, the boats will be temporarily grounded. “We do not hesitate to shut down for the day if the river is going to be bad,” O’Neal says.
Removing fallen trees and debris after storms is another job that comes with operating the business. “We make a huge effort to make sure the area is clean,” she says.
While on their float, visitors can take in the sights, swim when they feel the urge, and even bring their fishing pole. “There are all types of fish in the river — bream, catfish, smallmouth bass, and redeye bass,” O’Neal says.
There’s also a spring that flows from nearby Cathedral Caverns and empties cold water into the river. “The water drops about 20 degrees, and it’s completely clear when the water’s good,” she says.
For first-time kayakers who may be a bit hesitant to get on the water, Vest urges putting that apprehension aside. “Just try it once before you make a decision because you will change your mind,” she says. “I guess you could say it’s an exhilarating peace — it’s calming to your soul but also gives you energy.”