Kayaking vs. Airboat Ride – Discovering the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta

I just came back from an awesome Alabama road trip that took me from Huntsville down to the beautiful coastal city of Mobile, Alabama. What a neat little town with lots of character and fun things to do. I can’t wait to share some of the cool stuff I did the last couple of days, but let me start with one of my highlights. I spent one of my days in Mobile exploring the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta in two different ways: Kayaking vs. Airboat Ride – Which one is right for you?

Airboat Ride with AirBoat Express

After an amazing breakfast at Bob’s Downtown Diner (Try their Corned Beef! It’s the best I’ve ever had!!!), I was ready to tackle the day full of outdoorsy adventure fun. First on the list was a first for me: An Airboat Ride. And boy was I excited. I had traveled to Florida nearly every year when I was a kid and teenager, but for whatever reason, my family had never done an Airboat ride. Time to check this off my bucket list 🙂 


AirBoat Express

We did the 1 hour Eco Tour ride with Airboat Express, and I highly recommend this one. It was a great mix of learning about the environment, taking the time to watch some incredible wildlife in its natural habitat and also do some fun spins and turns on the open bay. If you just want some fun spins and turns and go crazy on the bay, they also offer a 1/2 hour fun ride and a 1/2 hour night alligator tour that sounds amazing and terrifying at the same time. 


Mobile-Tensaw River Delta Wildlife

We saw a bunch of alligators, a water snake, various birds and other critters on the way. Geoff, our captain, did an excellent job of explaining the natural habitat of the Alligators, how they feed, breed and build their dens. We got to see alligators of various sizes, from 1-year-old hatchlings to an approximately 12 ft adult. Did you know you can guestimate the size of an alligator by measuring (or guessing) the inches between the nostrils and the eyes? The inches between nostrils and eyes equates to the full size of the alligator in feet, so, for example, a gator with a snout that is about 6 inches long, has a total body length of about 6 inches. 


Fun Spins on the Backwaters of Mobile, Alabama




5 River Resource Center

After our Airboat ride, I headed over to the 5 River Resource Center and Gift Shop to kill some time before the Kayaking adventure. They had a nice gift shop that had some cute and unique souvenirs as well as some handy items like hats, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. 

They also have a very cool wildlife exhibit with stuffed animals from black bears to skunks and even a living baby gator. Isn’t he just absolutely adorable? 

When you look at their Facebook page, they seem to offer lots of cool activities for kids groups and visitors, but when I was there, the whole place was deserted, and nobody was there (except at the gift shop). So I would suggest you take a look at their events page or call them ahead of time about what they are offering during the time of your visit. 

Kayaking with WildNative Tours

Next up was a 2-hour kayaking tour around the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta with WildNative Tours. This is a beginner kayaking tour that would be perfect for families (call for the minimum age for kids), active seniors, couples and solo travelers. After my traumatic experience of kayaking in a Typhoon in the Philippines (na, it wasn’t that bad, but I like to be a little drama queen sometimes), this was the perfect way to get me excited about kayaking again. This time, I did not fall in. Which would not have been such a great idea, since we got pretty close and personal with some of the Gators. But let me start from the beginning. 


Kayaking for Beginners & Advanced

The WildNative Tour office location is on the premises of 5 River Center. There is ample parking, but they also pick you up at your hotel in Mobile or Gulf Shores, if you don’t have a car. We met Jamie, our guide, who waited for us with icy cold waters and off we went on our kayaking adventure. They have a pretty nifty kayak slide, so there is no need to carry the kayak overhead. There is even a unique construction that makes getting in and out of the kayak easy peasy. If I had known how fool proof it was to get in and out of the kayak, I would have brought my “real” camera. 


9 ft Alligator vs. 13 ft Kayak

So we jumped into the kayak and started paddling. Just as we came around the first bend, we saw our first gator. And what a big boy (or girl?!?) (s)he was. According to Jamie, this gator was about 9-10 ft long. And we were sitting in a 13 ft double kayak. Made out of plastic. Oh boy. My heart was racing. Jamie assured me that they were more afraid of us and not interested in hurting (or eating) us. We closed in on him to about 30 yards, and then he took a dive, disappearing into the murky waters below us. 

On we went, and Jamie pointed out lots of interesting stuff along the way. You could really feel her passion for her job and even more so, the environment. It felt like she knew every plant and bird that we came across and had a little story or fun fact to share. It was super interesting and educational. She even debunked some myths, like the urban legends of water moccasins congregating into large breeding balls and biting the friend of a friend who knew someone. Very reassuring indeed. 


Curious George

The best moment of our tour was when a young 6-7 ft alligator surfaced right in front of the other kayak. He swam about 3-4 feet in front of the other kayak in our group, seemingly unaware that he was being followed. As the kayak inches closer to our little reptile friend, he got scared and went below the surface. A few seconds later, he resurfaced between our kayaks and looked rather perplexed as if to say: “Wait, there is another one of these blue boat thingies?!? What the heck are they doing in my home waters?” He was quite brave and swam with us for a little while, keeping a few feet from either kayak, as we paddled down the narrow river. On our way back, we saw him again and we were able to get close to him. As he showed no fear and was genuinely curious, we named him Curious George 😉 


Kayaking vs. Airboat Ride – Final Verdict

I really liked both adventures, and even though they seem similar at first, the experience was quite different. In a nutshell: If you can, do both. They are worth the time and money, and you’ll get a much more comprehensive experience of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta. 

The kayaking tour is definitely more hands-on. You feel like you are much closer to the wildlife. If that sounds scary to you, maybe the airboat ride is a better choice for you. 

Do you have to be fit/athletic to do the kayaking? No, not really. The gym and I have a rather sporadic relationship and my love for food and beer does not help my fitness goals either, but I was able to manage just fine on the kayak. 

If you are traveling with small children, I would also recommend the airboat ride. You can hold on to them more easily and keep them close. 

I loved both experiences and I would love to do this again. When you visit Mobile, Alabama, add a day for some outdoorsy fun. These two tours were great to learn about the unique wildlife and ecosystem in the swamps around the city. 

Don’t forget these things:

  • Water (plus points, if you don’t forget your awesome Hydroflask Water Bottle at home, like me!)
  • Hat & Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Drybag (especially if you bring your phone/camera)
  • Towel (to dry off your hands before handling your phone/camera)
  • Camera (waterproof camera, or regular camera, phone, and if you have it, a telephoto lens)
  • Did I mention Sunscreen? Seriously, don’t forget that. You’ll regret it if you do!
  • After your trip, you’ll be hungry, so check out some of these great restaurants in Mobile!

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