The 246-square mile Big Canoe Creek watershed spans the northern edge of St. Clair County from its origin above Zamora Park Lake in northeast Jefferson County to its confluence with the Coosa River in southwest Etowah County. The main stem of Big Canoe Creek is more than 50 miles long, though its lowest nine miles are inundated by Henry Neely Lake. Four major tributaries flow into the Creek: Gulf Creek, Muckleroy Creek, and two "Little Canoe" Creeks.
The watershed is situated in Alabama's Ridge and Valley physiographic region and the mountainsides maintain much of their mixed oak-hickory and oak-pine forest cover. Dense thickets of mountain laurel and native azalea can be found on moist slopes. Along the creeks are beech, red and sugar maples, hornbeams, black walnut, catalpa, and the occasional butternut and bigleaf magnolia, as well as a few remnant, fire-suppressed stands of river cane.
The Big Canoe Creek watershed is home to more than fifty fish species, including the trispot darter, which was found in Little Canoe Creek south of Springville in 2008. Prior to this discovery, the trispot was known to be extant in only two other watersheds -- the Conasauga and Coosawattee River systems, both upstream in the Coosa River drainage. This trispot darter is listed as "threatened" by the State of Tennessee, "endangered" by both the State of Georgia and the American Fisheries Society, and "vulnerable" (equivalent to "threatened") by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Since the trispot darter had not been collected in Alabama since the late 1950's, it had been considered extirpated in the state. Since it's rediscovery here, it has been designated a species of "Highest Conservation Concern" by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Big Canoe Creek is notable as one of a very few Coosa River tributaries that has not lost the majority of its mussel species. Mussels are one of the most imperiled animal groups in North America due to their requirement for extremely high water quality, and their persistence in the Big Canoe Creek watershed is a testament to its ecological integrity.
There are eight federally listed freshwater mussel species associated with the Big Canoe Creek watershed, and an 18-mile section of the main stem of Big Canoe Creek was designated "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act in 2004. In addition to the listed mussel species, a distinct new species, the Canoe Creek clubshell, has recently been identified in another of the watershed's tributaries. Two snail species currently proposed for federal listing were historically present in Big Canoe Creek though their current status in the Creek is not known.