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Archive for the ‘Florida Designated Paddling Trail’ Category

The Loxahatchee River was the first of two Florida rivers designated as a Wild and Scenic River (the second being the Wekiva River), a well-deserved designation.  Its name comes from an old Indian name which means, “river of turtles.”  This area has historic relevance.  During the Second Seminole War in 1838, the Battle of Loxahatchee was fought in the area now known as Riverbend Park.  I saved the Loxahatchee River for a Sunday in September because I wanted to paddle the Riverbend Park section which had been closed in August due to the low water level.

The Lovely Loxahatchee River

From the beginning, I knew this would be a fun paddle.  The man at Canoe Outfitters pulled out a map–which had been copied way too many times–and with a line forming behind me, he very quickly outlined the five mile run.  It went something like this: “After you put in, go to the left and paddle about three quarters of a mile.  You’ll see a small sandy beach on your left where you need to drag your kayak out and to the other side.  From there, you will turn right and head toward West Lake.  On the south side of West Lake you exit to Hunter’s Run which will take you under Reese’s Bridge to South Pond.  Continue on Hunter’s Run to the East Grove Bridge.  You’ll see a spot where you can beach and stretch your legs, and from there you will paddle to Cow Pond Lake and exit to Gator Slough run.  Here, you will paddle through the cypress knees and then reach a portage where you will have to drag your kayak up and over the path again.  After paddling through two culverts, you will exit to your right…” you get the picture.  I felt as if I was embarking on an obstacle course!

So, I headed south as directed, paddling along the slow moving, tannin river, yellowed lily pads floating atop the water.  The Loxahatchee was the narrowest river I had kayaked to this point.  I had to keep paddling to keep from drifting into the sawgrass along the side.  One moment I was in the wilderness, preparing myself for an alligator or wild cat sighting, and then suddenly, I floated under a walkway, a reminder that civilization was nearby.  I spied an occasional turtle, great blue herons, hawks, and anhingas.  Cabbage palms and cypress were plentiful.  I continued my paddle along the edge of a small, marshy lake, tree islands testing my skills until I came back to the narrow twisty river.  With the low level of the water and the thick grasses on the bottom of the river, I found myself, at times, pushing my way through the water.  And just as quickly, I was back in the open, paddling across a lake, the wind challenging me.  My trip ended with a zig and a zag through the cypress knees and a paddle through the culverts.

(Outfitter: Riverbend Rentals in Riverbend Park. 9060 W. Indiantown Road, Jupiter, FL 33478. https://www.jupiteroutdoorcenter.com/riverbend-park/rentals/. (561) 746-7053)

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The Suwannee River is the second largest river in Florida.  It is 238 miles long; 206 of these miles are in Florida.  The Suwannee originates in southern Georgia in the Okefenokee Swamp.   Approximately 200 springs flow into the Suwannee before it eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Reflections on the Suwannee River

After speaking with two outfitters for the Suwannee River, I decided to paddle the Upper Suwannee.  The Upper Suwannee is considerably narrower than the Lower, thus, fewer motor boats are able to pass through.  I wanted a quiet ride.   

I drove north to Live Oak to the Suwannee Canoe Outpost located in the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.  From here, the outfitters shuttled a group of six of us north several miles, giving us a six-mile paddle back to the Outpost—with the current.  It was late Sunday morning, and seeing the groups that had gathered at the Outpost, I knew to expect a busy day on the river.

Without a doubt, it was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, slowly kayaking down the Suwannee River.  White sandbars appeared frequently on the banks, giving me a chance to get out and stretch my legs from time to time.  Cypress blanketed in moss, lined the river.  Several small motor boats passed me; I was joined by a few other kayakers and canoers.  I passed several springs, obviously local swimming holes.  On this hot, Sunday afternoon, people cooled off in the dark, tannin water.

The high limestone banks and many beautiful white sandbars distinguished the Suwannee River from the other rivers I had paddled so far.  At one point, I passed a rock wall on the left side.  Springs were on both sides of the wall, and people jumped from the top into the water.  I believe this is what is left of the town of Suwannee Springs.  Carter (et al) writes that in the late 1800s, one of the finest resort hotels in the southeast was located in Suwannee Springs.  A railroad took hotel guests to New Branford where they took a paddleboat to the Gulf.  The retaining wall and an old railroad track are all that remains of the town. 

Although the Suwannee is known for creatures such as white-tailed deer, various wading birds, raccoon, turtles, and snakes, I saw none.  The only signs of wildlife I saw were the empty beer cans left on the banks.  Of all the rivers I have traveled thus far, only this one had littered banks.  Was this inevitable with all the people who came to the river on the weekends?

I admit, although the river was lovely, I was still a bit disappointed in the Suwannee.  I felt that even with its limestone banks, the Suwannee fell short of “majestic” and “magnificent,” words often used to describe it.  My words: long, lovely, beautiful, meandering, relaxing, fun, and family.

(Outfitter: Santa Fe Canoe Outpost, 21410 US 441, High Springs, FL 32643. https://www.highsprings.us/parksrec/page/santa-fe-canoe-outpost-0. (904) 454-2050)

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I paddled the Santa Fe River on Friday and chose the run from 441 to Rum Island, about 7 miles.  (The river is 76 miles long.)  This route would take me by three springs: the Poe, the Lilly, and the Rum Island.  I put in at 11:00 a.m. and ended the trip four hours later at Rum Island.

Cypress on the Santa Fe

Carter (et al) rated the scenery on the Santa Fe a “B,” perhaps because of the gentle reminders of civilization.  In the beginning of the trip, I could hear the sound of light traffic in the background, and by the time I reached the mid-way point, homes started to pop up on the left bank.  Old plastic chairs rested on private docks, places where I imagine homeowners sit to watch the river go by.   However, I enjoyed a quiet paddle; I did not see many people on the river.

Even with the ever-present reminders of civilization, nature did present itself. Only 15 minutes into my paddle, I spotted a deer ahead on the left bank.  I saw flocks of water birds swimming and heard birds calling in the trees.  A large alligator slithered into the water to my right.  He swam along the bank for a short while and then disappeared into the water.  I saw more turtles sunning on logs than any other paddle—hundreds, perhaps thousands—by the end of the trip!  Several shared a log with a small alligator.  Cypress with huge trunks and roots bordered the sides.  I avoided paddling too close to the low hanging trees on the banks because of the stories I had heard about snakes dropping out of the trees.  I paddled with the current, although it was slow, not like the Ocklawaha or the Silver Rivers’ swift currents.

The Santa Fe River originates in Lake Santa Fe and then passes through the Santa Fe Swamp.  The river goes underground at O’Leno State Park and emerges three miles later, considerably larger than before and most likely fed by underground springs.  Eventually, it joins with the Suwannee River. 

The water was very low for the first 15 minutes of my paddle, and just as I was preparing to step out to pull my kayak through the marsh-like water, it deepened.  (I was quite happy that I did not have to step out of my kayak into this marshiness!)  When it deepened, the water became tannin-colored, and I could not see the sandy bottom of the river.   I had read that the Santa Fe is typically clearer in this part of the river because of the number of springs that flow into it, so the darkness of the water may have been due to the recent rain or the level of the water. 

Although the numbers vary depending upon source, there are over 50 springs in the Santa Fe River; about 36 of them major springs.  On my paddle, I passed three of these major springs: Poe, Lily, and Rum Island.  I stopped at Lily Spring and met Naked Ed.  I chatted with him for about 30 minutes before I finished my paddle to Rum Island.  (Be sure to read my sidebar on Naked Ed.)

Although the escape was not as complete as with the Silver or Ocklawaha Rivers, my paddle on the Santa Fe was beautiful and full of wildlife. 

(Outfitter: Santa Fe Canoe Outpost, 21410 US 441, High Springs, FL 32643. https://www.highsprings.us/parksrec/page/santa-fe-canoe-outpost-0. (904) 454-2050)

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