The Suwannee River
The Suwannee River is the river to many area canoeists. Its headwaters in the Okefenokee feed a beautiful river on its way to the Gulf Of Mexico over two hundred miles downstream. Although some guidebooks discourage paddlers from beginning upstream of US 441 at Fargo, the Fellow Travelers think that the seventeen miles from the Okefenokee sill to Fargo is an extremely nice float. It is easy to secure a sill crossing permit by simply calling the refuge headquarters, but it is also convenient to use Griffis Fish Camp as a put-in, and Mr. Griffis is available to arrange a convenient shuttle. \
The trip from the sill to Fargo is seventeen miles, but it can be made in about six hours of relatively easy paddling. The river is narrow and twisting and winds through planted pines with some hardwoods and cypresses. The tales of mean locals at the US 441 has not panned out for the Fellow Travelers, and in fact the people encountered in Fargo have been a pleasure. Fargo itself is worth a stop. There is a pleasant restaurant, and the Gator Motel is available for a nostalgic taste of what motels in small towns were all about in the fifties. Much of this may change as the new Okefenokee State Park is completed and a lodge is opened at the former wayside park.
After passing under US 441, the river continues through more cypress trees and mixed hardwoods. Cypress Creek and Suwanhahoochee Creek join the river. There are several places suitable for camping in this area. The river is still narrow and twisting in this section, and at times it can be shallow. It becomes especially shallow as the river approaches Florida State Road 6, and at low water may require walking the boat through a shallow rocky area.
The next landmark is the landing at the former Cone Bridge. This is a popular put-in for boaters, and it is an excellent lunch stop. From there, it is on to the Big Shoals area. This area is changing. There is a landing on the right (west) side of the river just before arriving at Big Shoals, and it has a picnic shelter.
The Big Shoals are dangerous. Although it is possible to run the shoals under some conditions, it is usually advisable to portage along the left bank. Desptie what some guidebooks say, it is a long portage. This is an excellent campsite, being high above the river and in a pine area with little underbrush. Unfortunately, it is heavily used and at last account had no toilet facilities. As a result, campers need to watch where they step.
After the Big Shoal area, it is a rather short trip to the US 41 bridge just north of the town of White Springs. The river goes over the Little Shoals, and these are just enough to speed up the boats and make the canoeing some fun. There is no danger, but at low water boats may need some walking assistance. This was formerly the best launch area in White Springs, but the ramp is very steep and the parking is not secured. Since the White Springs Folk and Cultural Center now has a canoe launch, the ramp at the wayside park is not the preferred place.
It is only a short paddle to the park. Paddlers usually stop by the old springhouse, but the spring is less than spectacular. As mentioned, the park now has a nice canoe launch, and parking is available.After leaving White Springs, the river passes through some beautiful areas of cypress. There are many places to stop and relax. Just before reaching Interstate 75, Swift Creek enters from the right. This is a very pretty creek, and paddling into it can be a chore due to the current. The creek runs through a deep gorge. The Florida Trial crosses Swift Creek and in fact parallels the river for many miles in this area.
The Suwannee River Water Management District has established canoe campsites along the Suwannee. The one at Wood’s Ferry is downstream from White Springs. Although the stairs leading from the river to the campground resembles a railroad trestle it is in fact a very nice place to camp. The camp has clean air-conditioned restrooms complete with hot showers, screened camping shelters, a group shelter with electricity and tables, and a place to gather around the campfire.
After crossing the interstate, the river continues through an area of pretty limestone banks and nice sandbars in the river bends. There are some boat ramps, but again the area is largely remote and undeveloped. Small streams enter from both sides. The Fellow Travelers have designated a nice campsite as Camp Diane, and GPS coordinates are listed on that section of the website. It has a high bank, lots of firewood, and a good place for swimming.
Past Camp Diane the river flows through more areas of sandbars and limestone banks until it arrives at Suwannee Springs. This is a popular swimming area, and there are chemical toilets available. The park has been developed and is a nice break spot. The remains of the springhouse enclose the spring, which is highly sulfuric and really not very pretty. But both the spring and the river are places to cool off in the water.
Just past the springhouse is the old US 129 bridge. It is closed to traffic, but is an interesting iron bridge. Beyond that, the new bridge takes the traffic across the river, and signs of the Spirit of the Suwannee campground begin to be seen on the left. There is a ramp at the park, and both the campground and the canoe outpost are run by really nice people who welcome river paddlers. The park is a good camping site, but is quite a walk from the boat ramp. There is usually live music every night, and the park also has many noted musicians there for special events.
Leaving the Spirit of the Suwannee, the generally pretty scenery continues. Sandbars are still evident, and campsites are available. The next landmark is the boat ramp at the Florida Sheriff's Boys Ranch. Again, this is a good spot for a snack or lunch break. The personnel at the ranch welcomes paddlers and will give permission to use the ramp for put-in and take-out.
After leaving the Boys Ranch, the river flows through more areas of nice limestone banks, but the sandbars become less frequent. Holton Creek flows in from the right, and it is a fair distance up the creek to Holton Springs, a first magnitude spring but one which is often muddy and home to many biting insects. Just before reaching the next bridge, the Alapaha Rise spring is on the right. This, too, is a first magnitude spring. It is surrounded by very high limestone banks. The current from the spring is strong, so paddling into the spring itself requires some effort, but it is worth it. This is the first of the very clear springs which mark the lower stretches of the river.
The Suwannee River Water Management District operates a really nice canoe campground at Holton Creek. It is much like the one at Wood’s Ferry and is complete with shelters, hot showers, clean restrooms, a group shelter, and a gathering area around a fire ring.
Just beyond the SR 751 bridge is Gibson Park, a Hamilton County park which offers free camping, flush toilets, and a shelter. It is a good camping area, but at times is crowded. The Alapaha River flows into the Suwannee from the right just past Gibson Park, but it actually seldom flows. It is usually a dry river bed used more by ATVs than by boats. Only at very high water does it contain water as the river is underground for many miles.
It is eight miles from Gibson Park to Suwannee River State Park. There is an area called Five Holes on the right bank where passages through the limestone are large enough to walk through and which have "skylights" where the caves open to the sky. The state park is not one of Florida's most popular, but it has full facilties and a nice staff. There are campsites available, and the ramp is an excellent launching spot. The Withlacoochee River enters on the right just below the boat ramp, and there is a good campsite at the junction of the rivers, although it is a long carry up the bank.
The old and new bridges of US 90 are just below the state park. At times there is a troublesome shoal just below the bridges, and once a canoe was broken on the rocks. There is a power generating plant, and the water is temporarily warmed by the water from the plant. It is less than three miles to Interstate 10, but like other interstate crossings, there is no access to the river there. From the interstate, it is about 14 miles to Dowling Park. The sandbars are scarce in this area, although some of the pretty limestone banks continue. Dowling Park is a retirement village run by the Christian Advent Church (not by the Seventh-Day Adventists as some guidebooks say) and is a nice stop. There is a convenience store and a restaurant available, and the village is most hospitable to river travelers.
Just beyond the village there is a boat ramp on the left (east) side of the river where SR 250 crosses. There is also a convenience store in that area. As the river continues there are some small springs. Charles Spring on the left has a developed picnic area but no restroom facilities. There is a paved parking area. The spring itself is nice, and there are stairs leading from the spring to the picnic area.
After leaving Charles Spring, it is not a long paddle to the area where the Allen Mill Pond Spring run empties into the Suwannee from the right. This spring run is somewhat concealed by willow trees, but it is a paddle everyone should make. Although it is a fairly long paddle to the spring, it is worth every minute. The spring run is exceptionally clear, and thousands of fish are often seen.
After returning to the river, it is not a long paddle to the county park at Yana Blue Spring. This park is run by Lafayette County, and Edith and Alvin Hamlin are the caretakers. They are exceptionally nice people, and have gone out of their way to make the Fellow Travelers enjoy the park. There are restrooms and showers there, but sometimes the bathrooms are locked. This is a neat spot for an overnight stay, and the fees are very reasonable. The spring itself consists of two pools separated by a natural bridge. Swimming and diving are permitted, but as with other springs, the water level and clarity depend on the rainfall and river levels.
The next landmark is Perry Springs on the right. There is construction adjacent to the spring, so its desirability as a stop may change shortly. Beyond that, it is less than an hour to the SR 51 bridge at Luraville and the beginning of an area of many springs. Just before reaching the bridge paddlers may encounter shoals at low water levels, but they are usually not a problem. There is a boat ramp at the SR 51 wayside park, and this is a popular launching spot. It is also the beginning of considerable motor boat and jet ski traffic on the Suwannee.
Less than a mile downstream is Telford Spring on the left. This is an exceptionally pretty spring, and has a large sandbar for eating or sunbathing. The spring has an underwater bridge which swimmers find delightful to swim underneath. Often the spring is populated by a lot of people enjoying the spot.
Beyond Telford Spring is another of the SRWMD canoe campgrounds at Peacock Slough. It offers amenities similar to those at Wood’s Ferry and Holton Creel.
As one paddles downstream from Telford, it is obvious that the river is more developed. Houses and trailers are common. Sandbars are not. Perhaps the prettiest spring on the river, Running Spring, is on the left. Lately it has been posted, but before that it was often heavily littered which may explain why the owners posted the area. Just around the bend from Running Springs is the old railroad trestle which has been abandoned for about eighty years but remains in the middle of the river. It is not far until Bathtub Spring is found on the left. This spring has a sandbag dam, and is often quite clear. It has been used by the Fellow Travelers as a campsite, but there is a long carry up the bank. There is also an old cemetery nearby.
Beyond Bathtub Spring is Jim Hollis' River Rendezvous at Convict Spring. This is a pleasant stop. The restaurant serves decent food. The spring is enclosed in concrete and is available for swimming if one pays the fee.
About a mile downstream and on the left is Royal Spring. There is a county park here, and the area is heavily used. There are no restroom facilities, so the patrons use the woods--in other words, watch your step. This spring is clear and large. There is a huge cypress with a swing where daredevils jump into the cool water, and there is a nice wooden ramp where people can walk down into the spring. There is also a boat ramp just downstream.
Greg Baker's paradise, known as Riversong, is less than ten minutes paddling beyond Royal Spring. Beyond that and on the left is Suwannee Blue Springs, a collection of small but extremley blue springs located in a wooded area and not running directly into the river. This, too, is a must to see.
Several miles downstream an on the right is Mearson Spring. There is no direct road access to the spring, so it is usually not populated. It is a clear spring with nice banks. The SRWMD campground at the Adams Tract is in the vicinity and is similar to the others--in a word, very nice.
The next spring encountered is Boiling Spring, which is usually covered by the river and can be seen venting in the actual stream. After that is Troy Spring, a large and popular spring. This spring is very clear, and at times the ruins of a submerged Confederate steamboat can be seen near the mouth of the spring run.
Little River Spring is located on the left. This spring has been closed for most of 2003, but is scheduled for reopening. It is a popular swimming and diving area. Camping is no longer permitted at the spring, but it is an excellent stop and is accessible by road.
The river flows under US 129 at Branford, and there is a nice spring at the dive center and wayside park. This is a good put-in or take-out spot. There are some good seafood restaurants in the town.
By this time, campsites on the Suwannee are close to non-existent. The Santa Fe flows into the Suwannee about ten miles downstream from Branford, and at one time camping was possible there. Beyond the Santa Fe the river continues as a fairly large river with lots of power boat traffic. Rock Bluff Springs are on the left just before reaching SR 340. There is a wayside park with restroom facilities at the road crossing.
Ten miles downstream on the right is Guaranto Spring county park. This is a clear and pretty spring, and camping is available for a fee. However, the spring is sometimes a hangout for rowdies. Six miles further is a picnic site at Wannee. It is seven more miles to Hart Springs, one of the nicest county parks in Florida. There are nice campsites available, and swimming in the springs looks delightful. Although this park is rather popular, it is adequately staffed to assure cleanliness and some semblance of good order, peace, and dignity.
A few miles downstream the spring run from Otter Springs enters from the left. Seeing the spring requires leaving the river for a short distance, and there is some development, but it is worth the paddle. Shortly below this area, US Alt. 27-19-98 begins to skirt the right bank of the river. The river actually flows under the highway at the town of Fanning Springs, another town with a pretty spring and some nice seafood joints.
After leaving Fanning Springs, the river heads toward Manatee Springs. This is a very popular Florida State Park with all the facilities common to such parks. Camping is available. Manatee Springs is a first-magnitude spring, and the clarity is usually outstanding. The spring is popular with swimmers and divers.
The Fellow Travelers have never paddled the final seventeen miles from Manatee Springs to the Gulf of Mexico. But the Suwannee is surely a river to recommend!