Springtime in Florida is the perfect time to venture out and explore the 240-mile Suwannee River. Most folks are familiar with the Stephen Foster song that made the river famous. Now that the state has created the Suwannee River Wilderness Paddling Trail, a whole bunch more people will learn of this scenic waterway.
The famed river starts in the belly of the Okefenokee Swamp and ends at the Gulf of Mexico just north of the fishing village of Cedar Key. On its meandering journey the river travels through vast forests, dark thick swamps, endless stands of cypress, and carves through ancient sea floors.
The perfect trip for a weekend out is a breeze to plan and a thrill to paddle. Gather up the family and head to the Canoe Outpost (386.364.4991) near Live Oak, Florida. For a small fee they will take all your gear, your canoe or kayak, and drop you off in the historic town of White Springs. Paddle downstream for a while until you go under the first bridge. Take out immediately on the right by the springhouse. Follow the stairs into town and make your way to the Teleford Hotel. This guesthouse offers the best lunch on the river. Make sure to leave room for the homemade pies.
After sleeping off your lunch make your way downstream for half an hour. Take out at the brick canoe landing on the right. This is the Stephen Foster State Cultural Center. There is almost always something going on at the park. There are local artisans making their wares, musicians, and if you’re ever in the area during Memorial Day weekend, the outstanding Florida Folk Festival. In spring it’s a great spot to stock up on Tupelo honey.
It’s a leisurely three-hour float down to the best camp spot. Look for the beach with red, white, and blue ribbons on the trees. Locals call this spot the ACA beach. Feel free to take a swim to the white sand beach on the river’s other side. Be warned – the water is deep and fast in this area. Most folks just float on their air mattresses.
Since this camp is located right on the Florida National Scenic Trail, take a walk heading west on the trail. It leads to a great footbridge over Swift Creek. Don’t forget the camera.
Wake up to a magnificent sunrise! Today you will paddle by huge fossilized coral jetting up twenty feet, bleached white by the sun and carved up like Swiss cheese by the tannic water. Try not to pass up all the rope swings. You will know you’re getting to the take-out once you see the old Suwannee Springs Hotel and Spring on river left. Take a swim in the spring. The sulpher water will cure whatever ills you may have.
The cement boat ramp to the Canoe Outpost will be on your left about an hours float downstream. You will end up right were you started and left your vehicle.
For the perfect week-long Suwannee River expedition, park your car at the Canoe Outpost and have them shuttle you up to Fargo, Georgia. Enjoy yourself over the courseof a week as you paddle your way downstream back to the Canoe Outpost. Camping spots are numerous the whole way down. Be prepared for the Big Shoals just above White Springs! This is Florida’s only whitewater. The class three whitewater can be portaged via the well-marked trail on river left.
Fresh drinking water can be found at the restrooms at Big Shoals State Park on river right and by the floating dock at Stephen Foster State Cultural Center on river right. There is some cell service once you travel under the Highway 6 bridge. As on all river trips please leave a float plan with someone back home and one with the folks at the Canoe Outpost.
OUTFITTERS, SERVICES, and REFERENCES
Guided Trips On the Suwannee River Wilderness Paddling Trail:
- Adventures in Florida llc. 407.924.3375
Outfitter, canoe/kayak rentals, and shuttle service:
- The Canoe Outpost 386.364.4991
- Stephen Foster State Cultural Center: 386.397.2733
- Nature and Heritage Tourism Center: 386.397.4461
- Big Shoals: 386.397.2733
Check out next month’s issue for North Florida’s four best river day trips!