FL - Peace River - 2003/01/27 to 2003/01/28 - 65.1 miles

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The Peace River flows south from east of Tampa to empty in a large bay near Port Charlotte. Between Ft. Meade and Gardner the river provides beautiful paddling through undeveloped Southern Florida with some good overnight camp spots for this two day trip.

The Peace River had been in a major flood condition for over two weeks. In the last day it had just come out of flood stage with the water once again within its banks. However, the river was still quite full and the current was strong. I started my two day trip just east of Ft. Meade. On US 98 less than a mile east of the sleepy little town, the road crosses over the river. I continue a 1/4 mile east to locate a small park where I found a great launch site on a sand beach. There were no service right at the ramp, but there was rest-room facilities and water just down the road at the county park buildings. I had brought my water with me, so all I needed to do was to pack the gear for the overnight two day trip into the kayak. My folks would drive my car to Myakka State Park where they would stay for the next two days and then meet me in Arcadia after my 50 mile trip. I would not want to leave a car parked overnight at the ramp as it is secluded and unprotected. I left the launch area at 9:30.

As I packed my gear into the kayak and checked its balance, tens of buzzards were in the tall trees surrounding the launch site. They were spreading their wings to the sun to warm themselves. Although not as cold as it had been several days ago, it was still chilly for Florida. The river here was about 50 feet wide. The current was flowing at about 2.5 to 3 knots due to the very high water.

There were many trees downed from the banks of the river, no doubt due to the recent flood. Thankfully the river was too wide for the trees to fully span the flow, so I was able to get around them on one side of the river or the other without having to exit my kayak as I had had to do so many times on the Hillsborough River. With the strong current and tight loops of the river, I had to look well ahead in order to be on the correct side so the current would not sweep me down onto an obstruction. This kept me busy trying to look around the next corner.

When the river widened and slowed, the downed trees became less numerous, I went for the map to check the upcoming section of river. But I had forgotten to put it onto the kayak. I had put it between the front seats of the car when I was looking for the launch area and I had left it there. It had been about 10 minutes since I left the launch, but a 5 knots that was at least a mile down stream. I considered paddling back to retrieve it, but I concluded that it would take a good hour to paddle back up stream against the strong current and by that time, the car and the map would be on its way down the highway to Myakka State Park. I would have to make the trip without my map. Fortunately, I had studied the map the day before and I remembered the relevant details about the river, the major turns, general mileages between landmarks and roughly where I had planned to camp. I felt confident about my situation given that on a flowing non-tidal river, its is hard to get lost.

The water in the river has a dark tannin stained brown that all the rivers of the region shared. Large trees leaned over the water from both banks, in places completely arching over the river creating a dark cathedral of green waxy leaves draped in Spanish moss. In the first several miles of the river large flocks of egrets, wood ibis and both mature and immature ibis sat in the trees and hunted in the lightly flooded areas in front the river banks. There were also many buzzards, vultures and red-shouldered hawks, During the course of the day I saw 4 alligators, 4 river otters and two turtles.

I reached Payne's Creek at 11:30 AM and paddled a short distance up the small channel. The water in the creek was clear and flowing gentle from the historic site of early Florida settlement. There is a small state park here with a visitor center and hiking trails, but there was little visible from either the river or the creek.

By 3:00 PM I had reached the US 17 bridge over the Peace River which I thought I remembered being 21 miles from the start (actually it was 22). That meant that I was averaging over 4 miles per hour due to the current. I knew that I had planned to paddle about 25 miles on this first day, so I decided to paddle about another hour. I had seen many great spots for camping along the way. However as I approached the one hour mark past the 17 bridge, the campsite were suddenly unavailable as always seems to be the case. Camping is prohibited on the east side of the river south of Zolfo Springs. Sections of the west side are marked with no trespassing signs that indicate where the restrictions begin but not where they end. So one does not know that a prohibition on camping is or is not in effect.

The flood of the past several weeks had deposited mud on many of the banks that made several otherwise promising sites unattractive. I finally located a large flat area covered with 6 inch long grass. The grass had also been flooded and now was being attacked by a powdery white mold that was decomposing the blades of grass. As you walked trough the grass, a cloud of white mold was raised from the ground and drifted away in the light breeze. The grass had a strong musty odor. It was not a good place for anyone with mold or grass allergies. But there was a small beach to pull the kayak up onto and enough of a rise to the ground to convince me that the soil was not too damp and would not flood if there was any rain during the night.

I watched as the light slowly drained from the sky and dark descended on my little piece of the river. I had a quick dinner before settling into the tent for the long night. It was once again quite cold. I heard a beaver slapping its tail on the water around midnight and a huge fight between some type of critters, either raccoons or opossums. Their screeching and tumbling around in the palmettos kept me awake of two hours. There was no peace on the river this night.

The next day I rose with first light (7:00 AM after 12 hours in the tent) and started down the river once more. Just 15 minutes of paddling brought me to a fantastic camping site of a large sloping beach with a strong sun beating down from the open eastern sky. This seems to be another rule of kayak camping. No matter how long you paddle looking for a good camp site, you always camp just short of the best spot. For those reading this, the best camp site is 27 miles from Ft. Meade where the river makes its first significant turn to the east. (For those who wish to camp with amenities there is a private trailer campground at the 17 bridge in Zolfo Springs.)

This day was to be a day of many unusual wildlife encounters. I saw a bald eagle glide down the river shortly after leaving my camp. During the course of the morning I would see an otter, a beaver, a turkey, 3 doe white tail deer, 3 not so little wild pigs, 6 hawks and many osprey, herons, egrets and ibis. There were many great camping spots on the west bank between Zolfo Springs and Gardner. These spots were open areas with well spaced live oak trees and pleasant grassy meadows.

After Gardner the river becomes much straighter with high banks that are more reminiscent of a canal than a natural river. The cypress along the banks showed the high water mark of the recent floods which nearly overran even these high banks. South of Gardner there are few camping sites. Canoe Outpost owns an island on the west side of the river and has about 20 designated campsites for use as part of their river trips. There was no one camped at any of them at this time of year, so I would guess one would be able to make an arrangement with them if you want to camp south of Gardner.

I arrived in Arcadia at 2:30 PM, well ahead of the 5:00 PM arranged pick up time. I stopped at the ramp on the west side of the river at the De Soto County park before the double bridges of old and new route 70. There is a canoe launch sign on the roadside at the entrance to the park. The launch is less than obvious on the water and the strong current made an early approach advisable. I hauled the kayak up onto the grassy area several 100 feet from the ramp and spread all the gear out to dry. I had packed everything wet because of the heavy dew overnight with no sun on my campsite when i left at 8:00 AM. I set up my tarp and relaxed underneath waiting for the pickup which arrived at the appointed 5:00 PM. We drove back to Myakka State park along Florida 72, ending my 52 mile, two day run on the "Rio de La Paz" - Peace River.

From the Florida Greenways site:

Peace River Canoe Trail
The Peace River Canoe Trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. The Spanish, on a map as early as 1544, called it “Rio de la Paz” — river of peace. Seminole’s called it Tallackchopo (cow peas) because the river’s banks were covered with wild peas. The Peace River, true to its name, is a serene, slow-moving river with few signs of civilization. Whether you paddle for a day or a week, the Peace River’s quiet isolation lets you leave big city worries behind. The scars of 19th century phosphate mining of the river banks and bed have been absorbed by the river and lush vegetation.

Red-shouldered hawk soar high above moss-draped cypress trees. Turtles slide into the water as a paddler drifts by. Deer and turkey feed in the palmetto thickets. A black bear may wander to the river’s edge. Wading birds walk along the bank looking for food while keeping an eye on a nearby alligator. Otter play among the willows. Horizontal cabbage palm dip their trunks in the water before curving straight up so the tops clear the surface.

Along its 67 miles, the pale, tea-colored river shows many different faces. Sometimes the river is narrow, passing swiftly between high banks. Around a gentle curve, the river may widen and the current become slow-moving. Past another of the S curves, the river becomes a quiet shallow pond before narrowing again. The Peace River is split by tiny islands and joined by numerous creeks. Sandy beaches and sloping banks provide excellent camping spots.

Map of Peace River Canoe Trail

Map of Peace River Florida location

Major Activities

Counties: Desoto, Hardee, Polk

Mileage: 67

Skill Level: Beginner

Difficulty: Easy (except in high water)

Usual Current: Slow (0-1 mph)

Notes and Precautions
Observe the No Trespassing signs. There is no camping allowed on the east side of the river from Zolfo Springs to Brownville. Also, do not camp on the west side of the river between Gardner and Brownville Bridge. Not many camping sites available below Brownville. Paynes Creek State Historic Site is located .5 mile east of Bowling Green, off SR 664A. An interpretive center, picnicking and nature trails are available. Paddlers may continue downstream. Check maps for additional access points.

—description continued below—

    1. US 98 Bridge – At Ft. Meade Recreational Park, one mile east of US 17 off of US 98. River Mile 0
    2. CR 657 Bridge – From US 17, two miles south of Ft. Meade, take CR 657 (Mt. Pisgah Road) southeast one mile to bridge. (3 miles) River Mile 3.0
    3. CR 664 Bridge – From US 17, .5 mile north of Bowling Green, go one mile on County Line Road to bridge (Paynes Creek Historical Site). (7 miles) River Mile10.0
    4. CR 664-A Bridge – From US 17 in Bowling Green, take SR 664-A (Lake Branch Road) east two miles to bridge. (2 miles) River Mile 13.3
    5. Lower CR 664-A Bridge – In North Wauchula, go south 1.5 miles on US 17 to Rea Road. Turn right (east) and follow Rea Road to intersection with CR 664-A. Turn left (north) on 664-A and go .5 mile to bridge. (4 miles) River Mile 17.5
    6. Crews Park Boat Ramp – At Wauchula, take SR 64A east to boat ramp. (2 miles) River Mile 19.7
    7. CR 652 Bridge – At Wauchula, take SR 64-A .5 mile east to CR 652. Turn south on SR 652 and continue to bridge. (1 mile) River Mile 20.5
    8. Pioneer Park / Boat Ramp – From Wauchula, head south on US 17 to SR 64 in Zolfo Springs. Turn right (west) on SR 64 and look for park and boat ramp. (1 mile) River Mile 24.6
    9. Gardner Boat Ramp – Take US 17 thirteen miles south of Zolfo Springs. Turn right on River Road, go 1.5 miles to boat ramp. (23 miles) River Mile 42.9
    10. Brownville Park -- From Arcadia, take US 17 north approximately four miles to Brownville Street. Take a left (west) and proceed 1.5 miles to entrance. (6 miles) River Mile 47.5
    11. SR 70 Bridge – From US 17 in Arcadia, head west on SR 70 1.5 miles to bridge. (18 miles) River Mile 56.6

There may be access points (both public and private) in addition to those listed here. Please remember that some sites require a fee for launching and/or parking.

All camping should be limited to the west bank along the stretch from Zolfo Springs to Gardner. Camping is prohibited on the east bank per the Peace River Ranch.

Related Outfitters
Canoe Outpost - Peace River

2816 NW County Rd. 661
Arcadia, Florida 34266 USA
(863) 494-1215, (800) 268-0083 (863) 494-4391 fax

USGS Water Gauge Ft. Meade

USGS Water Gauge Zolpho Springs

USGS Water Gauge Arcadia




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