FL - Suwannee River - 2003/01/15 to 2003/01/17 - 58.2 miles

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The Suwannee River originates in the heart of the Okefenokee Swamp, a shallow bowl of an ancient sea now filled with peat, cypress, tupelo and gum trees. The clean but tannin stained waters of the swamp flow southwest from the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge to empty into the Gulf of Mexico over two hundred miles away. Along the way it experiences Florida's largest white water, meanders along banks unchanged since the mid 1800s, receives fresh water form many springs and carves its way through limestone cliffs exposed at periods of low water.

We could have begun our trip on the Suwannee at Stephen Foster Campground in Okefenokee Swamp, at Fargo a town southwest of the swamp or at several access points between Fargo and White Springs. We decided to start at White Springs just below Big Shoals, a large and dangerous white water section that requires a portage. White Springs is on the Florida Trail, on the Watertribe kayak race route and hosts a 50 mile trail Ididaride bike race.

Our original plan was to paddle from White Springs to Branford, a total of 85 miles, with less than 40 miles of driving to shuttle the cars. After our experience on the St. Mary's, we decided that we had to shorten the trip. We also decided to engage the services of a local outfitter for the shuttle and in order to have a safe place to park the cars. From our motel room after our paddle inside the Okefenokee swamp, we called American Canoe Adventures in White Springs and arranged with Wendell Hannum, the owner, to leave our cars at his location and have him drop off our car with trailer at Dowling park within a few hours of our expected arrival.

This turned out to be an excellent idea as the parking at the route 41 bridge ramp clearly stated that there was no security and no trailers to be left overnight, and even though we were told by another outfitter that one could park within sight of the manned agricultural inspection station where there is a guard 24/7, I saw no formal place to do so. One would have to pull over onto the shoulder and hope for the best. The lot at Dowling Park at the other end of our trip looked even more dicey, with no visibility to the road and signs of usage of the site that would have made us nervous about leaving a car parked there for any length of time. With our arrangement with American Canoe Adventures, we were able to unload our kayaks at the ramp, drive the few miles back to the heart of White Springs, leave the cars in their compound and have them drive us back to the ramp. Two days later they drove our car and trailer to Dowling Park and left it for us just a few hours before we needed it. All this was accomplished with congenial and prompt service and I recommend them. There is a modest but well stocked store at American Canoe and Wendell has a good supply of very good maps of the Suwannee River provided by the Suwannee River Water Management District marking the river off mile by mile and listing all the access points. This map can also be obtained directly from the water management district 800-226-1066 (see below).

The ramp at Route 41 in White Springs is a steep concrete ramp on the southwest side of the junction of the river and the highway. Like most river crossings, the bridge is sited at a narrow place in the river where the current runs faster than most other places along the river. It is frequently the case that the fastest current you will see is at bridge crossing where both the natural constriction of the narrow channel and the artificial constriction of the bridge abutments and supports cause the water to speed up. You can see the white foam created by the higher current in the picture to the left.
We packed the kayaks and were on the water at 10:30 AM. The 2 knot current at the ramp quickly settled back to less than a knot as we paddled through White Springs and the Stephen Foster Cultural Center campground. There is also a launch site in the campground, but it requires the carrying of all gear a 100 yards or so and 13 steps. Also you must pay to enter the campground and there is no long term parking available, so it is really only good for a day trip when you are staying at the very nice campground there.

We passed the large 4 story structure that surrounded the historical spring that used to flow from the banks. The spring showed no sign of its former glory, just a silent reminder of the commerce it use to generate as believers flocked to the purported healing powers of the sulphur waters.

White Springs Bath house Suwannee River
White Springs bath house
Photo by Steve Rohrs

The banks of the river averaged about 20 feet with sections both lower and higher. In some areas, massive limestone outcroppings were severely undercut by the river. Stately live oaks over-hung the banks, perched on pockmarked limestone covered with ferns and mosses. Clearly, at times, the Suwannee River rages at very high levels causing great erosion and flooding. This could be seen in the exposed support roots of the cypress trees. Homes atop the 30 and 40 foot banks were elevated another 10-15 feet to exceed possible flood levels.

Kayak inSuwannee River side channel
Navigating a side channel
Photo by Steve Rohrs

Occasionally, the high banks would be broken by an interesting side channel containing the run off from a spring. Some of these were large enough to be investigated by boat. None of the ones we went into allowed us to navigate all the way to the source spring, either because of an obstruction, a small falls, or the swift current. Otherwise, the high banks shaded us with their moss draped cypress, live oaks and long leaf pines.

We paddled for about 16 miles through the looping river scenery when Mary noticed a young dog standing on a ledge three feet above the water. He was wet and very cold and seemed to be unable get any higher on the steep limestone. We threw up some food, energy bars, which he gobbled up. As we were all in single, tippy kayaks and he was a frightened hunting dog of about 40 pounds, we decided it was too dangerous for us to try to rescue him in the cold water and 40 degree temperatures. We used our cell phones to call Wendell and tell him of the situation. He passed the information on to the local game warden, but indicated that as there were no humane laws in this Florida county, it was a common practice to abandon dogs after the hunting season. He doubted that much would be done. We later received a call from the game warden/animal control officer, who took the information, including GPS coordinates, but stated that his office had no boat, and it sounded to us as if nothing would be done. Probably he was thinking the damn Yankee tourists should have minded their own business. Unfortunately this was several hours and several miles downstream and we decided that we could not go back. We all hoped that the dog found the courage to jump back into the river and swim across to the lower bank on the other side downstream of where we saw him. We regretted not taking some action to attempt a rescue as we passed.

Limestone banks on the Suwannee
Photo by Steve Rohrs

At the 17 mile mark we began looking for a camping site. As seems to always be the case, the great camping sites we had seen all along the river became scarce as soon as we starting seriously looking for one. The banks were steep or there was no real flat ground on which to pitch a tent. We stopped at one place that was rejected as too small.

Julio went down the river and began investigating a ledge about 15 feet above the river. He was enthusiastic about the spot, but it appear to be a difficult site to get the gear up and likely to cause significant obvious damage to the bank as we unloaded our boats. I decided to go look around the next bend as it always seems that the best sites are just after you give up looking for one. The others decided to wait. I went down the river about 1/2 mile and around a sharp right hand turn and found the most perfect camping site we had seen all day. I tried to use the cell phone to call the others and tell them to come down, but could not make myself understood with the intermittent and tenuous connection. So I got in the boat and paddled against the current, which seemed much faster than it appeared, now that I had to paddle against it. I finally got back to the others who were already occupying Julio's site and could not be persuaded to move, a decision I think they regretted when they saw the site the next morning.

In any case, we hauled our stuff up onto the ledge, set up the tents, got dinner going and mostly consumed as darkness fell and the temperatures plummeted. We found out after we returned that the temperature got down to 24 degrees that night. It was the coldest camp that Mary had ever done. The cold and dark had us in our tents by 7:20 PM.

Suwannee River morning fog
Morning fog along the Suwannee
Photo by Julio Perez

The morning was bright with a cloudless sky but cold. A fog hung over the warmer waters of the river. We waited until 7:45 to get up in order for the sun to clear the trees and provide a little warmth. During the night we heard a beaver patrolling the river and periodically slapping his tail. We explored the bank we saw the reason for his anger. There were several branches under the water that had been neatly nipped off and all the bark from end to end accurately and patiently chewed off. We had unknowingly pulled our kayaks onto his favorite dining area. His tracks of the past night were all over the beach, along with deer and either dog or coyote tracks.

Packing kayaks at Suwannee River Camp
Packing kayaks on river bank
Photo by Julio Perez

We finished packing our kayaks. We smoothed out the area were we had set up our stoves to cook our dinner and roughed up the area where we a pitched our tents, in order to return the area to as natural a look as we could. We did the same to the trail we had left up the sandy bank to the ledge where we had camped. We were not able to erase all sign of our passage, but we realized that the next high water would take care of what remained. By 9:30 we were once again paddling down the river.

We stopped for lunch on a sand bar and in just a few minutes were getting a sunburn in the strong Florida sun. Steve climbed to the top of the bank and got a nice view of the sand bar and the tannin colored water as the rest of us warmed up.

Suwannee River kayak rest stop
Break on a sand bar
Photo by Steve Rohrs
The river was widening and slowing until the confluence with the Withlacoochie where it once again exceeded 2 knots. By 4:00 PM we had made the distance we needed for the day and we began looking for a place to stop. There had been very few sand bars in the last eight miles before Dowling Park.

Camp2 on the Suwannee River
Camp 2 on the Suwannee River
Photo by Steve Rohrs

At the 24 mile mark for the day we found a suitable spot where we had plenty of room for our tents well up the shore under pines with a soft pine needle padding for our tents. We reprised our Three Amigos stance in memory of our last major trip to Baja. We continued our camp set up, watched the clouds roll in from the west and cooked dinner at dusk . The wind picked up as the clouds flew across the bright moon. The temperatures were not as cold as the night before but still near freezing. There was intermittent light rain during the night.

We stirred the next morning at 7:20 AM and were back on the water at 9:00 AM. The current continued strong and we made the 16.5 miles to our designated pick up point in just 3 1/2 hours. There are a number of ramps and access points in Dowling, but the main ramp is clearly visible just before the large road bridge and after the railroad bridge just south of Dowling Park.

The car and trailer were there as we had arranged with Wendell and we loaded up and headed back to White Springs. There we showered at the beautiful facilities at Stephen Foster Cultural Center campground, viewed the Stephen Foster Cultural Museum, and toured the tubular bell carillon. Later we had a excellent and inexpensive dinner at the colorful Suwannee River Diner family style restaurant in the heart of the very small town.
After dinner, Julio, Steve and Mary left on the long drive back to Maryland and I stayed at the campground. The next day I would start the rest of my solo Florida kayaking trip.

Other nearby trips...

Okefenokee Swamp

St. Mary's River

Links and Resources

The level of the river varies greatly depending on the amount of rainfall received in the Okefenokee swamp and the drainage basin of the Withlacoochie and Santa Fe Rivers, its two main tributaries. When we were there the gauge at White Springs was at 54.5 after several weeks of low water where the level was below 52, which is considered quite low. We had no problems with shallow water at the 54+ foot level.

Distances to access points and water gauges along the Suwannee River.

White Springs Bridge 41


USGS Water Gauge White Springs

I 75 Bridge


129 Bridge Suwannee Springs


Suwannee River State Park


90 Bridge


USGS Water Gauge Ellaville

I 10 Bridge


RailRoad Bridge


Route 51 Bridge


Branford 27 bridge


USGS Water Gauge Branford

Upper Suwannee River

Lower Suwannee River

Trip report by Bill Logan
Pictures of Suwannee Springs
About Suwannee Springs
Databae of Florida Springs

White Springs
Colonial House Inn
351 CR 136
White Springs, FL 32096
Economy Inn
I-75 & CR136
White Springs, FL 32096
Suwannee River Motel
Hwy 41 North
White Springs, FL 32096
White Springs
Bed & Breakfast

16630 Spring Street
White Springs, FL 32096
Scottish Inn
State 136 & I-75
White Springs, FL 32096

Lake City
Days Inn
4510 Hwy. 90 West
Lake City, FL 32055
Fax 386-755-9509
Days Inn
I-10 & Hwy. 441
Lake City, FL 32055
Econo Lodge West
4680 US Hwy. 90 West
Fax 386-755-5770
Econo Lodge South
I-75 & US 441
Lake City, FL 32055
Fax 386-755-8864
Diplomat Motel
US 441 & I-75
Executive Inn Suites
I-75 & US Hwy. 90
Hampton Inn
414 SW Florida Gateway Dr.
Lake City, FL 32055
Fax 386-758-3196
Holiday Inn
I-75 & Hwy. 90 West
Lake City, FL 32055
Motel 6
4587 West Hwy. 90
Lake City, FL 32055
Ramada Limited
I-75 & US 90
Lake City, FL 32055
Knights Inn
I-75 & US 90
Lake City, FL 32055
A-1 Inn
4480 Hwy. 90 West
Lake City, FL 32055
Comfort Inn
3225 US Hwy. 90 & I-75
Lake City, FL 32055
Cypress Inn
2987 Hwy. 90 West
Lake City, FL 32055
Motel 8
St. Rd. 47 & I-75
Lake City, FL 32055
Piney Woods Lodge
4140 Hwy. 90 West
Lake City, FL 32055
Quail Heights Lodge
Route 18 Box 707
Lake City, FL 32055
Travelers Inn
Route 3 Box 171B
Lake City, FL 32055
West Hwy. 90
Lake City, FL 32055
Gateway Inn
4577 Hwy. 90 West
Lake City, FL 32055
Holiday Inn
US 90 & I-75
Lake City, FL 32055
Jameson Inn
1393 Comm. Blvd. & I-75
Lake City, FL 32055
Microtel Inn
1395 Commerce Blvd.
Lake City, FL 32055
Knights Inn
Route 13 US 90
Lake City, FL 32055
Roadway Inn
Commerce Blvd. & I-75
Lake City, FL 32055

American Canoe Adventures - White Springs

"You can park your car at the Agriculture check station just south of the river at the Hwy 41 bridge at White Springs. There is a guard there 24/7. He is not responsible for your car. There is a similar situation done at Branford as well. " - Suwannee Canoe Outpost - Live Oak

Ivey Memorial Park is a city park - a deputy sheriff cruises through sporadically. Many people park here for several days at a time - none of my customers' cars have ever been vandalized - that is not to say it couldn't happen. " - Suwannee Expeditions Canoe & Kayak - Branford

For free maps of the Suwannee River call Suwannee River Water Management District at 1-800-226-1066 (in Florida). 386-362-1001 outside Florida

Suwannee County Recreation Department - 386-362-3004




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