FL - Suwannee River, Lower - 2007/01/21 - 16.0 miles

A two part paddle on the Lower Suwannee River provides a great day with wide variety: from straight river banks along a big a famous river to twisting streams on a new water trail.

This day was one of contrasts during an exploration of the Lower Suwannee River, a portion of the Nature Coast of Florida. I started early in the morning leaving a small county campground near the shell mounds some 10 miles north of Cedar Key. The launch ramp here is only usable at half tide and higher. With an early start just after daybreak, there were many animals still out as the sun began to appear over the horizon. I even saw a baby wild boar working over a road kill carcass of a small deer. He was holding off a collection of vultures that were waiting a turn at the feast.

Some miles up the road I turned down a dirt road that is part of a birding loop trail for the Lower Suwannee Recreation Area. Following this 9 mile loop I visited two boat launch sites on branches of small creeks that headed out to the Gulf, McCormick Creek and Barnett Creek. They both looked interesting, but a paddle on these convoluted waterways would have to wait another day. I headed north up the highway to County Road 320 and turned at the sign for Manatee Springs. Here there is a state campground, natural springs and manatee observation facilities. I turned onto NW 110 Ave shortly before the road dead ends at the campground entrance and drove down the road toward a ramp marked by brown signs. At the end of the road I found a nice 2 ramp launching facility and several sand beaches with good access, all right on the banks of the Suwannee itself. Two kayakers had just launched and were paddling downstream.

Launching my kayak, I turned down stream in the 1 knot current, and headed for the springs about 3 miles downstream. The banks of the river are mostly undeveloped. The north (right) bank has only a few inholding in what is now the Lower Suwannee Recreation Area. The south bank is not part of the reserve, but does not seem t have much development along the shore, at least for now. the banks of the river have tall cypress and oak trees. There are few irregularities to the banks as the strong river flows with purpose toward the Gulf of Mexico.

In about 45 minutes I had covered the 3.5 miles down to the spring, aided by the current. As with all the manatee springs, no boats were allowed up into the actually spring run, and unlike the day I was at Blue Springs, there were no manatees out in the river. I paddled on past the spring for another 3/4 miles until I saw a small launch ramp that can be accessed from a small road off of NW 102nd Place. If your simply wanted to paddle to the spring, you could launch from this place. The look of the river is much the same above and below.

It took 75 minutes to paddle back from the spring to the ramp almost twice as long. This was because of the current. I loaded up the kayak and drove up and around to the other side of the river and then further south along the river to the town of Suwannee.

Turning to leave the ramp..
Turning to leave the ramp
Photo by Martine Andrews

Suwannee is a very small town filled with older houses and newly built condos on stilts. Canals run throughout the little town, giving almost everyone direct water access. Sport fishing seems to be the primary interest here. There are three places to launch here in the little town. I chose the one closest to the marked water trail listed in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge brochure. The small one ramp launch and shoulder parking requires cooperation from all users of the facility to make sure that all can access this tiny public facility.

Paddling out into the river I headed up the river. Here the river is tidal and the flood tide had actually reversed the flow of the river. I was being carried upstream by a moderate current.

I soon located the small brown signs with a white canoe outline on it that marked the start of the canoe trail. It soon left the river and headed up a small creek. The banks were lined with cypress and deciduous trees draped in Spanish moss. The black water and blue sky made a lovely contrast with the bright colors of the bark and remaining light red and gold colors of the few leaves and seeds left on the trees. I turned down several side leads off the marked trail, but each time I was turned back by fallen trees that stretched from one bank to the other. I hopped one only to find a bigger one thoroughly blocking the way. Without a portage, this was as far as I was going to go. I turned around and rejoined the marked trail.

The water trail follows several connected leads in a big loop on the northwest bank of the river. It is a very lovely trail through the cypress swamp with white barked trunks, with twists and turns that will exercise your boat control (1 MB Movie) and provide another beautiful view around every turn.

Eventually the trail comes back out on the main river. It crosses over to the other bank in order to go around a large island before returning to the broad channel of the river. Since it was getting late I simply followed the river back to the launch ramp.

As I approached the small town, the drone of the large outboards, some three across with 200 horsepower plus in each one, on the back of the returning fishing boats could be heard for several miles before they would actually appear then disappear down one of the canals to berth in the back yard of the owners canalside home. But even the loudest of them are but small disturbance compared to the most annoying form of water transport ever devised - the airboat. With a large mostly unmuffled engine mounted high in the stern, driving a large plane propeller, which makes plenty of noise of its own, these mechanical monsters are loud even when they are miles away. Up close they are painfully loud, even dangerously loud, which is why their passengers all wear ear muffs. No such relief from those of us nearby without them. With this powerful air mover located on the stern of essentially a sled, these "boats" can be driven over grass and mud without the need for water for much other than lubricant. In this shallow and marshy world one can not deny the efficacy of transport in these machines. But they are totally obnoxious.

Finished the 7.6 mile paddle, I packed up my kayak on the van and headed back north to find a place for dinner and an overnight spot to sleep. The no-see-ums that bothered me as I launched now were is full frenzy mode so I worked quickly to strap the boat onto the vehicle and get away from the swarm of little menaces. Cover up with long sleeves and long pants and they will be much less trouble.

There is not much in Suwannee itself. I only saw one restaurant (seafood) and a small store. Bring most of the supplies you might need from the larger towns along US 19 and US 27 before coming down.




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