An EZ two-day one night paddle on the Suwannee River.
As a native Floridian the Suwannee River has been entrenched in ‘lore,’ it’s an intriguing river – so I was eager for a ‘feel’ of the river in preparation for paddling the complete Suwannee River from Georgia to the Gulf (225 miles).
I ‘hooked-up’ with a group from SC that were headed to the Holton Creek section of the river (140.9 river-mile point), a visit would also provide some logistics about shuttling (one of the largest obstacles in paddling). Mainly a solo paddler paddling with a ‘group’ would be interesting too.
We met and spent Friday night at the Suwannee River State Park (127 river-mile), the park is well-kept, the rates very reasonable, clean showers (big drains and hot water). The hot and cold lever was half-way across the stall (reacting slowly with adjustment) leaving the distance between to remind me that I was indeed ‘camping.’
My first impression of the ‘group advantage’ had to do with ‘car-pooling’ and the trailer – helpful and a good sight. As the group felt inclined to move – the next morning we would head upriver twenty something miles to put-in, paddle up river a couple of miles before paddling down to the river camp, then return to the park the following day. Two days on the river and right back to where I stood! awesome – I gladly threw traveller on for the ride.
The Suwannee River Outpost (@148 river-mile) is where we put-in, 2 bucks ‘a-head.’ They also provide a shuttle service for taking interested parties and their gear further upriver, – or retrieve from anywhere downriver (for a fee). Located on the river the outpost is a designated ‘hub” and located all the way to the rear of the Suwannee River Music Park.
Didn’t take long to get traveller into the water and just as quickly the character of the Suwannee became apparent – it’s an ancient quality, an atmosphere that is possible to visualize if you try. Paddling along this section of the Suwannee it becomes easy to imagine how it once divided the native peoples of the land, at one place I noticed an old landing and the remnants of foundation poles which long-ago guided a one-horse ‘pull-ferry.’ The Suwannee feels ancient, over that period of time it has carved a simple gorge through the limestone of northern Florida – it’s easy to contemplate the likely obstacle that this feature presented early settlers.
Our first direction was paddling ‘up- river’ about two-miles to the once Suwannee Springs (150 river-mile), its an easy paddle against a gentle current to the remnants of a long-ago era when the theory prevailed that water bubbling from the ground would heal all of your ailments – I guess everyone’s using the pharmacy nowadays because it hasn’t been used for more than eighty years. As for it’s ‘healing powers I don’t doubt that it worked for a number of things; sittin in a hot-tub of water has been known to ease my mind too – ‘feet-up.’
‘Suwannee Springs’ lasted until the 1920’s before the highways passed it by, only thing left now is the seashell concrete. All of the Suwanee’s tea-colored water (stain from leaves/rain) is fresh and appears of high-quality – it’s inviting to jump in..(where I wouldn’t at the Okefenokee)
In several places, especially around the SR State Park – earthen ground fortifications remain where the Confederates and later the Union, protected the railway – Civil War stuff.
So we walked on and around the springs, then turned our attention down river,
But no worry about any gator’s hanging around with this armada coming down the river – a change from my regular paddling demeanor. When I traveled to the Gunnison River in Colorado the ‘western rules’ were based primarily on paddler self-sufficiency, independence – the “sheep/wolf concept.” This was indeed a different group, and style. After paddling solo, this would be interesting and an opportunity to visit (maybe even enjoy) ‘the other side.’ This was a ‘social-kayaking bunch with the paddler’s pack (above) hydraulically packed – this group was in for the gathering.
The wind on the river can ‘channel’ and change directions – there were times that it was distinct in altering the trac of the kayaks. These folks paddled and chatted right on through it for every mile on this date, I wondered about ever hearing the ‘sounds of the river.’
It was a late (comfortable) morning start before paddling upstream a few miles and then returning ten-miles down to the campsite. Holton Creek cabins, FREE and only available to paddlers, or hikers on the Florida Trail – you just have to make reservations. Imagine, hot-water and showers in the middle of the woods, there are five of these ‘river-camps’ along the Suwannee River – it’s good to know that I won’t have to race a gator to take a shower….
Within the State Parks you MAY NOT touch any dead-wood or use downed wood or branches for a campfire, you must carry your own, sometimes you can pick it up from the ranger or ‘host’ on duty (Jim) – five bucks for six pieces of wood. But it was an entertaining evening, the group shared hamburgers and ‘brats while watching the twelve pieces of wood incinerate in the black of the night – there was an open debate about setting ablaze some ‘frito’s chips – but they were ‘ohbytheway’ eaten during the discussion.
The next morning the hydraulic pack was much lighter and I was reminded that ‘groups’ naturally move slower. It’s kinda like when all my wife’s sisters are in one place and one can’t go or do something without asking the other – then another, and so-on. Its exactly the gray-area where years-ago my ‘BacShortly’ term took firm root – I just like to go, so I usually do.
I came ‘for the river’ and wanted to enjoy the easy unpopulated miles along with the ‘sounds of the river,’ I wanted to paddle ‘with’ the river and not just ‘down’ the river. So I let one person know and quietly slid my kayak off the bank like a 14′ gator – ‘easing’ onto the Suwannee’s mellow current and down the gentle flow (knowing that hours later all would catch-up).
Nice, this is what I came for – after drifting downriver and ‘a little calibration‘ my perspective of the Suwannee improved, there was indeed ‘peace’ on this river. Another benefit to early paddling is the lack of wind, an early day can mean a much more comfortable pace over greater distance – with time for exploration.
– there were plenty of human things to be amused with,
– plus the animals; turtles and birds, hawks seemed unusually plentiful. I noticed that some squirrels of one area had a reddish tint to them – interesting difference from the common gray squirrels in the Mountains or the large black ones I’ve seen in eastern New York state.
The Suwannee’s banks hold trees that had fallen and lay hundreds of years, their grains exposed to the elements and weathered as if sand-blasted by some powerful machine – cool, and beautiful in its own way.
The tree-roots were alive with character, tree neighborhoods – like the t-shirts bearing prolific art of tree-root images. Some were stretched like exposed anacondas slithering down the bank, reacting only to time and necessity – evolutionary change…..
also occasional springs’ along waters edge,
Just before the hwy-249 bridge (135.5 river-mile) and Gibson Park, there was what appears to be a much larger boil river-right – I felt the water was too dark for a spring (later heard that it was an underground branch of the Alapaha river) so I ventured in and paddled around atop the large boil – the only sign around was marked ‘Shelley Run.’
– figured it would be a good time to stretch so I did – then I heard a ‘ruckus’ coming down the river (this is also where I returned and camped on Day 4 of the Gulf trip)……
I opted to float-on in the shade as a couple of stops were made in the sun..
Right back to the Suwannee State Park boat-ramp.
Some trip pictures from ‘Big-John‘
Water Clarity – 7
(good quality, just naturally tainted)
Natural Quality – 9
Perception – weekend, February
Thanks Upstate Hiking/Outdoor bunch for all that you did and allowing me to ‘tag along’ – it was a big help, and fun.
Next move, paddling the length of this river. The Suwannee River; ‘a river of time’ – to the Gulf.
Suwannee River Mile References
note: even though mentioned and shown on available maps – there are NO physical ‘river-mile’ indicators along the river. For further Suwannee River mile-point information, check this link – Suwannee River Mileage, Trip Agenda ideas.
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