Florida state parks are a dream for Floridians and Snowbirds. If the roller coaster at Disney World isn’t your thing, roll down a river with paddle and canoe. North Florida’s Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is 170 miles long. The Suwannee River rises from the Okefenokee Swamp in Fargo, Georga and empties into the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. It’s a black water river, traversing though swamps and wetlands in some places.
First time Suwannee River paddlers are awed by its graceful beauty. It’s a slow and lazy paddling experience, not meant to be hurried. The landscape changes at every bend, narrowing and widening with steep limestone cliffs and cool springs for taking a quick dip. Cypress and Pine trees bend over the river. You may see a manatee feeding on plants by the water’s edge or a deer grazing on the riverbank as an alligator emerges. For miles, the paddler could be completely alone with the river’s natural wonders – only the sound of the mocking birds or the buzz of cicadas to interupt the silence. It is the least polluted of the major rivers in the United States thanks to the wetlands that assist in filtering the water.
Enter the river from any of the State Parks it flows through, but starting out at Stephen Foster State Park and ending at Suwannee State Park will give you the best trip if you have the time. This section of the river is about 43 miles long. You could make it a slow, meandering paddle over a long weekend, stopping often to take in all it has to offer.
You’re there to paddle, but a break is a good chance to stretch your legs. Stop at some of the towns and hubs along the way for a meal, a walk or stay the night in a rental cabin. There are camps with hot showers up and down the river for paddlers. Adams Tract has screened-in sleeping platforms, hot showers and restrooms. Another is in the process of being built at Dowling Park. In the past, these camps were free, but the park will soon be adding a small fee for their use. You could camp at Suwannee River State Park at Ellaville and paddle one day, fish another and hike another. If you love nature and the great outdoors, this is a beautiful spot. The park has views that shouldn’t be missed, including a stunning view from a high bluff overlooking the river.
Rough camping along the river will require Special Use Authorization. For park camping and cabin rentals along the river, you’ll need to reserve. Go to Reserve America.com for more information.
It is recommended you create a travel plan and leave it with friends in case of emergency, with a second copy left on the dash of your car.
Paddling down the Suwannee River makes a peaceful quiet escape, enjoyed by Floridians and snowbirds and people from all over the world. Don’t forget your camera.