Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Down Upon the Suwannee
by TrailZen

Trip Type: Paddling Canoe
Entry Date: 02/24/2022
Entry Point: Other
Exit Point: Other  
Number of Days: 7
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
While many messageboard friends were posting about near-whiteout driving conditions, -40 degree weather, and sunrises over frozen expanses, we were paddling in shorts and t-shirts on Florida's Suwannee River. Need a break from snow and ice? Join us vicariously for seven days of 70-degree afternoons and sunny skies (well, except for day 5). We've played in the Suwannee's headwaters, the Okefenokee Swamp, but hadn't paddled much of the river before. Friends paddled it last year, and we'll be forever grateful that they shared trip details with us after their adventure—we're already thinking about a 2023 Suwannee trip. Before this trip we had no idea of the river's geology, hydrology, or history. Nor did we know much about the wonderful river trail development. At very convenient intervals along the river paddlers have access to river camps and state parks that provide nice camping. While this river isn't convenient for every member, those living in the southeastern US could find the Suwannee a wonderful 'off-season' paddle.
Day 1 of 7
Thursday, February 24, 2022, Stephen Foster Park to Woods Ferry River Camp, 9 miles.

In White Springs, Florida's Stephen Foster State Park we broke camp before 8:00 am so I could move the car to our take-out and catch my shuttle back to the park. About two hours after breaking camp we put in at the park's canoe launch, River Mile (RM) 168.25. The river gauge at the ramp read roughly 53', on the lower end of optimum paddling levels. We were wearing long pants and long sleeves as we started out, but expected to shed layers soon. This section of the river is lined with cypress, live oak, dwarf palmetto, pine, and maple. Riverbanks are higher than we expected, and property along the river is a mix of private and public land. Many homes along the river have stairs and/or ramps to docks; some of these structures show flood damage.

We stopped for lunch at the Swift Creek Rest Stop, one of many “point bars” along the upper Suwannee, where sand is deposited inside river bends. It's beautiful white sand, and the rest stop is on public land that also includes a portion of the Florida Trail; we walk a short distance on the trail to stretch our legs and to burn some daylight--our lunch stop is about halfway through today's planned route, and we're moving faster than expected. Just past the rest stop, Swift Creek flows in on river right. Swift Creek is clear and strong, gushing out of a karst canyon that we're able to paddle up 50 yards or so before encountering a karst ledge. Karst is a soft limestone that water erodes into Swiss cheese appearance. Most of the afternoon on the Suwannee we simply moved along with the current, paddling only to avoid limbs, etc, and exploring a couple more side streams joining the river.

On the Florida Trail:

A "Point Bar" rest stop:
Tree roots in a karst bank:

Woods Ferry, RM 159.3, is our first “river camp” and is a pleasant surprise, even though we'd seen some photos of the camps. Facilities include a nice landing that accommodates big fluctuations in river level, a long zigzag ramp from landing to camp, five screened shelters, an open pavilion with picnic tables, and a large bath house with flush toilets and hot showers! We're spoiled! Carts and wheelbarrows are provided for schlepping gear from the dock to shelters. Each shelter is about 16' x 16', has lights and power, and a potable water tap nearby. (Note: this is Florida water, with hints of sulfur and other minerals. Lemonade mix hides these hints well.) While shelters can be reserved (as we've done) another crew tells us that in 15 years they've never seen the shelters all filled. If shelters were full, there are also five tent-camping sites. We can hear some traffic noise from I-75, but it's distant and steady enough to be white noise.

A ramp to camp:

Handy gear cart:
Typical river camp screened shelter: