Florida's Spring Flowers and Wild Rivers

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14074A, Kayak


  • Enjoy the expertise of local guides
  • Kayak, swim, explore, and view wildlife
  • Experience Florida's wildest and most pristine natural areas


  • Kayak rental
  • Lodging at the historic Wakulla Lodge
  • Total van support, including airport pick-up and drop-off


DatesMay 4–10, 2014
StaffPatrick Nichols

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Dive into springtime and the peak of wildflower season at Florida's forgotten coast. Spend your week paddling wild rivers, swimming in hidden springs, collecting seashells on a beach hike, adding dozens of birds to your life list, and visiting all six unique habitats that make up this area. Every day we will head out to a different location to paddle and explore. At night we will return to our luxury lodge with its cozy beds, hot water showers, and sumptuous riverside meals. We are lucky to have Wakulla Springs, one of Florida's best swimming holes -- with its enormous diving platform -- only a few steps from our lodge.


Day 1: We'll have a 2 p.m. pick up at Tallahassee Regional Airport. Folks driving in will be sent a map and directions to the lodge. We will then make our way (about 30 minutes) to our lodge. Once we settle in and introduce ourselves, we will tour the park and spring.

Day 2: After a wonderful breakfast, our group will head to the Wakulla River. At the put in, instructions will be given on the fundamentals of kayaking. Soon after, we will float down this extraordinary waterway. The source of the Wakulla River is Wakulla Springs. Because of the karst topography, the eastern part of Wakulla is filled with freshwater springs and circular groundwater-fed ponds and sinkholes. Early inhabitants dubbed the springs "strange and mysterious waters" -- a seemingly accurate name because in some locations spring water appears somewhat magically from the ground, runs downstream for several yards, and disappears mysteriously below the surface once again. Of the many beautiful clear water springs in the region, the most famous is Wakulla Springs. Wakulla Springs is one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. The spring flows up and out from an underground river at a rate of over 400,000 gallons per minute. Even at its deepest point of 185 feet, objects are sometimes visible near the bottom. As the spring water flows over land, it forms the equally clear Wakulla River.

Day 3: The Sopchoppy River originates in the wetlands of the Apalachicola National Forest west of Crawfordville in Wakulla County and runs 47 miles to the Ochlockonee River. Sixty percent of the blackwater river runs in the National Forest and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. It winds through dense forest, passes high sandy bluffs and limestone outcrops, and flows around white sandbars. The Florida National Scenic Trail follows the river for five miles between Oak Park Bridge and Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area. On past trips, people have always commented about how remote and wild this river feels. They also say it seems as if they were the first to ever paddle the river. Our group can expect to encounter the famous tupelo in full blooming splendor. The contrast of a huge, white, blooming canopy with flat blackwater is incredible.

Day 4: Today we paddle the Gulf. We start at white sand beach and explore a shallow saltwater bay. This area is frequented by whooping cranes and mullet fishermen! After our paddle we head for San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. This is the site of the confluence of the Saint Marks and Wakulla rivers.

Day 5: The St. Marks River originates in the hardwood and cypress river swamps of the Red Hills area and flows 35 miles to the Apalachee Bay. The St. Marks River disappears underground at the historic site of Natural Bridge in Leon County and resurfaces a short distance south of the St. Marks Spring in Wakulla County. The St. Marks River joins the Wakulla River north of the bay at the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. After our time on the river, we will make our way to St. Marks NWR. This is the home of abundant wildlife, especially birds. Last year our group spotted two bobcats, four whooping cranes, red cockaded woodpeckers, and numerous species of snakes. Wildflower lovers won't be disappointed because the deeper sloughs and ditches are filled with blooming irises, swamp lilies, arrow head, and coreopsis. The day's highlight will most likely be the gulf sunset viewed from the lighthouse.

Day 6: After breakfast, our group will head to the Wacissa River. Soon after we will float down one of the state's most pristine waterways. The Wacissa River is a clear, spring-fed river that originates in Jefferson County and flows 20 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The 12 known springs are located in the upper 1.5 miles of the river. The river winds through swamps and marshes. A little ways past Goose Pasture is the Slave Canal. This canal was dug more than 170 years ago to transport cotton to the Gulf. In most people's opinion, this is Florida's premier wild river.

Day 7: By now most everyone will be in the routine of waking up, grabbing a cup of coffee, and taking a walk amongst state grand champion trees and a quick swim in the refreshing spring. Being our last day together, it's a good day to take a little bit longer to soak it all in -- it's been a long activity-packed week. At 9 a.m. we leave for the airport. The trip back to Tallahassee Regional Airport will take less than one hour.



Getting There

Participants are encouraged to fly into Orlando International Airport. Folks wanting to drive will be sent driving directions upon acceptance on the trip.

Accommodations and Food

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Wakulla Springs Lodge, built in the 1930s, features 27 guest rooms, each with a spacious marble bathroom, walk-in closet, and antique or period furniture. All rooms have a telephone and data port. For a quiet and relaxing stay, rooms have no televisions. Located on the second floor, guestrooms are accessible via the elevator or numerous staircases. Rooms are double-occupancy and have either a queen bed or two doubles.

The lodge has a resturaunt, where we will eat dinner at once (not covered in the trip price). All other dinners will be prepared and served by the leaders riverside. Meals will reflect traditional local cultures. Participants can expect shrimp and grits, crawfish étouffée, and fresh Cuban roast pork. People with dietary restrictions should call the trip leader to discuss their options. Lunches will be picnic-style every day on the water.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is appropriate for all levels of paddlers. There will be time for instruction each day for those who request it. Even though we will be on the water most of the day, only 4-6 hours will be spent paddling. While on the rivers, we will have  time for breaks, swims, wildlife viewing, hikes, and general fooling around. For those who need a day or part of a day to rest, there are a host of activities available at the lodge.



  • Ohr, Tim and Peter Carmicheal, Florida’s Fabulous Canoe and Kayak Trail Guide.
  • Ste. Claire, Dana, Cracker, The Cracker Culture in Florida History.
  • Larson, Ron, Swamp Song.
  • Carr, Archie, A Naturalist in Florida.



The leader is certain the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil disaster will be the major topic of discussion. Other topics we will discuss include: the tapping of Florida's aquifer by bottled water companies, unregulated sprawl, and the effects of pine plantations for paper production.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



It's not Patrick Nichols' 35 years of wilderness experience or his extensive background as an outdoor enthusiast and wilderness educator that distinguish his tours from the ordinary. It is the exquisite attention to detail: from gourmet cuisine to the intricacies of paddling on quiet waters propelled by kayak. He is an ACA instructor, has trained with Red Cross water safety and is a wilderness first responder. His calling is to use the quiet skills of his lifetime to benefit every traveler, to ensure his skills and knowledge are shared by every voyager with an open heart and a curious mind.

Assistant Leader:

Ben Berauer

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