Kayak or Canoe Way Down Upon the Suwannee River, Georgia and Florida

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14073A, Kayak

Highlights

  • Swim in clear springs bursting from the aquifer
  • View natural limestone rapids in Florida
  • Camp on white sand beaches 

Includes

  • Canoes or kayaks
  • Basic paddling instruction
  • All meals served by the river 

Details

DatesApr 13–19, 2014
Price$795
Deposit$100
Capacity14
StaffPatrick Nichols

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Created in 1937, Okefenokee Refuge covers more than 600 square miles and contains nearly 354,000 acres of designated wilderness. A number of freshwater springs feed the refuge, which in turn gives birth to two well-known rivers, the Suwannee and the St. Marys. Though pure and clean, the refuge's waters are dark due to the tannic acid in decaying vegetation. Species abundance is breathtaking: black bears, otters, sand hill cranes, ospreys, alligators, bald eagles, yellow-fringed orchids, and pitcher plants all find homes in the Okefenokee. The Suwannee runs unbridled from Fargo to the Gulf of Mexico for more than 200 miles. With the state's highest protection, it is one of the cleanest waterways in the U.S. It’s no wonder many have returned here again and again to paddle this dark mysterious water.

Itinerary

Day 1: We meet at Spirit of Suwannee Music Park (near Live Oak, Florida) at 9 a.m. Participants can make arrangements at the Canoe Outpost to ride the shuttle to the put-in in Fargo, Georgia. It is a good idea to stay the night before the trip begins at the campground at the park's Canoe Outpost. The leader will arrange for a primitive site at the Outpost. There is a fee for the shuttle (usually around $25) and the campground is not included in the trip price. The leader has frequented the Outpost for years and believes this is the most reasonable location to leave your vehicle as we return here at the end of the trip. Directions and a list of suggested items (gear list) will be sent to all participants. The leader will reserve a camping area at the Outpost for participants who plan to arrive a day early. If you are staying elsewhere the night before the trip begins, please plan to be at the Park before 9 a.m. on April 13th. Our adventure officially begins in Fargo at the put-in at noon. Our total trip will be 65 miles, starting from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, crossing into Florida, and ending at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. On this first day, as we launch our boats, the leaders will talk about what you can expect from the river and help you get comfortable with your boat. The trip on the first day offers us a fantastic backdrop of twisted tupelo, ancient cypress, live oak, and perhaps a few swamp inhabitants.

After paddling a few hours, we will take a break for a stretch and a swim. With our tents set up, our first night on the river will be spent staring at the stars by the campfire. Each night you can expect a new and beautiful primitive campsite next to the playful river.

Day 2: After a spectacular sunrise we break camp. The Suwannee is flat and smooth on the section we are paddling. Depending on the water level it may bounce a bit. As we drift downriver, subtle changes occur. The riverbanks become steeper and white sand beaches seem to appear around each bend. Each day we stop to eat lunch, swim, and take time to explore.

Day 3: Today is our first sign of civilization as we float under the Highway 6 bridge. This quickly fades as we paddle downriver. Soon a seemingly magical limestone wall appears on river left. Little waterfalls and crystalline droplets seep from the stone and drop to the black water below.

Day 4: Whitewater! Yes, believe it or not there is whitewater in Florida. A long morning paddle through deeper water with steeper banks drops us at the most extraordinary location on the river. Big Shoals is a place where the reef that created Florida protrudes to the surface. Here the river is turned into a bouncy class III rapid. Our camp is on the portage on river left. Yes, we will be portaging the rapid. This is a magical place. Time to swim, play, and hike. A secret spring nearby creates a waterfall and a great place to get a shower. It is easy to drift off to sleep with the visions from the day and the sound of Big Shoals in the distance.

Day 5: After we paddle away from our camp, we have few small shoals (bouncy water) to ride as we make our way into the historic town of White Springs. Today's lunch is a classic southern buffet at the Teleford Hotel. Full of good home cookin', we'll drift a short distance to the Stephen Foster Cultural Center. This State Park was donated by a group of Steven Foster music enthusiasts. It is unique in many ways, from a carillon tower to a gift shop filled with locally made folk art and food.

Day 6: Today is a fun, easy day with lots of drifting, dreaming, and picture-taking. We'll notice higher banks that begin to form -- remnants of the ancient coral reef that once stood here. Fossilized sea fans, brain coral, and sea biscuits can be found at every turn.

Day 7: Today we stop by Suwannee Springs for a dip. This spring, advertised as "good for what ails ya," will still leave you with a tingle if you are bold enough to jump in! We usually arrive at the Canoe Outpost by noon.

The leaders will make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the group.

Photos

Details

Getting There

The closest airport is Jacksonville. It would be best to carpool with other participants. Rental cars and public transportation are available from the airport. If you are coming into Orlando, it is about a 3.5-hour drive to Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park.

Accommodations and Food

The leaders will prepare all meals, but everyone is expected to help clean up. Meals included in the trip fee begin with lunch on the first day and end with breakfast on the last day. Meals served on the trip will reflect local cuisine. Count on something chocolate for dessert. Our backcountry accommodations will be primitive.

Trip Difficulty

Some canoeing or kayaking experience would make your trip more fun. If you have not canoed recently, take some time to get some practice and review in. The leader is an experienced canoe and kayak instructor. Help and instruction along the way is always included. As with any outdoor activity, you will enjoy it more if you are healthy and fit. You do not need great deal of experience for this trip -- just be familiar with a canoe and know how to paddle. A willingness to learn and a positive attitude will get you there.

Cool clear nights this time of year eliminate virtually all of the annoying insects. We will be stopping every few hours for swimming and stretching. There are many places for quick pit stops along the way.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list will be provided to registered participants.

References

Books:

  • Carr, Archie, A Naturalist in Florida.
  • Logan, Bill, Canoeing and Camping the 213 Miles of the Beautiful Suwannee River.
  • Larson, Gary, There Is a Hair in My Dirt. 

Conservation

As the Southeast grows, water usage grows. Who owns the water and how will it be best allocated? We are entering a new decade of demand on our ever-shrinking water supply. Use less, enjoy more.

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.

Staff

Leader:

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:

Joe Gallelli is a lifelong outdoorsman, active Outings leader, and certified Wilderness First Responder who enjoys sharing has woodcraft skills, native orchid passion, conservation pursuits, wildlife knowledge, and Native American interests with others. He paddles, swims, wades, hikes, backpacks, rambles, and scrambles to be in wildland and wilderness settings. Joe keeps himself fit and is particularly well adapted to camping and paddling in the southeast USA aquatic and marine environments.

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