Naturalist Kayaking in Florida

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14205A, Kayak


  • Follow in the steps of the famous naturalist William Bartram
  • View the manatee at Blue Springs State Park
  • Stay at a private log house on a 700-acre ranch on the Econlockhatchee River


  • All meals well prepared
  • Kayaks and kayaking gear
  • All entrance fees, permits, and showers every night


DatesSep 7–13, 2014
StaffPatrick Nichols

Trip Overview

The Trip

From 1773 to 1778, William Bartram, a trained naturalist, traveled southern North America, noting the characteristics of almost everything he encountered: the rivers of Florida, the wild orange groves, the swamps and lagoons, the fish, the tropical snakes and reptiles, the land and aquatic birds, the festivals of the Seminole, and the customs of the Creeks. He was to Florida what Lewis and Clark were to the Northwest.

Following the general path of William Bartram, we will paddle our way through large swamps and narrow rivers to the St. Johns River. Traveling north (downstream), the group will stop to explore large springs, flora and fauna, Indian mounds, and other points of interest. We will camp beside the river within state parks (yes, there will be showers available every night). Nights will be spent hiking, exploring, and discussing the day's highlights around the campfire. 


Day 1: After being picked up at the airport, settle into our lodge, then enjoy happy hour and our first group meal together. Afterward we will walk down to the river and receive basic instruction on kayaking. We will also go over the week's agenda, local environmental issues, and, of course, the travels of William Bartram.

Day 2: Get ready for an exciting day of wildlife viewing! We will make our way just above the Lower Wekiva River Basin and meet up with the St. Johns River, rich in serious wildlife. Have your camera ready. Turtles and large alligators sunning on logs or on the river banks can be observed at distances determined by the strength of your nerves or the power of your binoculars. In addition we will have the opportunity to observe heaps of wading birds.

Day 3: After a big breakfast and a short shuttle, we will be back into our kayaks on the beautiful Wekiwa River. The river is edged by arching sabal palms and other trees. Islands of lush green water plants float in the stream, while asters dot the landscape with purple. The trained eye will spot clumps of orchids mingling with resurrection ferns and draping Spanish moss. On occasion, deer hide near the river's edge for a drink, bears move amongst the palmetto, and river otters dance through the clear water.

Day 4: We're off to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. In the leader's opinion this is the greatest place in Florida for birding and wildlife viewing. There is so much, it just seems too easy. We will be feet away from rosette spoonbills, glossy ibis, reddish egrets, wood storks, bald eagle, and countless species of migrating ducks.

Day 5: Today we visit a place of great beauty and rich history, New Smyrna and Canaveral National Seashore. The day will be spent paddling the many islands in the lagoon and hiking on the still undeveloped beaches.

Day 6: We are off to Rock Springs to run, snorkel, swim, and explore the large springs. We make our way down the spring run to the confluence of the Wekiwa River. Keep an eye out for alligators, otters, wild hog, and swimming deer. Lunch is served picnic style at the sight of an ancient Indian midden. Evening will be spent at our lodge, where we can enjoy the 700 acres.

Day 7: After a morning walk and a huge breakfast, we will make our way back to Orlando and the airport. We should arrive at the airport by 10 a.m.



Getting There

All participants will be picked up from the Orlando International Airport at 1 p.m. on September 7th. Anyone wanting to drive will be mailed a map prior to the trip. The trip leader will stop for lunch at a local restaurant (not included in the trip price).

Accommodations and Food

The leaders will joyfully prepare all meals; however, everyone is expected to help clean up. Meals included in the trip fee begin with dinner on the first day and end with breakfast on the last day. Meals served on the trip will honor and reflect local cuisine. A typical dinner would consist of shrimp creole (or perhaps alligator), white rice, garlic bread, fresh salad, and something chocolatey for dessert. Folks with special diets should contact the trip leader.

Our lodging will be at a 700-acre working cattle ranch on the Econlockhatchee River. There is a large two-story log cabin with wrap-around porch and an old-fashioned “Cracker” house. Bathrooms are shared and rooms are multiple occupancy. Rooms with one bed will, of course, be given to couples. Because we are staying at a lodge each night, every day our group will have to be shuttled to that day's location.  

Trip Difficulty

This trip is geared for all levels of paddlers. Instruction will be given prior to paddling each day. The leader asks that participants be in good physical condition and be at least 18 years of age. We will paddle between 6-8 miles per day. This translates into 4-5 hours on the river. If bad weather rolls in, alternative activities have been planned.

Equipment and Clothing

A detailed equipment list as well as a trip roster will be sent to all participants. Kayaks, paddles, and personal floatation devices (PFDs) will be provided. If you have a fondness for your own paddle or PFD, bring it! A recommended gear list and specific directions to our meeting point at the airport will be sent to all participants.


  • Van Doren, Mark, Travels of William Bartram. 
  • Hiaasen, Carl, Double Whammy.
  • Larson, Gary, There is a Hair In My Dirt.
  • Smith, Patrick D., A Land Remembered. 


Each day's shuttle to our paddling destination will give everyone the opportunity to witness the destructive force of sprawl -- not only the destruction of habitat, but the loss of a unique culture. 

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.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Canaveral National Seashore.



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.

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