Friday, 1 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Kayaking the Suwannee River

Do we go? Do we stay? Do we go? Do we stay? Given that 5 1/2 inches of rain fell in 36 hours, it's no wonder we were humming and hawing.

The initial forecast for our 5-day kayak trip on the Suwannee River was for rain pretty much the whole time. We knew that at some point we were going to get wet; it was just a matter of when and how much.

But the first day was fabulous! A mix of sun and cloud, leisurely paddling on a winding river so calm it was difficult to tell where reality ended and reflection in the water began. Two alligators, two beavers, and so many turtles out sunning themselves on logs that we lost count and Andrew stopped taking pictures of every single one. The turtles must have a good life here as some of them were quite big!
Reality and Reflection
Big turtle enjoying the sunshine
The paparazzi
There were lots of birds too. Blue heron, hawks, black vultures, chickadees, and many others we couldn't identify. Even an owl greeted us at our first camp.

We stayed the night at Woods Ferry, one of several "river camps" along the Suwannee which have raised camping platforms with a roof and mesh screen around them to keep out the rain and bugs, and full washroom facilities including showers.
Dock at Woods Ferry River Camp
Typical river camp shelter
At about 7:30 that evening the rain started coming down in droves! It didn't let up all night and into the next morning. It eased off about noon and that was when the humming and hawing began. Especially since we didn't expect the next days to be much better. We checked the map and the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park advertised cabins. We managed to get cell coverage so gave them a call and confirmed they really did have cabins and availability. We hummed and hawed some more and during a short respite from the rain, got our gear packed up into the kayaks and were on our way.
Watching the rain pour down! Do we go or do we stay?
It rained lightly for about the first half hour. "This isn't so bad," we said to ourselves. Then . . . it REALLY came down! Monsoon type downpour, accompanied by lots of thunder and lightening. Yes, I did wonder about the wisdom of being out in a storm, on the water, with a long metal pole in my hands! Two and a half more hours of hard paddling later, it still hadn't let up but we were at the park and were just starting to get a bit chilled when we got into a cabin. There was a good heater and fans so we dried out much better than expected!
The river rising! The day before (at Suwannee Music Park) our kayaks were 3-4 feet from the water's edge.
At Holton Creek River Camp the water again came up dramatically over night and left a lot of debris in the water and a big tree log caught on the dock.
The rain finally stopped midway through the following morning and the next three days of paddling went without a hitch. We continued to see many birds and turtles; even six deer running along the riverbank.

The riverbank is a reasonable mix of public and private land. The houses mostly blend in fairly well with the surroundings and in summer the coverage of tree leaves would make many of them almost invisible from the river. Camping is permitted anywhere on the public lands; there are also some state parks in addition to the river camps.

Morning fog
 We started our trip at White Springs where the river is relatively narrow. We enjoyed this section the most. As you go further downstream, the river gets wider and the current increases as the Alapaha and Withlacoochee Rivers flow into the Suwannee. The addition of the heavy rain both in Florida and Georgia meant that the river got higher and faster as we went along. In fact, by the end of our trip the river was close to reaching flood levels, with the possibility of some of the river camps being closed.

We stayed the nights at Woods Ferry River Camp, Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Holton Creek River Camp, and a random spot along the river. We could have stayed at Suwannee State Park but wanted to get a bit further as we were getting picked up at Dowling Park early on the final afternoon. Dowling Park also has a river camp where we were able to shower and get cleaned up before pick up.
Morning fog

We organized the trip through American Canoe Adventures based in White Springs. In addition to kayaks, they made the river camp bookings for us and provided all our transportation needs in & around Lake City.

We would highly recommend this trip! It's definitely a beginner's level outing -- perfect for a relaxing trip and easily organized. And you could keep going . . . there's about another 100 miles of the river but it continues to get wider, deeper and busier (i.e. motor boat traffic) the closer you get to the ocean. It's a great winter get-away-from-the-snow-and-cold-in-Saskatchewan trip!
Andrew on the Suwannee

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