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Big Bend Paddling Trail in Florida

Trip Overview


Paddlers: Stew, Sam, Dave

Kayaks: Current Designs Solstice GT, QCC 500, Current Designs Solstice GTS; same order as paddlers list.

Preface
We decided that after some strenuous trips (most turned out that way) we would take a more leisurely trip with modest daily miles and lots of time for fishing. The area of The Big Bend Paddling Trail in Florida is well known for being a great place to fish. We were psyched.

We all have open water experience and figured one or two days may be somewhat difficult due to winds but we had every day with strong winds producing one to three-foot chop and mostly coming directly at us or from a front quartering direction. Couple that with open water where there is no place to stop for 2 to 4 hours, and it makes for a long day.

We worry that a casual paddler or novice could get into serious trouble in this area even if prepared. We had to use our navigational skills as well as our grit and experience to make it to some campsites. This area has extreme low tides, lots of mud flats, dangerous oyster bars and fog where you cannot see more than a quarter mile and may paddle for hours without seeing land. We were glad that our injured comrade, Jack decided not to come even with our insisting we would tow him if need be. We also offered the open spot to a novice friend who would have been miserable in those conditions.

Above is just a cautionary note to anyone who wants to do this trip. In calm conditions, this would be an ideal trip to relax and paddle leisurely, explore, and maybe even catch a lot of fish. We didn't hit the weather as we had hoped but still had a great time being outdoors and working together as a team/family. We are glad we did the trip (it was on our kayak bucket list) and met some great people and saw some fantastic sights as we do on all of our trips.


Thursday, Feb 26, 2015
We got off work early, met at Stew's house at 2 pm, loaded up Sam�s truck with our kayaks and supplies, then we're off on our 2015 adventure! Plan was to arrive in the town of Suwannee before 10 pm and stay in one of the cabins at Billy's Fish Camp. We had reservations.

On the drive up it got cooler the further north we drove. We donned long pants and warm-up jackets. Nice temperature for a paddle. We stopped for dinner at "Bubba Ques" in Chiefland, FL and had a good BBQ diner. BBQ has become a tradition for the beginning of our trips.

We made it to the town of Suwannee, FL at around 9:30 pm and found Billy's Fish Camp and went to the cabin we had rented to find the door locked. We had made arrangements for them to leave the door unlocked with the key on the counter. Dang! So we get a little frantic especially when our cell phones don't have coverage. What are we to do? We are tired, pleasantly full from the bbq, and getting cold. Stew found he had a couple of bars on his Verizon phone so we called the numbers but no answer. They have a white board out front and it had our names on it but also alternate telephone numbers. We called one and bingo, it was answered. The lady was very nice and apologized. The room was cleaned and the crew forgot to leave it open. She arrived in a few minutes and we got into the room and settled. We had a restful night and were comfortable in our room. Russ of (Russ and Kay) from Suwannee Guides and Outfitter is to meet us at 7 am the next day to shuttle us to the Aucilla River where our journey begins.

Day 1 Friday, Feb 27, 2015
Aucilla River to Econfina River: 10 miles

At 6:50 am there is a knock at the door and Russ from the outfitter is there. He says "Hi, I'm Russ" and shakes Stew and Sam's hands. As he turns to Dave he says "I'm early!" and Dave says "I thought you were Russ?" Russ starts to reply and then gets it. He then states how we are all going to get along real well - he could already tell by the way we banter and tease.

Sam parks his truck at the community parking area and places a pass from Russ on the dash so the local authorities know why the truck is there. We load the kayaks on a trailer and all of our supplies into his truck, then we're off. Everything went smoothly and was a nice way to start. On the way we stopped at McDonald's for breakfast and coffee and that hit the spot.

Nice ride to the Aucilla boat ramp with Russ filling us in on some of the places we will see and all of us telling stories and jokes. When we drive down this dirt road to the "official" put in boat ramp for the Big Bend Paddling Trail, it is under construction. Dang it!!! We scope out the area and don't see any place to put in that would be safe. It is overcast and pretty cool out and our spirits have dimmed. We decide to travel back up the dirt road and look for an alternate place to launch. We turned onto a road that had a few houses on the river and spotted one with a boat ramp. A truck pulled up and we asked the guy if we could use the ramp and he told us of a better one - a public ramp just up the road. So off we go to find it.

The ramp is where 30/98 intersects the Aucilla River and it was perfect. I would recommend launching there over the ramp down that dirt road - you get a few more miles of river paddling. Now we were happy again. The alternate was just to drive to Econfina River and put in there and paddle around the area and stay the night there - where we already had reservations for a condo at the Econfina River Resort. It would have worked but we really wanted to do the whole thing.

The Aucilla River was a splendid example of a good Florida river - at least the section we did. We love to paddle rivers and in fact, next year, that is the plan. Beautiful scenery and we even saw an eagle. As we get into the Gulf of Mexico, the wind hits us and it is coming hard! Oh well, just part of the deal. We head into the wind and just hunker down for the paddle - around 4 miles to the Econfina River once we hit the Gulf. All open water paddling without places to stop. We could have hugged the shore but that would add miles to our paddle and the water gets so shallow we would surely have got grounded and hit oyster bars. Numerous dolphin were looking for food in the shallow water. They are always a joy to see.

It was nice to get out of the wind and head up the Econfina River. We were cold and wet and took our kayaks out at the public concrete boat ramp. We had reservations and knew our cabin/apartment number but there wasn't any office at the building. Dave was very cold and couldn't believe that once again, we were at our destination without a key!

So we walked a quarter mile or so up the road to a convenience store and sure enough, they were expecting us and had our keys there. The lady was on the telephone with someone as we walked in and we heard her say "They're just walking in now." She handed us a six pack of beer and said it was from Bogie. Bogie is Stew and his wife Diane's dog. Diane had called and bought us beer! We were very happy now in the warm building and we had beer!!

Nice accommodations - we had two rooms and slept well. It rained some that night and was very windy and pretty cold. The next day we decided it was better to launch from the river bank which had somewhat sturdy mud and it turned out to be the right choice.

This year instead of trying to remember to write down notes each day we brought a voice recorder. That made it easier to record our adventure and review the daily logs for this trip report. Also it is fun to hear the noises in the background ranging from wind to cat calls from our peers to the crackling of a campfire.

Day Two: Saturday, February 28, 2015
Econfina River to Rock Island: 10.5 miles

We launched from the shore because it was low tide and the mud was firm enough. It was a good choice versus carrying our kayaks to and launching from the concrete boat ramp. Overcast and cool, we wanted to get a few miles in before the winds kicked in. Very nice paddle going out the river and we were cheerful as always and in any conditions - that's why we love to do these trips together.

Once in the Gulf, it became windy to very windy. Couldn't see much in the water due to the wind and chop so we hunkered down and headed toward Rock Island. As in all of our trips, once you see your destination you tend to focus on it and if it is more than a few miles away, it seems like it takes forever to get there. We had 8 miles to go in open water with the winds getting progressively stronger and no place to stop. We would risk getting grounded on an oyster bar or shallow water if we headed towards shore (and directly into the wind) which was at least a mile away in most places. When we were around 3 miles out, it seemed the intensity of the winds were growing more rapidly. We commented in between strokes that this was neither for the novice nor casual paddler. It would have been very dangerous if any of us had a medical emergency, injury or equipment issues on those last miles.

We made it to Rock Island and it is mostly rock so we each picked what we thought were the best spots to land. Crunch as our kayaks slid over rock and oysters. Some sand but mostly rock but it wasn't too bad - you just had to be careful. On Rock Island we were pleased to see that it isn't only rock. There are trees there and plenty of firewood if you search for it. It was very windy and cold and we set up camp quickly and gathered firewood. Then we went exploring and enjoyed being on the Gulf side of the island where we were somewhat protected from the cold wind.

It is an interesting island made of rock and had lots of neat rock formations and places to explore. We tried fishing all around the island but had no luck. The weather with a cold front approaching wasn't conducive for fishing.

We retreated to our campsite that wasn't protected much from the wind and we quickly got a fire going and ate our dinners. It was cold due to the strong winds and we didn't stay up too late because we just wanted to get out of the wind. It was nice to be in our tents and listening to the wind howling through the trees. That night it became extremely windy (someone told us a few days later that they had 60 mph winds) and it rained sideways. We all were hoping we would wake up to a new, warmer, bright and calm day in the morning.

Day Three: Sunday, March 1, 2015
Rock Island to Spring Warrior Creek: 11 miles

We were somewhat disappointed that it was already windy in the morning but thankful it was nowhere as windy as the night before. Still excited and glad to be out on our own exploring a new area in our kayaks. This is what we love to do. It was a pleasant day with the sun peeking out every so often and some patchy fog. We saw some tailing redfish as well as dolphin as we paddled along the coastline. We were happy to come across a place where we could stop, stretch, eat lunch, and fish a little.

We encountered a few oyster bars unexpectedly and gingerly backed out of them and picked our way around. We started following a "point man" or designated sacrifice when trying to get through areas with oyster bars. The bars always seemed to be projecting out from spits of land and between islands but would also just rise up and surprise us.

We found Spring Warrior Creek entrance and headed up river to the designated campsite. Another cool river that was affected by the tides and got narrow in places. We didn't go upstream from the campsite but it looked like it would have been neat to explore although it seemed pretty shallow and narrow. On the way in there is an agave plant that has a spear that looks like a giant asparagus probably 20 feet tall. The picture we took didn't come out so it wasn't posted.

Spring Warrior campsite is very nice being inland somewhat and on a river. Be careful when securing your boats because the river rises a lot. Stew brought his kayak up (recommended) and Sam and Dave (lazy) tied theirs to trees but left them on the river bank. Next morning Dave's kayak's nose was wedged tightly in the tree roots from the water pushing it around at night. He was lucky it wasn't damaged.

We saw two eagles in a nearby tree and bats came out in the early evening. There were a few no see ums but not that bad. We really liked this campsite. Of course we had our fire and stayed up fairly late - 9:30 or so before retiring to our tents. We heard some owls hooting in the distance as we dozed off. A good day.

Day Four: Monday, March 2, 2015
Spring Warrior Creek to Sponge Point: 12.5 miles

We had a leisurely day and stopped many times to fish along the coast in grassy areas and near land full of reeds. This place just looks so fishy! We know in the summertime it would be great. Still we couldn't believe we were not catching anything and figured it was because cold fronts were coming. We found more oyster bars along the way but we are now used to the routine, hit, back up, follow someone or lead the way through/around.

As we were paddling and just enjoying the day, we saw clouds coming in. Then we realized it wasn't clouds but sea fog. It got pretty thick and at times we could not see a quarter mile. That was really neat. We enjoyed the fog for about an hour and then it got old. Stew started questioning our direction - were we headed out to sea? I can't see land! You sure we're going the right way? That had us all on edge but we were confident in our GPS and compass. Every now and then we could see land to confirm we weren't on our way to Mexico. Although we found it neat and interesting, someone not comfortable with navigation could get into trouble in the fog.

Dave's rudder cable broke. Stew and Sam suggested next stop we find a bait shop and buy some steel leader. At Keaton Beach we walked maybe a half-mile up the road to a bait shop and found some 40 foot 106 lb test leader wire and beer. When we got to camp we replaced the broken rudder cable with a double length of it. It worked great. Very glad we carried some heavy duty cutters to remove the old cable. It wouldn't have been any fun paddling in the strong wind without a rudder.

We were all looking forward to getting a hot dog at Keaton Beach because we read one trip report that talked about how good they were. That kept us looking forward to getting there. We took a wrong turn but saw some neat houses just before Keaton Beach park. We back-tracked and made it to the park and were dismayed to find that the hotdog place had closed down. We were told that a lady who owns one of the condos bought it and tore it down so she could have a better view of the Gulf. I guess it was a two-story building because the lower part was still there painted bright green and had a large shark's head coming out of the side. We ate our own lunches at the pavilion.

When we got on our way again, it was still foggy. We paddled to Sponge Point camping site around another 2.7 miles. Very shallow getting to Sponge Point but high tide has been between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm for our entire trip which was perfect. It is a very nice site under some large trees. We saw some rats in the area but they didn't bother us.

Day Five: Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Sponge Point to Dallus Creek: 8 miles

It was the only day that was fairly calm - at least in the morning. We could see bottom which broke the monotony of paddling 8 miles or more in the open water without any place to stop, rest, stretch, etc. Really nice to look for and see fish as we paddle by. We passed by several pods of dolphins in the shallow areas probably looking for food.

We were told Dallus Creek was a great place to fish so we were excited to get there quickly and do some fishing.

Lots of fiddler crabs when we arrived on the beach - almost like a horror movie there were so many of them. They scattered as we grounded our kayaks and they didn't come out in great numbers again while we were there. We put on our cockpit covers as we do every night but especially today because we didn't need any surprises while paddling the next day.

We set up camp and then went on a mission to do some serious fishing. We left the campsite and paddled into Dallus Creek. We saw boats and a kayak on the inside of the creek and were told there is a launch site around a mile in. No one was catching anything - including us. We fished a few hours then headed back to camp before low tide because we heard it really gets low here, and it does!

The campsite was a little ways from the water in a hammock of trees. Pretty nice except the pigs must have come through recently and had rooted much of the camping area but we all found spots to pitch our tents. Of course we had another great fire to relax and sit around. That night we heard some very loud howling which we figure must have been coyotes. We looked at each other and said "whaaaaat?"

Day Six: Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Dallus Creek to Steinhatchee: 8 miles

Today we got up leisurely and left around 10 am because we knew it was a short day. We had to pull our kayaks out to deep water when we launched. It became windy again from the left front of our kayaks. Dave's rudder cable was repaired the day before and he was glad to have rudder in the wind. We stopped and fished along the way at all the fishy looking spots. Sam actually caught a decent redfish and let it go. We saw a sea turtle and again lots of flocks of birds - especially white pelicans.

It was nice to be near shore and able to stop at will. Still had to be cautious of oyster bars and low water. We were looking forward to spending the night in a room and having restaurant food and beer available for consumption tonight. Even though we are hardy and can camp out for weeks without showers and just our camp food, it is really, really nice if we have a chance to break up the camping with a stop in civilization.

We had a great night at the Good Times Marina. Their bar and restaurant the "Who Dat Bar and Grill" was very good. The couple that runs the place Martin and Dawn are first class, fun, and informative - very friendly and helpful. If you are in the area you MUST eat there and if you need a place to stay, their quaint cabins were everything we could have hoped for.

After we ate dinner, we went back to our cabin to relax some. Sam went back to the bar and around 30 minutes later there was a lady knocking at our door. Stew and Dave look at each other quizzically. Kay from Suwannee Guide Tours who we had not met yet, came in and said we had to come for a drink. So Stew and Dave joined Sam, Kay, Russ, Martin and Dawn for some more drinks. It was a blast to meet everyone and just spend time telling stories. Another great evening that only happens on these trips.

A perk at this motel is that every guest gets a pet for the night. The cats are very friendly and will come to spend the night in your room. They ask that before you leave you make sure none of the cats are in your room, boat, or vehicle. They have had people return to the marina because they discovered a stowaway in their boat/vehicle. Bobber the cat came into our room as we were packing up and stayed on a bed until we were ready to leave.

Day Seven: Thursday, March 5, 2015
Steinhatchee to Sink Creek: 10 miles

A very windy day with 10 miles in open water. We were tired and made a stop on an island that had a stop sign on it. We think it may have been bird island. We knew we probably shouldn't stop there but there was nowhere else and we needed to stop. We were careful not to disturb anything and did not see any birds on the small island that only had tall reeds growing on it.

As we paddled into Sink Creek, we realized this was the best place we've seen for fishing. Sam caught 7 fish as we were heading in toward our campsite. Stew and Dave didn't catch anything as we paddled amongst the reed islands and meandering streams that are at the mouth of Sink Creek.

We finally decided to get to the campsite to set up camp and then come back to catch dinner. We liked Sink Creek as one of the best sites except it looked like a homeless person once lived just behind it. This is because of its proximity to a boat ramp that is maybe a quarter mile away.

We set up our tents then went back out fishing with no luck. We missed the tide and good conditions. Oh well. We explored the area and found the spring just up the creek a quarter mile and walked around a bit. Watch out because there are submerged rocks near the boat ramp. When we got back to camp we tried our luck fishing from the bank and caught some fish. One was large enough that we had it for dinner - it was a very good tasting redfish!

Day Eight: Friday, March 6, 2015
Sink Creek to Butler Island: 14 miles

We get up to find it is very windy and cold out. Dang, not again - especially on our longest day! Stew says it was too hot last night to go to bed and this morning it is too cold to come out! The tide is out this morning so we take our time getting up and ready. We got a little more water but still have to pull our kayaks thru the mud to find deep enough water. We all used our ropes from our Peace River trip. We highly recommend that if you do this trip you have a length of rope with a loop to pull your kayak - it makes it so much easier. A thick rope is best so it doesn't hurt your hands.

Today the plan is to paddle to Horseshoe Beach on our way and see if we can get a nice meal. We were not disappointed. The paddling wasn't that bad because the wind was mostly at our backs. We encountered many oyster bars again today as we headed along the coast. We paddled on the inside of Pepperfish Keys as recommended in the guide and became surrounded by oyster bars and exposed mud. We had to walk our kayaks out to deeper water once again.

We arrived at Horseshoe Beach and met a couple at the park on the west side. They said there was a restaurant in town and a short walk from where we were. So we tied up our kayaks and walked to a diner. They had great food and large quantities. We all ate well. It is the only restaurant in town with new owners. We hope they do well because the food is very good and they are nice people.

With full, content bellies, we get back into our kayaks - always difficult when it is cold and windy out to force yourself to get back in! The paddle to Butler Island campsite is less than 2 miles away but it is getting late. We gingerly pick our way around oyster bars and then make our way to the campsite avoiding oyster bars and low water areas. Good timing because an hour later we would have had to pull our kayaks in.

Butler Island is a nice campsite with protection form the wind. Some trash - not a lot - was left behind (why do people do that?) and we were disappointed to see it. We had a great fire as usual and it was especially good because the temperature was dropping. We watched as the water drained for around the island and wondered what it would be like tomorrow when we leave at low tide. Ate dinner and drank beer that we bought the previous day. Nice night and we retired to our tents around 9:30 after spending time around the warm campfire.

Day Nine: Saturday, March 7, 2015
Butler Island to Suwannee, Anderson Landing: 11.5 miles

Dave gets up first and gets the fire going again. He discovers that if he burns a palm frond it ignites and produces intense heat for a short time. So he gathers a bunch and continues for a while. Stew doesn't want to get up because its cold out so Dave shows him the palm frond trick. He likes it and also gathers more fronds to ignite.

Looking out at the low water we know we will have to walk a ways. We carry our kayaks to the water and then carry our gear and load up for the day. We walk a while then begin paddling but become grounded again so walk for maybe another quarter to half mile to deep enough water. We saw airboats make it but they powered over the mud.

Today was a good paddle and we saw a squadron of planes. Once again we were in our kayaks for the duration just over 4 hours, without any place to stop. As we approached the town of Suwanee and Anderson's Landing, we saw a bunch of bass boats. Luckily we just got our kayaks out at the boat ramp when they all started coming in. There was a bass fishing tournament that day and they were all coming in to weigh their catch. We watched for a while then Sam walked to his truck and brought it to the ramp so we could load up.

We finished loading up and then headed out to find a restaurant for our traditional after paddle victory meal. We stopped in Fanning Springs and ate at a barbeque place that we have been to before on our Suwanee River trips. Food was good and a swell ending to our trip. Next year will be a river trip so we can relax a little more.

Accommodations:

Econfina Resort � place to stay on Econfina River instead of using primitive campsite:

www.econfinaresort.biz/Econfina/

Good Times Marina � place to stay/eat in Steinhatchee - we can't say enough about how much we enjoyed this place:
goodtimesmotelandmarina.com/

Outfitting:

Suwanee Guides and Outfitters

Kay and Russ are very good, nice, and informative - please use them!

www.suwanneeguides.com/

Contact:

The official site where you make reservations for the campsites. You can also order the guide which has GPS points:

myfwc.com/viewing/recreation/wmas/lead/big-bend/paddling-trail/

This is from the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail and has good info, mileage, and GPS points if you click on the Maps that are in PDF format.
www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt/paddling/Segments/Segment%206/Segment6.htm


Resources:

MUST have GPS, Compass, and Maps before you go on this trip. It can be challenging.

Cell Phones worked most of the time for texting and usually talking.

As always, we use Google Maps to scout areas, get ideas, and find places to stay. Google Earth was used to retrieve some GPS points (campsites, river mouth, turns, etc.) and to measure distances. Use Google search to find info and resources.

Our website: paddleacrossflorida.com

  • Duration: Extended Trip
  • Sport/Activity: Kayaking, Canoeing
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip