"Caution: Be Prepared for numerous obstructions on the longer (8.5 mile) trip. Know where you are supposed to turn around and take out."
First of all this is a Beautiful River, highly scenic and interesting. Secondly, know what your limits are and come prepared with water, food, maps, sunscreen, etc.
If you use the Outfitter, listen to them and turn around when you are supposed to. They have shorter round trips (downstream and upstream against the current) and a longer trip from Riverbend Park to Jonathan Dickenson state park. The Outfitter only offers shuttle service on the longer trip on certain days of the week.
All that being said, a group of seven of us put in at the free launch site at Picnic Island in Riverbend County Park last weekend. We had been told that this was a piece of cake and easier than the sometimes difficult Juniper River near Ocala. No one ended up agreeing with that piece of cake assessment.
The first 2.5 miles through the 2 dams to the overpass of I-95 are beautiful, shady and well maintained. The next 1.5 miles to Trapper Nelsons was a bit more of a struggle. It took us twice as long to kayak that 1.5 miles than it took us to complete the first 2.5 miles. There were numerous portages, climb overs, and scoot unders, although the outfitter said maybe we would come across 2 when we had asked them. The information boards say it will take 3 hours to get to Trapper Nelsons and it took us 4. Granted it will take longer for a group of 7 to get through the obstructions than for a single 20 year old kayaker.
There is fresh water and bathrooms at Trapper Nelsons and we were happy to come across the water and re-supplied. We had a nice rest there and enjoyed our visit to the former homestead. We left Trappers and paddled on a wide open river with no obstructions and made the last 4.5 miles in 1.5 hours. Total trip time from Riverbend Park to the dock at the campground at Jonathan Dickenson was 6.5 hours with about an hour of that at Trapper Nelsons.
We did come across a group of people that included a number of children who failed to turn around when they should have and, after later trying to turn around, were physically unable to return upstream. This became a dangerous situation when they had no food or water. Be Prepared.
We camped at Jonathan Dickenson State Park.
There is no fee to launch or enter Riverbend Park unless you use the Outfitter.
Bring a good map of the river and/or a gps unit. There are a few creeks and islands that could be confusing.