After a late departure from the campground in Jonathan Dickensen State Park (a great place to camp for anyone not looking for a lot of amenities) we drove to the put in located at Canoe Outfitters on Indian Town Road. In the past it was possible to put in right on the river bank at the bridge, but now it's necessary to use the outfitters ramp. This requires a "stroll" about a city block long to the waters edge from the parking lot. So if you have a set of wheels, bring em!
The outfitter can of course provide rentals but has no cart to tote your gear. They have the usual small amount of supplies and tourist offerings for sale. After the put in paddle downstream about a half mile to the first dam, where a nice take out is provided to get your canoe/kayak over. Paddling over the dam is possible at higher water levels, but the last few times we've done this little river, it's been too low.
The river continues on thru many tight, twisty little curves. (This is a very narrow river in most places, barely wide enough for 2 canoes) Along the way there are a few spots to stop and enjoy the scenery, mostly Cypress trees and lovely examples of Florida vegetation. Subtle, but beautiful when you take the time to look. Watch out for Cypress knees just under the water surface, also due to heavy winds there are lots of branches and entire trees under water to provide a challenge to your observation skills!! Most of the time there has been a path cut thru the debris, but at different water levels drag overs can be required.
The current is rather brisk in most areas, but if you are careful you won't be bashing off the obstacles. After all the outfitter will put anyone on the water without any warnings except to not feed the alligators! (We only saw one on this trip, but have seen more in past times)
Continue on for about 3 miles until you come to Maston Dam. This is a nice spot to stop and have a picnic, but make sure your boat is out of the way of others who want to use the ramp to get over the damn. Again the water was too low to paddle over, but at very high water it's possible to do so. We chose to not go any farther so stayed to enjoy the sounds of the owls and the water rushing over the dam. Many times in the past we have taken the time to follow the trail away from the river to explore the fomer pasture land that now has become park property. Perhaps at some future time they may choose to develop this area into a "boater's only" camping area. We can only hope!
The day was lovely and warm, and we very often swim at this spot, but time was a bit short since you are now required to be back at the put in by 5PM! At least if you want to get your car out of the parking lot before they lock the gate! It is possible to park outside the lot, but it's another 100 or so yards away and we had a lot of gear with us this day.
We were informed that after the Maston dam there are a lot of drag overs, so it was a good decision to turn around and paddle back up stream. But in times past we have paddled on. After the dam the river becomes even more beautiful, with lots of shallow areas to get out and wade if it's a hot day. Before too long you come to the bridges for the Florida Turnpike and I-95, this is the last time you have to put up with any traffic noises! Continuing on for about 2 more miles brings you to Traper Nelson's. This is an interpretive site with a large picnic shelter, an old house that was used for many years by Mr. Nelson who had a small wildlife show (I can remember going to this as a child) that was only accessible by the ferry boat from the Park. It's a very interesting area to explore and amazing that a man could live there for so long, totally independent.
After this the river begins to widen and the influence of tidal waters becomes evident. More mangroves and the salt water from the Atlantic/Intercostal Waterway changes the atmosphere to a coastal paddle. There are a few spots to paddle off little side creeks, higher banks, but after you've done this once, it becomes a bit boring. The only reason to continue is because the take out is at the Park if you are being picked up by the outfitter. The campground on the river is also located just a few yards from the take out, but until August of this year the dock area is closed for renovations, so even the outfitter is requiring that you paddle back up river to the put-in.
It is possible to take your boat out at the park, but the dock provided by the concession area is for the use of the boats rented there only. There is a large picnic area for day use only.
Jonathan Dickensen Park is one of our favorites because of the 2 campgrounds, the 20 miles of Florida Trail in the park, and the ease of driving into town in just a few minutes to pick up groceries, etc.
We had a lovely day on the river, and after 3 years of not visiting this park/river it was like a welcome home!
There are a few hotels in the area (We favor the Welsley Inn) or you can camp at J.D. Park. The outfitter is accommodating Canoe Outfitters, and you can also rent from the park.
No charge to put in at the outfitters, but to take out at the park requires day use fee of $3.50.
Exit the Florida Turnpike or I-95 at Indian Town Road (hwy 706) go west for about 3/4 mile to Canoe Outfitters on the left (south) side of the road. To get to J.D. Park go east from the exit about 3 miles to US 1, turn north, the park is about 4 miles on the west side of the highway, look sharp, or you'll pas the entrance!
We always use "A Canoeing and Kayaking Guide to the Streams of Florida" volume II by Lou Glaros & Doug Sphar. Also the Florida Atlas by DeLorme