The Suwannee River Wilderness trail brochure map calls it 177 miles from Big Shoals to the Gulf of Mexico. Somehow I got it in my head that to do it right I should start at the Suwannee's beginning in the Okefenokee Swamp. The Suwannee River water Management District's (SRWMD)map calls it 242 miles from the ramp at Billy's Lake. This is located in the Stephen Foster State Park, GA in the swamp. See Georgia state parks for more info.
My wife and good buddy drove me from our home in Jacksonville, FL to the put-in in Okefenokee on a sunny Florida HOT day. The put-in is a narrow canal at the State park. It is River mile 242 by the SRWMD map. In about 100 yds I was in Billy's Lake which is a long narrow lake in the swamp. Twenty five minutes paddling my solo canoe brought me to the west end of the lake and "The Narrows." Here the stream is covered in low tree canopy in places and with high water has a strong current Here is a good place to watch out for snakes! After the Narrows its through the Sill and into the Suwannee proper. The SRWMD map put Griffis Fish Camp at river mile 235 and some paddlers start there. At Fargo, GA I stopped at the info center to replenish my water. The ramp here at RM221 is a popular put-in & take-out. By 7:00pm thunderstorms hit me as I made camp on a sand bar a little south of the FL/GA state line. About 38 miles done.
Saturday (day 2, RM 204 to 177)
Aug.1st was another sunny day and the river now had lush high banks, and the occasional white sandy beach. These are quite common all the way to the lower Suwannee and usually at the inside of sharp bends. The forest is at times tall pines and then jungle like growth. The banks are of rugged limestone and in shallow water it is wise to be careful. Some of my canoes have what looks like bear claw scratches from running thru shallows. Again the usual summer thunder storm threat that would occur the whole trip. That evening Camp was at Big Shoals, RM 171, where I met a a threesome out for a weekend paddle. These were the only other paddlers I would see until Suwannee, FL. From here on there would be the occasional small fisherman's boat. The further along the bigger the boats get. But never many and most were courteous and tried to leave no wake.
Sunday (day 3, RM 177 to 141)
Another beautiful sunny day. Past White Springs and Florida's Stephen Foster State Park. After lunch a violent storm chased me off the river for an hour. But in a cooler peaceful afternoon paddled to Holton Creek River Camp. With free screened-in shelters, hot showers and other creature comforts.
Monday (day 4, RM141 to 103)
Great day to paddle. By the time I reached the Suwannee River State park I was often seeing huge sturgeon jumping, Some so close by I worried they could land in the boat! Hawks and kites became common. I saw a few otter families. Deer now and then browsed. A huge tom turkey flew over my head across the river so close I feared he might whitewash me. The banks now are at time 20' high. The name Suwannee means " Echo River" and in the high limestone walled areas it is great for echoing fun!
That evening found me at a Lafayette Blue Spring State Park ($10.00) campsite. AHhh, showers again. Here is a trick: with the day's sweat still wet I walk into the shower clothed. Wash with liquid soap then take of and wring-out the clothes then shower myself! In the morning they will still be wet and feel cooling in the hot Fla, climate. By now I've accustomed myself to the 90 d temps and high humidity. Long sleeve shirt,long pants, wide brim hat, all of light weight material keep the sun from frying my skin. Also, a wet bandanna around the neck helps. And always plenty of water to drink. This I learned while paddling in the Amazon basin.
Tue. (day 5, RM 103 to 75)
The weather (other than short summer storms) is great. Light breezes now and then are a relief. More power boats are seen. At the Town of Branford the was suppose to be camping per the State map and the sigh at the Boat ramp and park, but no camping available. Few miles further I found a great white sandy beach with huge live oaks to camp under just before the daily storm hit. In the morning, while having coffee, I could hear roosters crowing and cows mooing.
Wed. (day 6, rm 75 to 43)
Another beautiful, cool morning. With mist on the river I passed the Santa Fe River joining the Suwannee on the left at RM 65. That is another good paddling river. Paddling easy with the current took me to Hart Spring County Park by 3:10pm. And Hot shower again. Campsite was $20.00.
Thur. (day 7, RM 43 to 25)
The park was nice but the quiet of the river is better. Got underway at 07:00 before any other campers were up. By now Being alone on the quiet river seems is more natural that being with people. Another easy paddle day brought me to Manatee Springs State park at RM 25 at 12:30. The whole afternoon for being lazy and a dip in the cool springs. No Manatees this time of year but plenty of tourists! And Hot showers again.
At sundown a small herd of whitetail deer made the rounds of the campsites begging. Campsite was $21.00.
Fri. (day 8, RM 25 to 3.9)
Silently paddle out of Manatee Springs run in the predawn light at 06:45. No storm yesterday or last night, but they could be heard in the distance. Another great day for paddling. The Suwannee is mow a wide river with tall old growth forest and low banks on both sides. Still the sturgeon jump. Gators can be seen more often. Ospreys and kites often. Most of the river banks belong to the National Wildlife Refuge. The boaters that pass seem surprised at the sight of a lone canoer in this neck of the woods.
12:00 the town of Suwannee came in sight and at 12:15 I was tying my canoe to the docks at Andersons Landing, a State River Camp that is operated by Bill's fish camp located next door. Eight bucks got me a campsite with showers for two nights. I decided to leave the last 3.9 river miles for something to do on Saturday since my wife wasn't scheduled to fetch me til Sunday.
Saturday 08 Aug. 09 (day 9, RM 3.9 to 0.0 and back)
07:10 and off on the going tide. Since before dawn thunder and lightning passed nearby to the NW but all clear over Suwannee. I paddled passed Channel marker #19 in the Gulf of Mexico at 08:10. Drifted a while and had a snack while enjoying having completing the trip. A lone paddler in his boat drifting with the tide; one with the universe.
Mad River Independence, solo canoe and double paddle.
$5.00 to put-in at Stephen Foster SP,GA in the Okefenokee and a NWR permit to cross "The Sill" no charge.
State run River Camps are free. State and county parks along the way are $10.00 to $20.00. or camp along the riverside.
see Google or Mapquest
Check water level before trip. The Suwannee River Water Management web site has real time reports. See the Gauge level at White Springs Florida. 77" is flood stage, 60-63' fantastic & fast, 58-55' excellent, 55-53 great & good campsites, 53-52' O.K. but slower, 52-51 shallow.
Best map is from Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD)and is free, call 800-226-1066
also: Suwannee River Wilderness Trail map 800-868-9914
and National Geographic has a map of the river trail
See: SuwanneeRiver.com for info. on outfitters.
See: canoe-suwannee.com for lots of good info.