This was our 11th annual "Dumb but Tough" trip and was 89 miles on the Suwanee River from Griffis Fish Camp above Fargo, GA down to the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park at the Suwanee Canoe Outpost above Live Oak, FL. This was a reunion of one of the original DBT members, Myron, who had been absent the last five years on our trips.
Wayne and I, which both of us have done ten straight years canoe camping trips, left Salemburg, NC on Sunday March 2, and drove the eight hours down to Fargo, GA where we spent the first night at the Suwanee River Outfitter Lodge in Fargo. Not much to look at from the outside but new and clean on the inside. Next day, Monday, we headed to our put in at Griffis Fish Camp, 10 miles north of Fargo on the way to the Okefenokee Swamp Wildlife Refuge and Stephen Foster State Park. The fish camp is a nice private campground with a boat launch on the Suwanee River. The cost is $2 per boat to put in. After the canoes were dropped off with the gear, Wayne headed to the Suwanee Canoe Outpost an hour away, where he was to meet Myron, who was already in Florida. Wayne was leaving his truck and canoe trailer and Myron was to drive Wayne back up to Griffis.
The canoes were loaded and we were off on our journey around 1145. Down river we found a nice piece of high ground to stop for lunch and ran an 8 foot alligator off the high ground where he was sunning. This was the only wildlife we saw on the whole trip other than birds. Later that afternoon after about 7.6 miles we found a nice piece of dry ground on river right in the trees with nice flat dry ground for our first nights camp. That night for supper we grilled steaks and other sides. Today was warm and our last day of sunshine until Saturday.
Next morning we had a nice fire, coffee was made and various things eaten for breakfast, we packed up and headed down the river around 0935. The weather was overcast and cold with an occasional wind gust. We stopped at the railroad bridge near Fargo, GA for a break and then paddled under the Hwy 441 Bridge after 14 miles total of paddling. (All miles will be total from put in.) At this bridge there is a nice boat ramp and the Suwanee River Visitors Center operated by the State Park of GA but closed and a big waste of money as rumor has it they will not reopen. After about 23 miles we found a nice sandbar on river left for our second night's camp around 4 pm. That night was another grill night, I had bbq pork chops and Wayne and Myron had steak. That night Myron had his weather radio and the forecast was rain moving in the night.
Light rain started early that morning around 0345 and on an off all morning was a light rain. We all had a light breakfast of coffee and sweet rolls, packed our tents and gear and left camp at 0930. All day we paddled in light cold rain and reached the Florida state line after a total of miles of 28.6. Where was the sun?? This was supposed to be Florida. After a total of 39.6 miles we found a nice sandbar on river left, unloaded the canoes and started to set up tents. It was then that Myron realized he left his tent poles at the last campsite in a rush to pack up in the rain. Near disaster as Wayne and I each only had a two man tent big enough for one person however Myron had brought a freestanding tarp and quickly set it up to sleep under. That night for supper was our last grill night with steaks and Myron had pork chops. The rain stopped long enough for us to cook. Rain off and on all night.
Woke up to rain and after Myron got up we all sat under his tarp drinking coffee until about 1150. That morning as we sat under the tarp we saw our first human encounter; a man in a racing canoe paddling in the rain up river. Yes up river against the current. He had to be in some type of training as I thought we were the only crazy people on the river. The rain slacked up enough to pack and leave and after another four tenths of a mile, or 40 miles we crossed under Florida Highway CR 6 Bridge where the one paddler left his car. We stopped at a sandbar for lunch and all of us were shivering from the cold so quickly got back on the river.
After padding a total of 50.4 miles we found a place to camp in the woods. Thank goodness no sandbar. If you have ever camped on a sandbar in the rain you know the sand sticks to everything. The rain subsided enough to put our tents and tarp up and proceeded to try and sit around a fire. There was plenty of wood but none of it burned even after squirting a half of can of lighter fluid. Tonight was the night for our shared meals and Myron drew the shortest stick, so that meant he cooked Beef Chow Mein, which tasted great. Rain came down off and on all night.
Next morning I was the first to wake up, with rain so no fire but I did get a corner of Myron's tarp while he was still sleeping and made the coffee. Later the rain stopped enough for us to pack after a light breakfast of coffee and sweet rolls. We packed and left camp and the rain had stopped but still overcast and cloudy and cold. We reached Big Shoals, a set of rapids, Class III, which runs about 100 yards and all maps state "portage required". This was after about 59.1 miles. The portage is on the left where a big stop sign is set up and the portage path is wide with pine straw. We got out checked the rapids, some with four and five foot standing waves, and also where we were going to put back in the river then back to our boats to unload and eat lunch. The dreaded portage began and I ended up dragging my boat through the pine straw and made four or five trips with the gear. What made it worse for me was that Arthur (arthritis) was hanging on both my hips plus the metal bar in my leg. Thanks to Myron as he put a few of my gear in his canoe when he dragged it.
The portage and lunch took anywhere from one and half hour to two hours. When we got back on the river foam was running with the strong current down river and looked like snow on the water. After 63.1 miles we paddled through Little Shoals and after 64.8 miles we found some high ground on river right, narrow but enough for two tents, a tarp, and campfire. This campsite had good firewood and even though we did not have rain it was still a little cold. That night Wayne and I drew sticks to see who would cook. Wayne won or lost however you look at it and did his famous red beans, rice and summer sausage, probably the only thing he can cook according to him but he did this under stress he said. Weather reports that night said it would be clear but down in the mid 30's and it was evident with a clear sky where we saw stars and the moon.
Next morning was clear but cold and the sun was coming up. A fire and coffee was quickly made and I had oatmeal and sweet roll for breakfast. After breakfast we packed and were back on the river at 0911. We were getting close to We came to White Springs, FL and there was a walkway built out at the edge of the river where there were some springs but the river was too high and flowed into the springs so nothing was seen. Off in the distance I heard what sounded like a church bell later Myron told me we were getting close to Stephen Foster State Park and Museum and the bells were from a carillon or bell tower which played Foster's song "Old Folks at Home" (aka Swanee River). The carillon has 97 bells. Here is a good website:
We reached the park at 68.2 miles and found a set of steps near the river we had to maneuver to get out one at a time. We walked around the park and it gave us a chance to dump our garbage in the trash cans. Wayne had said that Foster never saw the Suwanee River and was going to write about the Pee Dee River but thought Suwanee sounded better and wanted a two syllable word therefore Swanee. We left the park and paddled on and reached I-75 highway after 75 miles. We passed Woods Ferry River Camp, I did not take the mileage on this site but here is a link:
They have a ramp on the river and the website has camping places with shower but require reservations. We had paddled 78.9 miles and finally found a campsite on river right. It was a small creek running into the river which we paddled into and found some flat land. No firewood was to be found. The day was hot so we could do without but made a long quiet night. Around 6 pm several canoes passed with people asking if there were any more camp sites down river. How would we know that, we told them this is as far as we made it that day. It was my turn to cook, so the menu was teriyaki noodles with chicken chunks. Myron went up the hill and decided to sleep under the stars that night.
Our last day on the river. Coffee was made with no campfire and breakfast was made. Myron shared some Jimmy Dean precooked link sausages, which all you have to do is heat and brown. They were great. We had about 10 miles to our takeout. We got down the river and passed one couple who had found a campsite and then later the big group that passed up at their campsite. They had found one up a steep hill but there were steps and they were young anyway and could handle it. We finally made the take out at the Suwanee Canoe Outpost at the Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park around noon. Total distance I had for the trip was 89.1 miles. We loaded up the gear on Wayne's truck and left to take Myron back to Griffis, an hour away to get his car.
Water on this trip on the river was high and other than the one alligator the first day all we saw were herons, egrets, osprey, and other birds. We had sun on first day and last two days but overcast and cold rain the rest.
All in all, a great trip despite Myron losing his tent poles, the weather and no other wildlife. At least I can say I did it once and that is all I will do Big Shoals without a group of porters with me.
2 Mad River Solo Guide and 1 Old Town Penobscot Solo 15
A free special use permit was obtained from
Suwanee River Water Management District
Live Oak, FL 32060
Put in was north of Fargo, GA up Hwy 177 for 10 miles toward the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge and was at Griffis Fish Camp.
Maps from SRWMD were helpful and the book Canoeing and Camping the Beautiful Suwanee River by William Logan