For our 13th monthly Suwannee Quest paddle, we used the holiday weekend for a 3-day, 2-night paddle. We started at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park and took out at Ivey Memorial Park in the town of Branford We covered 27.3 River Miles or about 31 paddling miles. Our Suwannee Questers have now completed all of the Suwannee River in Florida down to Fowlers Bluff. We hope to finish from Fowlers Bluff to the Gulf of Mexico next month.
For several of the folks on this trip it was their first time camping from their kayaks, so there was a lot of email coordination before the trip and we made things easy by using two of the River Camps. The River Camps along the Suwannee were built by Suwannee River Water Management District on land they own and are administered by Florida State Parks. They are only accessible by boat or hiking trails, no vehicles are allowed. The River Camps include a picnic pavilion with grills for cooking and gathering out of the rain, 5 small screened sleeping platforms, potable water, hot showers, flush toilets, campfire rings and tent sites. Definitely not a primitive camping experience, but a good progression for beginning kayak tourers. The sleeping platforms can be reserved (which I recommend if paddling in a group, on holiday weekends, and during the school Spring Break period) or you can take your chances and just show up.
We met up at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park and unloaded all our boats and equipment there. We then drove all our cars down to the take-out in Branford where we were met by our shuttle van driver at 10 am who returned us to the state park. After final loading and a safety talk we launched onto the river a little before 11 am under leaden skies. The weather report for the day was light rain for several hours and within a few minutes of our launch the rain started. It never poured on us, but it never really let up either and some people with inadequate rain gear got a little chilly. The only way for some to stay warm was to keep paddling, so that’s what we did, not even getting out of our kayaks for lunch.
With the river running high and fast and no real stops, we got to Peacock Slough River Camp around 2:30 in the afternoon. And just before we arrived the rain stopped for the day. So we were able to unload without getting any of our gear wet and spread our wet clothing out to dry.
We had arranged ahead of time for everyone to bring frozen foil dinners for this first night on the river and we cooked them over charcoal in the camp grills. While the charcoal was heating we moved into our platforms, took showers, put on dry clothes, and hung out around the campfire circle. After dinner we bought some wood from Dave, the campground host, and built a nice campfire.
After breakfast in the pavilion we packed up and left Dave the Host and Peacock Slough River camp under gray skies, but our spirits were lifted by the fact that the rain was over for the weekend.
We stopped at a couple of springs, but the Suwannee was so high most of them were flooded and tannic. Just about the time we sighted the old Drew Bridge blue patches started appearing in the sky so we paused for a little break on a sand bank.
Only the larger springs were pumping out enough water to keep the Suwannee at bay and one of the large springs on this stretch is Royal Springs where we stopped for lunch and a couple of brave souls actually went swimming and had fun fishing and jumping off the platform.
After lunch we also paddled a little ways up Suwannee Blue Springs which was running strong.
In the late afternoon sun we arrived at our destination for the night at Adams Tract River Camp only to find the bottom of the steps and banks underwater. This is where the group really pulled together, helping each other to unload and secure their kayaks, since they had to be unloaded one at a time at the steps and then the kayaks carried up to the top or the stairs, pulled up almost vertically under the stairs or left to float in the river for the night.
After all the hard work of unloading everything and getting the kayaks tied down we thoroughly enjoyed the amenities at Adams Tract River Camp (except for the non-functioning sinks and spitting water in the showers) as we settled in for the night. After dinner we all gathered in the picnic pavilion for a while, then around the campfire again. During the night we took a break to walk out into a meadow where the stars were so bright and the light pollution so slight that we could see the Milky Way arching across the sky. We had to lean against a fence to avoid being overcome by this “dizziness in the face of les espace infinis”.
An early start on our last day was rewarded by a magnificent sunrise. After breakfast we bid farewell to Adams Tract by loading each kayak – one at a time – although this time we were a little better and faster at it.
A couple of miles downstream we stopped for a leg-stretch break at Troy Springs State Park. The spring was closed to swimming due to the high water level so we paddled right into the swimming area for our break. The water over the sunken steamboat Madison, which you can usually wade to easily, was about 6 feet deep.
An hour or so later we stopped at Little River Springs County Park for lunch. As no one else was in the park we paddled into the swimming area there as well. “Parking” our kayaks was a little difficult due to the high water, but we managed using the swimming ramp and rock walls. Again, a couple of brave souls managed a swim. While there we also found an entire field of Atamasco Lilies in bloom. We had seen a few plants along the river, but here they covered an area of several acres.
After our lunch break it was only a couple of miles to our take-out at Branford. We ducked into Branford Spring for a paddle through then pulled up at the boat ramp. By 3:30 pm all the happy campers were on their way home after a wonderful weekend of camaraderie, good food, and new skills learned on the Suwannee River.