Another member of the Florida Paddling Trails Association and I met up on their Facebook page and planned this nice little 7-mile paddle. Although most folks never realize it, the Juniper Creek run does not end at the Juniper Wayside where the Juniper Springs Recreation Area shuttle picks you up. Juniper Creek continues on down to empty into Lake George and there is also a parallel stream for half of the way called Little Juniper Creek.
For this trip we put in at Juniper Wayside on SR 19, paddled down Juniper Creek to Lake George, turned north and paddled along the lake shore for about half a mile, then turned into Little Juniper Creek for the return to our cars.
The morning trip downstream on Juniper Creek was calm and restful, except for the pretty large gator I scared up just after the start! I was still adjusting my seat in a very narrow section only 2-3 minutes into the trip and didn’t see him until the last minute. He trashed his head at me to let me know that I was too close! But he swam one way and I paddled the other way, so no harm done and it was a good reminder to me to pay attention.
For most of the morning we had Juniper Creek to ourselves. A couple of airboats passed us, headed upstream, but the creek was fairly wide and they were courteous, so except for the noise shattering the natural sounds they were no bother. We saw a couple of little gators in the vegetation lining the banks, an osprey pair wheeling overhead, a few turtles sunning on logs, and lots of Eel grass, Sagittaria, a few Swamp Hibiscus and some Mallow.
We entered Lake George at a shallow spot where many pontoon boats were rafted up for lunch and swimming. The laughter of children drifted to us across the distance. Two words of warning about Lake George which is a wide spot in the St Johns River. Most important for paddlers is that it is quite large and very shallow. That means any bit of wind across the lake can create significant waves. And it can get very windy, especially in the late afternoon. The second thing is that it is loaded with gators, so don’t go swimming with anyone that you can’t out-swim 🙂
More birds and wildflowers greeted us along the shoreline of Lake George as we turned north. We saw Black Vultures and Osprey in the tall trees, hibiscus, mallow and rattlebox in the bushes, a stately Great Blue Heron and a pair of Green Herons – one of whom posed for me on a log.
As we neared the mouth of Little Juniper Creek Cynthia recognized a friend of hers anchored in his pontoon boat. We paddled over and he invited us onto the boat for lunch. From waist deep water it was easy to exit (and easier to get back in than I thought it would be). He had cheese and crackers and peanut butter pretzels, I shared my sliced apples and Cynthia shared her turkey and spinach sandwich so it turned into a nice and unexpected smorgasbord.
After lunch we entered Little Juniper Creek for half of the paddle back – my favorite part of the trip. Little Juniper is narrower than Juniper, starting out fairly wide at the mouth but narrowing to about two paddle widths as it approaches Juniper. At one point there is a long island in the center, so I took the high road and Cynthia took the low road and we met up in Scotland at the end. And it’s too thick overhead at the east end for airboats which was a blessing we realized as soon as we came back out into Juniper Creek.
It was only 1.5 miles back to Juniper Wyaside but it really was spoiled by the constant parade of airboats. Again, all but one – a young man probably trying to impress the girlfriend clinging to him – were courteous, slowing to idle speed (which the whole river is signed as idle speed/minimum wake but they don’t seem to pay any attention to it) as soon as they saw us. But the way was so narrow, the noise so loud, the wake was still appreciable (especially after the two passes by the young man and his girl) and the wind and spray from their prop wash was so bad that it certainly put a damper on the end of the trip. And of course no gators, turtles or birds were left to be seen while crushed vegetation followed in their wake. Not to mention the area just south of Juniper Wayside where they raft up and play music that can be heard even over the sound of their engines. I really don’t understand why Juniper Creek and Little Juniper Creek can not be declared a motor free zone. There are hundreds of other little creeks off Lake George in the area that are available to motorboats to explore and party.
So if you want to enjoy this beautiful little trip my advice is to get out very early (there is no gate at Juniper Wayside, you can launch as early as you like) so you are off the river by 11 am when the airboats start showing up or do it only during the week or the winter when.