Category Archives: Juniper Creek

Juniper Creek – July 1, 2017

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.

Map of our trip

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.

Small gator

Small gator

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.

Grasses in Juniper Creek

Grasses in clear Juniper Creek

Saltmarsh mallow - Kosteltzkya pentacarpos - a relative of the hibiscus

Saltmarsh mallow – Kosteltzkya pentacarpos – a relative of the hibiscus

Broadleaf arrowhead - Sagittaria latifolia

Broadleaf arrowhead – Sagittaria latifolia

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper - Romalea guttata

Eastern Lubber Grasshopper – Romalea guttata – a voracious garden pest, but quite colorful

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 🙂

Approachng Lake George

Approachng Lake George

Boats rafted up on Lake George at the mouth of Juniper Creek

Boats rafted up on Lake George at the mouth of Juniper Creek

 

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.

Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus - Hibiscus coccineus

Swamp Scarlet Hibiscus – Hibiscus coccineus

Swamp Pink Hibiscus - Hibiscus grandiflorus

Swamp Pink Hibiscus – Hibiscus grandiflorus

Osprey - Pandion haliaetus

Osprey – Pandion haliaetus

Great Blue Heron - Ardea Herodias

Great Blue Heron – Ardea Herodias

Green Heron - Butorides virescens - lift his head features in alarm at something in the water

Green Heron – Butorides virescens – lifting his head feathers in alarm at something in the water

Rattlebox - Crotalaria spp

Rattlebox – Crotalaria spp – a member of the pea family

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.

Cloud reflections on Little Juniper Creek

Cloud reflections near the mouth of Little Juniper Creek

Little Juniper Creek becomes narrow and winding

Little Juniper Creek becomes narrow and winding

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

Buttonbush – Cephalanthus occidentalis

Enjoying Little Juniper Creek

Enjoying Little 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.

Juniper Creek – April 12-19, 2017

The Juniper Creek spring run in the Ocala National Forest has a reputation.  People come from all over the US to canoe and kayak this 7-mile stream and most either love it or hate it.  IMO, the ones who hate it had no idea what they were getting into.  They came expecting a lazy, laid-back float trip on a spring run in warm Florida and when confronted by a narrow, twisting waterway enclosed by low-hanging vegetation with multiple snags above and below the surface and a swift current of cold water, they are confused and disappointed.  But if you know what to expect and just relax and enjoy whatever the creek throws at you, you can have a blast.

We did 3 paddles on Juniper Creek in April,  2 Wednesdays and a Saturday and this blog is a compilation of the 3.

First off, if at all possible, go during the week when far fewer people are out there.  If you must go on a weekend, try to get on the water before 9:30 in the morning.  That may not sound early, but the gate does not open until 8 am, the haul from the unloading zone to the put-in is a long one, all your coolers have to be inspected for disposable containers and alcohol, and you either have to set up your own shuttle or arrange with the concessionaire for a haul back from Juniper Wayside – the take-out.  If you are renting a boat you have to add in some time to view the mandatory film which is supposed to give you an idea of what to expect on the run followed by a brief lesson.  All this can easily take an hour.  But because of all this, folks who arrive with their own boats and have their own shuttle arrangement planned in advance have a huge opportunity to get on the water before the crowds which usually don’t hit the water before 10 or 11 am.  BTW, the concessionaire stops renting at 11:30 and the last shuttle is at 5 pm.  We always try to be on the water by 9:30 at the latest and the 7-mile trip takes us between 4 and 5 hours depending on water flow, how many “overs” we have to negotiate or downed trees we have to force our way through, and how many breaks we take.

After unloading the boats in the parking area, we ran a couple of cars down to the take-out while 2 of our group went through the rental process.  By the time the shuttle car drivers were back our renters were ready and we hauled all the kayaks down to the put-in.   There the campground folks checked all our coolers and we got the okay to put our boats on the water.

At times of low water there is quite a drop at the dock at the put-in.  Teamwork really helped to get all of our kayaks and gear on the water.   And on the first 1/2 mile or so we had trouble staying afloat.  Most of us used the stretch to practice our maneuvering strokes by constantly switching from one side to the other, making use of the deeper water on the outside of the bends.  But at least one got fed up and just walked his kayak through the sand.  It’s best to just take it slow on this section, allowing the current to provide propulsion and using your paddles only steer.  Be careful also that you don’t entangle your paddle in the overhead vegetation which can dump you in the water double-quick.

Teamwork helps at the put-in

Especially at low water, teamwork helps at the put-in

At low water, sometimes walking your kayak is an alternative to trying to stay to the outside bend for water deep enough to float your boat.

At low water, the idea is to keep to the outside of the bends where you will find deeper water.  But there is an alternative, although it is not really approved of …  (Picture courtesy of Terri Zalkin)

The middle third of the creek is deeper and a little wider, but it also has more obstacles both above and below the surface – downed trees to go under or around as well as stumps, some barely below the water’s surface, that are easy to get hung up or spun around on.

An example of the obstacles encountered

An example of the obstacles encountered – low trees, heavy stream-side vegetation, and sharp bends

Paddling under a downed tree

Paddling under a downed tree

Typical Juniper Creek scene.

Typical Juniper Creek scene. The route is between the 2 logs and under the palm tree in the center.

 

But more sun was shining through and we started to see basking turtles, a few wildflowers on the banks and a small gator or two.  And on the first Wednesday we even ran across 2 pair of river otters chasing and eating fish!  On Saturday we also saw a large deer browsing right on the bank.  She just politely watched us as we went by, largely indifferent to our presence.  Perhaps she knew she was in a designated wilderness area and therefore safe from hunting.

Snapping turtle and sleepy gator

Snapping turtle and sleepy gator

North American River Otter

North American River Otter

North American River Otter

North American River Otter

After a second break for lunch at another wide spot with a sandy beach we approached “The Rapids”.  This is a short section of the creek with mildly turbulent water that gives about 10 seconds of WHEEE! factor.  While the groups stopped right at the top, I went down first, beached my kayak, then swam across the stream and anchored myself against the current by backing up against a tree trunk.  After a whistle and wave each person in the group came down about a minute apart so I could get their picture coming through the “white water”.

Big smiles in "The Rapids"

Big smiles in “The Rapids”

Having fun in "The Rapids"

Having fun in “The Rapids”

The final third of the creek is wider and more open although the stream-side vegetation has been growing in steadily since a devastating wildfire several years ago.  Much of the vegetation is Baccharis with pretty white blossoms in the fall that in windy conditions fly through the air like falling snow.  A few wildflowers were also very noticeable amid the greenery.  On this stretch we also saw more basking turtles (mostly Cooters and a couple of Yellow-bellied Sliders) and small gators.

String Lily or Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum)

String Lily or Swamp Lily (Crinum americanum)

Thistle in bloom

Thistle in bloom

Eventually we reached the end of the trip at Juniper Wayside on SR 19 with a few sore muscles but lots of big smiles.

After the paddle and back at Juniper Springs Recreation Area we took a little leg-stretch hike to Fern Hammock – a beautiful boil area in the middle of the campground.  It’s only a 5 minute walk from the parking lot, so be sure to visit while you are there.  But note that a huge tree has fallen onto the Juniper Springs Nature Trail destroying a large section of the boardwalk, so you can’t get to Fern Hammock on the Nature Trail as of this writing.  If you don’t know the campground, get a map at the fee station and have them mark the alternative route which uses several of the campground walking trails.

Fern Hammock Bridge

Fern Hammock Bridge

 

Cooters floating above Fern Hammock spring boils

Cooters floating above Fern Hammock spring boils

 

Little gator - about 5 feet - catching a fish. One snap, a couple of gulps, and it was gone.

Little gator – about 5 feet long – catching a fish in Fern Hammock. One snap, a couple of gulps, and the fish was gone.

 

Juniper Creek – September 21, 2016

A sweet return to Juniper Creek spring run in the Ocala National Forest for the YakPak.  We saw our first hint of fall color of the year in a little Sweet Gum tree near the end and one little gator and a few turtles.

Most of the downed trees have been breached after last month’s tropical storm, but we did find a newly fallen oak tree that took the 4 of us about 3/4 of an hour to work our way through it.  We cleared and broke off what branches we could because we knew there was a canoe coming down after us, but with no real tools we couldn’t do a good job.  Had to get out of the kayaks into waist- to chest-deep water to work the kayaks, then our bodies under and over the trunks and limbs and through the entangling vines.  The Rec Area knows about it and it should be opened up by the weekend, but if you are going out there Thursday or Friday plan on being a little late!

The shallow and twisting upper run.

The shallow and twisting upper run.

Upper section of the run.

Upper section of the run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The middle section generally has more obstacles.

The middle section generally has more obstacles.

And the lower section is wider and more open.

And the lower section is wider and more open.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little gator in the bushes.

Little gator in the bushes.

Just a little bit of fall color at the end.

Just a little bit of fall color at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And now a few pics of us working our way through the tree on the middle section.  While unexpected and tiring and took a lot of team work, it was not dangerous.  We know Juniper Creek very well and kind of expect the unexpected on this creek.  We actually had quite a bit of fun!  Got a little water on the camera lens, tho.

Overview shot of the trees blocking the entire creek.

Overview shot of the trees blocking the entire creek.

Starting to work our way in.

Starting to work our way in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working boat #3 through

Working boat #3 through

Working boat #4 through. (Notice the big smiles.)

Working boat #4 through. (Notice the big smiles.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the boats through, now only 2 people to get over the last trunk and through the underwater grape vines.

All the boats through, now only 2 people to get over the last trunk and through the underwater grape vines.

Last one through is a rotten egg!

Last one through is a rotten egg!