Here’s an account of a fairly typical (for us) 3-day kayak touring trip in north Florida on the Suwannee River.
(last updated October, 2016)
Step 1 – Planning
We all had the Friday, Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving off work so we were looking at 3 days and 2 nights out after spending Thursday with family. We also wanted an adventurous trip, to test our gear and skills. But not too adventurous – we were out to enjoy ourselves.
Our group was mostly composed of experienced primitive campers but because of the short daylight hours of winter we decided to made use of the River Camps operated by the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. These camps provide screened platforms for sleeping away from bugs, a large covered pavilion for cooking, toilets and showers, and potable water. We still needed to carry all our sleeping gear, cooking equipment, food, kayaking and personal gear, but we didn’t have to bother with tents, trying to cook and eat in the rain, or filtering water. We finally selected the stretch of the Suwannee from White Springs to Suwannee River State Park to make use of two River Camps. That established, we called the SRWT office and reserved our platforms at the Woods Ferry and Holton Creek River Camps and called a local canoe outfitter – American Canoe Adventures – to arrange our shuttle. We knew we would have a late start on Friday due to the shuttle and wanted to be off the river by around noon on Sunday so we could have a final lunch together at a local restaurant and all be home before it got too dark. Thus our itinerary looked like this:
Friday – meet up in White Springs, FL. Unload kayaks and gear at boat ramp, leaving one person at the boat ramp to watch our gear, drive cars to the outfitter where our cars would be safe until Sunday. Get a ride back to the put-in from the outfitter. Then shove off and make for Woods Ferry River Camp 11.5 miles down river.
Saturday – after an overnight at Woods Ferry, paddle 18.5 miles to Holton Creek River Camp.
Sunday – after an overnight at Holton Creek, paddle 12.5 miles to Suwannee River State Park where our shuttle would pick us up and return us to our cars in White Springs.
Step 2 – Preparation
Late November in Florida is iffy weather. Temperatures in north Florida can run anywhere from 20 to 80 degrees and our forecast confirmed just that. For clothing, we had to be prepared for everything and that means layering. An email went out to everyone covering the concepts of layering and making sure everyone had both warm and cold weather clothing for paddling and in camp.
For paddling this meant:
light sun-protective pants and shirt
waterproof socks and water sandals/neoprene booties/old tennis shoes
waterproof pants and jacket
For camp wear:
dry light pants, socks, shoes, shirt and underwear
warm pants and jacket
warm hat and gloves
waterproof pants and jacket
long john bottoms and top
We also decided that everyone would be responsible for their own lunches, but we would share camp food for dinners and breakfasts. Menus were drawn up with everyone bringing a portion of the required food, trying to keep the weight and bulk of the items approximately equal. We prepared a lot of the food in advance – repackaging, chopping, mixing, etc. – so our trash, cooking equipment/utensils and prep time in camp was limited. We carried a couple of backpacker stoves for heating water for hot drinks, but elected to cook over the grills provided at the River Camps. Since wood can be hard to find in the River Camps we needed charcoal for the grills, so a large bag was purchased and split into smaller 1-gallon zipper-lock plastic bags and each person carried one bag.
Foil dinners – prepared ahead at home and frozen
Salad – prepared ahead at home and stored in plastic bags
Margaritas – premixed at home and carried in plastic bottle
Omelets – eggs broken, carried in a plastic bottle and various ingredients chopped at home
Steak on the grill
Potatoes au gratin
Baked cinnamon rolls (using a Bakepacker on camp stove)
Now you have an idea of why we chose the name 5-STAR YakPak – we like to eat well on our trips!
Aside from individual kayak and camp gear we carried a group first aid kit and two extra paddles. We also exchanged cell phone numbers (sporadic reception was available throughout the trip) and emergency contact info, as well as making sure everyone had the outfitter’s phone number and local emergency contacts and everyone got a map showing the route, camp sites and possible break areas indicated. It was decided ahead of time that if the group got separated we would wait up for the others at those indicated break areas.
Step 3 – The Trip!
We had a great time. The only adjustment we made was the day-time temps warmed up considerably from the long range forecast, so when meeting up with the outfitter Friday morning, we arranged for an ice drop off at a boat ramp we’d be passing on Saturday afternoon. As it turned out, we could have made it without this extra ice, but we felt it prudent since we were carrying a lot of fresh food. The night-time temps were low – around 20 degrees Friday night was our low for the trip – but since everyone had brought warm clothing and sleeping bags, the only time we really felt cold was getting up and going on Saturday morning. If we had made Saturday a shorter day we probably would have lazed around in camp until things warmed up a bit, but we had almost 20 miles to do and wanted to hit the next River Camp before the sun set around 5 pm.
Doing a lot of the meal prep ahead of time worked out well and it was amazing that our email-organization of food and gear resulted in an almost equal distribution of weight and bulk.
Two little things that made life easier: First, since our kayaks were loaded up with lots of little bags which had to be loaded and unloaded daily, a large compressible bag with shoulder straps – such as a mesh duffle or an Ikea-style shopping bag – made it easier to get all our stuff from river to the camp area in one or two trips. (Having such a bag also makes it easier unload for the ride back in the outfitter’s van and to keep your gear organized at home.) Second, because Suwannee River levels fluctuate a great deal, the River Camps are frequently at the top of a long series of steps. While the River Camps provide canoe racks at the top we elected to leave our kayaks at the bottom either on the shore, if there was room, or tied off to the dock/landing. Cockpit covers and bow/stern lines were thus required for the kayaks.
For basic packing techniques, click HERE.