Canoeing and/or kayaking down the Suwannee River is a big past time in the north Florida area. We get visitors from all over the state and we have even met some people from up north who participate in organized trips almost every year. October and November are usually pretty great months to paddle down the Suwannee as there is little rain, the river hasn’t dropped to dangerously low levels yet and the bugs are not biting quite as bad with the cooler evenings. Granted, almost every outdoor activity in Florida is better during the late fall and early winter months. And since we are surrounding on three sides by water and have an abundance of rivers in our state canoeing and kayaking is a very popular activity all over and all year long.
My mom and I haven’t tried to canoe or kayak yet but since we have volunteered at two river camps and a state park right on the Suwannee River we have met and talked with quite a few people who do. And really, if you would like to see a fascinating part of the Florida natural environment then paddling down a river will give you that and a lot more. You can see parts of Florida that are only accessible to people in small boats. That means no cars and in a lot of cases no hikers either. Today’s kayak can hold your camping equipment and gear so that you can pull off into a river camp, state park, public boat launch or even a sandbar and spend the night enjoying the sights and sounds of nature. We do suggest that you always travel with bug repellent, seal all your food in plastic containers, and bring lots of bottled water or those little capsule things to make the water safe to drink. We have lots of springs running into the Suwannee and each of the river camps and state parks have potable water. You might even want to bring one of those pull around hammocks that are a combination of hammock and screen to keep you off the ground and those pesky bugs off while you sleep. A tent or tarp is also helpful in keeping the rain off.
Quite a few of the canoers and kayakers we have spoken to use an outfitter service to rent their canoes and kayaks. We have met the employees and owners of three of those listed on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail Outfitters Guide. The SRWT outfitters listing is a couple of years old and probably hasn’t been updated in a while. We suggest that you contact each of them individually to ensure that they are still in business and what their current lists of services and prices are. These are generally local residents who know the river and the area well and can guide you on the equipment and supplies you will need, the current conditions along the river and how long it will take you to get where you are going. A lot of people just go for a day or two trip and a very few will even go from Fargo, Georgia (where the Suwannee River begins) all the way down to the town of Suwannee, Florida (where the Suwannee River flows into the Gulf of Mexico). No matter how long a trip you would like to try or where you would like to start from there will be an outfitter who can assist you along the way.
Generally, the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail (part of the Florida State Park system), the Suwannee River Water Management District and the Florida Wildlife Management Department have tried to provide areas for the canoers and kayakers to be able to camp on public land every 10 miles along the river. You can download a map of each of these areas from the SRWT website. The Florida State Parks will charge for camping, the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail’s river camps are currently FREE to canoers/kayakers to camp and the other areas try to provide dry primitive camping areas along the river. Some paddlers just find a sandbar to spend the night on and there are some private businesses along the river that will allow you to camp for a fee as well. But if you want to have a stress-free, paddling and camping experience, and have the money to pay for it each of the outfitters can provide you with all the equipment, supplies and cooked meals for your trip, have your campsites set up each night with those supplies and meals, including firewood and ice, and pick you up at the end of your trip and take you back to where you parked your cars. These full-service planned trips seem to be well worth the price as everyone we have talked to said that all they had to do was paddle down the river and enjoy themselves.
Below are the three companies we have dealt with during our volunteer stays at Adams Tract River Camp, Woods Ferry River Camp and Big Shoals State Park.
2142 NE CR 400
Mayo, FL 32066
Our first experience with Canoe/Kayak Outfitters was at Adams Tract River Camp last year. There we met the owners of Canoe Suwannee (a.k.a. American Canoe Adventures 2). The couple were extremely nice and offered a full range of canoe/kayak adventures in the Dowling Park, Mayo and Branford areas along the Suwannee River.
American Canoe Adventures
10610 Bridge St
White Springs, Fl 32096
We have met the owners and a couple of employees of ACA at Woods Ferry River Camp and now at Big Shoals State Park. They offer a wide range of services to canoers and kayakers within certain mile radius of their office located right in downtown White Springs. (ha, ha) They all seem to be very nice people with reasonable rates for their services. One evening they even went to pick up a couple of young kayakers who decided, on the spur of the moment, to kayak the rapids here at Big Shoals but didn’t realize they would have to portage back into the park about 2 miles to get back to their car.
Suwannee Canoe Outpost
2461 95th Drive
Live Oak, FL 32060
We have met two of the employees with Suwannee Canoe Outpost while we were volunteering at Woods Ferry River Camp and now Big Shoals State Park. They bring canoer/kayakers to the various canoe launches within a certain mile radius of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, where their offices are located, rent them equipment and pick them up again when they are done. Both are very nice people who try to help their customers get the best canoe/kayak experience as they can. One of them, Graham, has written a paddling guide that you might want to pick up and read:
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