Family Week-end on the Suwannee trip report at high water

By Chris Jackson family
 April 29 - May 1, 2005


Just Returned Sunday from our first weekend on the Suwannee River. We had a great time. We were a little wet and a little tired, but with a great feeling of accomplishment.

Three adults and 4 boys were dropped off by Canoe Outpost Friday at Cone Bridge at around lunchtime. The water level was still up (68' at the White Springs gauge), but not enough to cause concern.  Our aluminum canoes was packed down with more gear that the entire Louis and Clark expedition.  High water kept us flowing pretty fast.  Overall the trip we averaged 4 MPH. 

I have seen tannin colored water before, but never like the Suwannee.  The water looked like very dark coffee.  Even water running over the paddle or a log looked black.  I was really rather pretty.

After we had paddled for about an hour we stopped for lunch (peanut butter and jelly burritos). The kids played in the water for a little. We didn't really find any really nice sandbars to play on because of the high water, but kids will make do.  Right off the river was a trail that was underwater and the boys busied themselves finding tadpoles.

Debbie told us we needed to camp at Big Shoals the first night, but because of the water level she didn't know if we would be able to see Big Shoals. She was afraid that we might float right over them.  She gave us a series of landmarks to be looking for and I was also tracking our distance by GPS so as not to miss it. We were a little concerned being our first trip about finding the portage. We made several false stops trying to find the portage. Finally we found the portage right under the big sign that said 'Big Shoals Portage'. I don't know how long the sign had been there, but I made a point to tell Debbie about it when I got back.

As my luck would have it the big campsite above the Shoals that I had been told about was occupied. So we took the next one down and started lugging our gear over the trail. One of the men at the first campsite told me he had been coming to the shoals for 20 years and with the high water they had paddled through the small rapids. So after we unloaded the really important stuff (food, tents) we paddled through the rapids with no trouble at all.  The group at the main campsite had an inflatable kayak that they were using to play in the rapids.

After setting up camp it was time for supper. We cooked steaks, French fries, and dutch oven peach cobbler. The sound of the shoals was very relaxing, until about an hour after dark a several ATVs came riding right by our camp. The riders we nice, but so much for the wilderness experience.  They went down to the next campsite without too much noise.

The next morning was nice and cool. This is my favorite part of the day. We had breakfast of pancakes and bacon. Soon we broke down camp and were on our way. Rain was expected this afternoon or tonight so we wanted to get going early. After paddling for about an hour we see an 8-foot gator on the bank. He never moved just watched us as we floated by taking pictures. I still think he was trying to figure out which one of us would taste the best. A little farther down we saw a glimpse of another gator disappearing into the black water. Right before we got to White Springs we saw another gator sunning on a small log. This gator was less than a foot long. That was three gators in about 3 hours. I had been told the Suwannee didn't have very many gators, maybe we were just lucky.

We stopped at White Springs for lunch. Several people came down from the Stephen Foster Center and spoke with us. One older gentleman was surprised at our gator sightings, saying 'Usually don't see them this far down'.  Soon after some swimming and resting we were on our way again. We knew the rain was coming, but we wanted to get most of the paddling out of the way on Saturday.

We kept pushing, under I-75 and we kept paddling. Past several great campsites and we kept paddling. Past a group of campers that yelled 'you better find a camp site it's about to rain', we kept paddling. Finally we decided we better start looking for a campsite, but my luck had kicked in again and we couldn't find a campsite, but we did find the rain. A good and steady down pour. We stopped at several places, but couldn't find one that would work. Finally we found one just big enough for three tents. We knew we needed to set up the dining fly first then the tents. Well not surprisingly our rain fly leaked, BAD. Thank goodness the tents did not! We ate supper and turned in early and listened to the rain, thunder, and wind.

Next morning we cooked breakfast and started packing up our rain soaked, sandy mess. The weather radio said 30% chance of rain and clearing. I think we got all 30%. As soon as we left the rains started pouring again.  Paddled the remaining 8 miles back to the Outpost. Even with the rain the paddle was very pleasant.  We saw two large ospreys.  This part of the river is very beautiful.  It was amazing to see the damage of the recent flood.  Huge logs would be lodged in the tops of trees.  We saw some dead fish hung in the tops of some branches.  Approximately 15 foot above the river all the leaves had been stripped from the bushes and trees from the rushing water.  We even passed an entire oak tree floating down the river we had seen earlier at camp.

Back at the Outpost a hot shower was waiting.  In total the trip was 38 miles.

Overall the trip was great. I will absolutely do it again. I hope next time the water level will be down so the boys can do more swimming. I also hope next time I will have the brains to stop and set up camp before the rain hits.

                                                                                                                        Chris Jackson