A pair of rivers on the move but even a novice paddler can negotiate the currents without difficulty
We’re camping at Suwannee River State Park, nestled in quiet woods on a high bluff above the junction of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers.
The small campground — just 30 sites — contributed to the serenity of this hardwood forest on our autumn visit. The occasional distant rumbling of an overnight train did little to disturb the peace.
Promised songbirds, though, were not in evidence. As a designated hub of the Great Florida Birding Trail, we expected more. It’s entirely possible, of course, that we didn’t sit still long enough.
The Kentucky Warbler, northern water thrush and scarlet tanager are known to migrate through here in the fall. We did encounter hundreds of monarch butterflies on their annual transit to Mexico.
Winter brings the American robin, ruby-crowned Kinglet and occasional flocks of rusty blackbird, winter wren, brown creeper and purple finch.
Suwannee River State Park is a waypoint about halfway along the 235-mile Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, but you don’t have to be that adventurous.
There’s plenty of fun to be had paddling near the park.
Go a very short distance upriver on the Suwannee from the boat ramp and you’ll hear a steady splashing on the south bank where the Little Gem Spring spills into the river.
Paddle downriver a short distance to the junction with the Withlacoochee and paddle north towards Georgia.
The high ground along both rivers in the vicinity of the park are protected lands, so you’re guaranteed a quiet, scenic day to explore. The rivers move slow enough to allow you to paddle upriver or down, although I would recommend upriver paddles so you can easily paddle back to the boat ramp.
Keep an eye on water levels. These rivers become inhospitable when heavy rains push levels near flood stage. Check this real-time chart for levels at various points along the Suwannee and Withlachoochee rivers before venturing out, or call (386) 362-6626 for a 24-hour voice recording of river levels provided by the Suwannee River Water Management District.
Shuttle upstream for a lazy downstream paddle
Another option, this one for a full day paddle, sets out from Madison Blue Spring State Park for a 12-mile paddle down the Withlacoochee River to Suwannee River State Park. Madison Blue Spring is a 15-mile drive from Suwannee River State Park.
Just make sure you have another vehicle at Suwannee River SP to recover the shuttle vehicle! :-)
Gainesville-based Paddle Florida has scheduled a 6-day adventure Oct. 19-24, 2018, on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail from Madison Blue Springs to Ivey Memorial Park in Branford. For more details, visit Paddle Florida’s web site.
A private outfitter, Suwannee River Canoe Rental, offers day trips (and overnight trips) as well as shuttle services for campers at Suwannee River State Park. The outpost is located about one mile east of the state park on U.S. 90. For the latest information on rates, trips and tours, call 386-364-4185.
The Suwannee River Wilderness Paddle Trail
Ambitious paddlers should look into extending their trip along the Suwannee, which originates in Georgia’s Okeefenokee Swamp and ambles 235 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico.
A partnership of various state and local agencies have tied together a network of state and county parks, town hubs and campgrounds along the river to encourage ecotourism. (See the links below.)
In addition to campgrounds in five state parks, long-distance paddlers have exclusive use of five developed river camps for overnight stays.
Camping in the river camps is free, and each camp features five screened sleeping platforms, and each platform sleeps up to 8 people, has a ceiling fan and an electrical outlet, hammock hooks for at least 3 hammocks, a small seat and table, a spigot with potable water, a fire ring and a picnic table. Call 800-868-9914 to reserve a river camp site.
For more information on the Wilderness Trail, check out floridastateparks.org/park/Suwannee-River-Wilderness-State-Trail.
Download this excellent Suwannee River Wilderness Trail Guide
Purchase this Suwannee River Guidebook from Amazon for either Kindle or Paperback.
Hiking and Biking
Suwannee River State Park’s trails offer a variety of challenges to cyclists and hikers as they ramble through hardwood canopies, pine and palmetto forests and alongside the bluffs overlooking the Suwannee River.
Paddle over to the north side of the river to the 12.5-mile Big Oak Trail, which is a section of the Florida National Scenic Trail and parallels both the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers, while the Suwannee River Trail (.07 miles) and Balanced Rock Trail (3 miles) allow you to explore the south side of the river.
One of the highlights of the Suwannee River Trail is the Little Gem Spring overlook, which you can also view from your kayak while paddling on the river.
The Lime Sink Run Trail (0.75 miles) runs through bottomland, upland forest, and limestone outcroppings, linking up with the Balanced Rock Trail, and the Sandhill Trail (0.8 miles) wanders through an open, sunny pine forest that leads to Columbus Cemetary – one of the oldest in Florida.
See Confederate earthworks and an old ferry landing on the very short (0.25 mile) Earthworks Trail.
Besides hiking, paddling and camping, visitors to Suwannee River State Park can enjoy swimming and fishing in the river, a boat ramp, a picnic area and a playground.
Camping and Cabins
The park’s 30 campsites accommodate tents or RVs, including three ADA sites. Each campsite has a picnic table, grill, clothesline, 50 amp electric service, water and sewer hook-ups. An accessible restroom with showers is centrally located in the campground. Pets are welcome. Max RV length is 45 feet.
Firewood and ice are available for sale, and it’s recommended that you not bring firewood from outside the immediate vicinity to avoid introduction of non-native insects.
Backpackers can venture out to primitive campsites on the Big Oak and Lime Sink trails.
This park also has five spacious, two-bedroom cabins that sleep six along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. Each has centralized heating and cooling, an electric fireplace, screened porch, kitchenette, and they are fully equipped with linens and kitchen utensils. No TV. No phones.
On weekends and holidays there is a two night minimum stay unless only one night is available between two confirmed reservations.
Two youth camps with restrooms and showers are available for group camping.
Camping fee is $22 per night, half that for Florida seniors, plus tax and a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee per booking. Cabins are $100 per night, no discounts.
The day use area has picnic tables, grills, two picnic shelters overlooking the Suwannee River and a playground. Bench swings for couples above the river.
- Wi-Fi: None
- Cellular: Decent reception.
- TV: Unable to pick up channels over our antenna, and it didn’t look promising for satellite because of the dense tree canopy.
- Suwanee River: Skip the song; but go for kayaking & camping
- Paddle Florida: Kayak trips explore Florida’s best waterways
- Stephen Foster State Park: Glorious river; great cabins, odd old museum