An Epic Paddle

February 2021

By James Davis, Visit Florida

People have been attracted to the dark waters of Florida’s Suwannee River for centuries. Spanish explorers encountered Timucua Indians in the 1530s who considered the waters a sacred place. The mineral-rich White Sulphur Springs in one of the river’s bends served as neutral, sacred ground for Native American tribes otherwise often at war.

The now-dry spring was said to possess healing powers, and the legend of its curative properties brought travelers to the area, especially when steamboats began traveling down the Suwannee River, essentially creating Florida’s first tourist destination.

These days, visitors can experience the history and natural beauty of the Suwannee River in Florida by plying the waters on any number of scenic paddling day trips or extended journeys of up to 170 miles along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. The river boasts a multitude of deep, crystal-clear springs that churn out millions of gallons of water daily — perfect for spontaneous side adventures on your paddling trip. The waters and surrounding lands provide habitat for a tremendous amount of diverse plant and animal life, making the Suwannee a nature lover’s dream.

Daytrips on the Suwannee

Got a few hours to spare? Get a taste of this majestic waterway on a day paddling trip. White Springs is home to American Canoe Adventures, where you can create a custom trip and catch a shuttle to and from your route. You can also purchase your own watercraft, which might be a good idea, as paddling on the Suwannee River can be habit-forming. Make sure to check out Florida’s only Class-III whitewater — during periods of high water — at Big Shoals State Park, but be prepared to portage this area if you aren’t comfortable in turbulent, fast-moving current. Bring along your camera, sunscreen, a snack, and some water. prepare to get away from it all.

Extended Trips on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail

Be warned. Daytrips on the Suwannee can leave you wanting more time to experience and explore the river. If that’s the case, then set out for the adventure of a lifetime along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, which provides paddlers an extensive network of hubs and river camps along its 170-mile route. Hubs are towns and parks along the route that can be used for resupply or other services needed while on your trip. In between these hubs are river camps complete with raised, screened-in shelters, bathrooms, and showers. Primitive camping spots are also available at these locations.

Before setting out on day or multiday paddling trips, be sure to inform others with a travel plan. The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail has a form to place on the dashboard of your vehicle before setting out on your trip.