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Trip report: May 2012

Blackwater River... Paddling in Florida's Panhandle

Originating in the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama, as it enters Florida the Blackwater River is protected within the Blackwater River State Forest. With no development or farming on its banks, the river maintains its pristine state - the water is tannin-stained, and typically runs swift, clean and relatively clear. Many sandbars for stretching, picnicking, or camping. The 31-mile Florida Designated Paddling Trail begins at Kennedy Bridge, about 5 miles south of the Alabama Border, and ends at Deaton Bridge in the Blackwater River State Forest. Below Deaton bridge, the river becomes non-navigable for miles. (Detailed map, photos below.)

Paddle Florida Panhandle, Blackwater River, Kayak, Canoe

Distance: 31 mile paddling trail, 56 miles total
Location: Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties (Blackwater River State Forest)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Tidal: No
Launch points: Kennedy Bridge, Peadon Bridge (unimproved), Cotton Bridge, Bryant Bridge, State Forest boat ramp, Deaton Bridge. (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Fort Walton Beach

Rentals/Outfitters/Tours:

Blackwater Joe's  (rentals, shuttle)

Adventures Unlimited  (rentals)

Blackwater Canoe Rental  (rentals)

Bob's Canoes  (rentals)

Blackwater River... Comments and Photos

There are a few deeper sections, but the river generally flows shallow, swift, and wide, with little shade after the first few miles. There may be some obstructions below Kennedy Bridge. Further downstream the river gains water and widens, so that downed trees are usually easily navigated. Caution: heavy rains can cause the river to rise quickly and become dangerous; paddling is discouraged during high water. Tubing is popular; expect large crowds in the lower section during summer weekends and holidays.


Deaton Bridge

The Paddling Trail ends at Deaton Bridge within the State Park. The river is not maintained beyond this point. Less than a mile downstream, a series of log jams make the river non-navigable for many miles. This landing is popular with waders and serves as a take-out for outfitters. Pay State Park entrance fee at pay station.


State Forest Launch... Upstream and Back

We went on a weekday to avoid the crowds. We launched from the State Forest boat ramp past the State Park main entrance. Narrow, single lane road in, with limited parking. Improved ramp, easy on and off. The river is relatively wide here but narrows about 2 miles upstream. The current is swift (compared to Florida streams outside the Panhandle) and paddling upstream is a workout. Downstream, the current carries you quickly; downed logs will keep you alert, but are easily navigated. The water is lightly tea-colored, but clear and the river bottom is visible in most places. Sandbars at almost every bend.


Bryant Branch Launch... Upstream and Back

Wide, gently sloping ramp, easy on and off. Less water here, average depth about two and a half feet. A weekday, so only a few waders and tubers near the bridge. Otherwise, we saw only a couple other paddlers. Upstream, the river runs relatively straight through dense forest for about the first mile, then some wide bends with large sandbars. By about the second mile upstream, the river becomes a series of narrow twists and turns, with a small sandbar every few hundred feet. Our trip was about 3.5 miles upstream and return.


Blackwater River State Park

Activities at Blackwater River State Park include swimming and tubing, fishing, picnicking, a playground, camping, nature trails, and paddling.

More About Blackwater River

A few side creeks are so clear they appear to be springs, but are not. The fine white sand on the sandbars is quartz sand, which also defines some famous beaches along Florida's Gulf coast.

The forest along the riverbank includes pine, red cedar, water oak, and Atlantic white cedars. There is little vegetation in the water; we saw few fish, and no turtles or wading birds. This is a common complaint. The trade off is carefree paddling in cool clean water, mostly swift and shallow over a clean sandy bottom. Plus, countless white quartz sand beaches (sandbars) make stopping and stretching a breeze.

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