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Latest update: October 2022

Blackwater River... Paddling in Florida's Panhandle

Originating in the Conecuh National Forest in Alabama, as it enters Florida the Blackwater River continues to be protected by 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

Blackwater River Paddling Map

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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 public boat ramp, Johnson's Float Launch, Deaton Bridge (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Blackwater River State Park, Blackwater River State Forest


Blackwater Canoe Rental (rentals, drop-off; kayak, canoe, tube)

 Page Summary:

  1. Paddling on Blackwater River
    - Bryant Bridge Launch
    - State Forest Public Launch
  2. More Launches
    - Cotton Bridge Launch
    - Deaton Bridge Launch
  3. Other Recreational Opportunities
    - Blackwater River State Forest, Bear Lake Recreation Area
    - Blackwater River State Park
  4. More About the Blackwater River
  5. More Information and Resources


Paddling on 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 (generally, past Bryant Bridge) during summer weekends and holidays. Bring water, snacks and sunscreen.

Bryant Bridge Launch, Access Point 4... Upstream and Back

Located along Bryant Bridge Cutoff Rd. in Holt, FL, the launch area at Bryant Bridge includes ample parking, no other amenities. 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.

State Forest Public Launch... Upstream and Back

We went on a weekday to avoid the crowds. We launched from the State Forest public boat ramp off Deaton Bridge Rd. just past the State Park main entrance in Holt, FL. Follow Boat Ramp Rd., a narrow, single-lane road in, about one mile. Limited parking, no other amenities. 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.

More Launches

Cotton Bridge - Access Point 3 (north)

River access is at Cotton Bridge Park, a small county park along Hwy. 4 in Baker, FL. (Note: the gates are locked after dark.) Parking, restrooms, picnic pavilions, playground, outdoor shower. Past the picnic pavilions toward the river, a gate blocks vehicles. Then it's about a 500-foot, unpaved carry to the launch area - bring wheels. This is hand-launch-only from the sandy beach (a large sandbar), which is also popular with locals for swimming. The river here is lightly tea-colored and clear, shallow.

Deaton Bridge - Access Point 6 (south)

The Paddling Trail ends at Deaton Bridge within the State Park at Harold, FL. Paved parking on both sides of the river, the launch/take-out area is at the South Bridge parking area (which is accessed from the east side of the bridge), with picnic and restrooms here. This is a hand-launch from the beach, the landing is popular with waders and serves as a take-out for outfitters (Blackwater Canoe Rental is just up the road). State Park fee applies.

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.

Other Recreational Opportunities

Blackwater River State Forest - Bear Lake Recreation Area

The Blackwater River flows through Blackwater River State Forest, the largest in Florida - Juniper Creek, Coldwater Creek, and Sweetwater Creek also flow through it. Other activities include mountain biking, hiking, camping, horseback riding, and birding. The forest includes a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail, and is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. There are several Recreation Areas within the forest, we stopped at the Bear Lake Recreation Area. Bear Lake was formed by a dam on Bear Creek, activities here include camping (reservations required), paddling, fishing, mountain biking, and picnicking. Parking, restrooms, shower, boat ramp.

More information

Blackwater River State Park

While the Blackwater River flows through Blackwater River State Park the only launch within the park is at Deaton Bridge, and nearby at the public boat ramp in the State Forest just past the Park entrance. The park provides parking, restrooms, camping (30 campsites, reservations required), picnicking, a playground, and 4.5 miles of nature trails for hiking. Swim at the white sand beach along the river. A portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail runs through the park. Wildlife may include deer, bobcat, black bears, turkey, river otter, and beaver. It's part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife rail. State Park fee applies.

More information

More About the 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, these contribute to the tannin color - the river was called "Okalusa" or "water black" by Creek Indians. 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. Wildlife may include alligators, river otter, deer, bobcat, hawks, herons and other birds.

More Information and Resources

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