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Trip report: April 2018

Wakulla River... Paddling in Florida's Panhandle

The Wakulla River originates at Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. The first 3 miles within Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park are restricted, tour boats only. The Designated Paddling Trail begins immediately below the State Park at the CR 365 bridge and ends just past the US 98 bridge. Officially listed as 4 miles, we found it to be closer to 3.3 miles. Below the US 98 bridge, it's possible to paddle another 3 miles (the river widens) to the juncture with the St. Marks River at San Marcos De Apalache Historic State Park. Manatee may be seen all year within the State Park and along the trail. (Detailed map and photos below.)

Wakulla River, FL Panhandle paddling

Distance: Officially - 4 mile paddling trail (we believe closer to 3.3). River is 10 miles total, but access is restricted at State Park
Location: Wakulla County (near Crawfordville)
Difficulty: Easy
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: US 98 bridge and CR 365 bridge (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Tallahassee, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, St. Marks Lighthouse, San Marcos De Apalache Historic State Park

Rentals/Outfitters/Tours:

T-n-T Hideaway (rentals, tours)

Ray's Kayaks & Excursions (tours)

Support and Advocacy:

Friends of Wakulla Springs

Wakulla River... Comments and Photos

The paddling trail is a relatively easy paddle, suitable for beginners. Leaving the launch, we paddled under the US 98 bridge and continued upstream. The paddling trail is mostly tree-lined, but wide so the only shade available was close to the shoreline, or between small cypress islands in the upper half. There are many houses along the waterway, but most are set back so you can only see the docks. On this weekday, we encountered just a few motorboats. We are told that the river can get crowded with boaters and tubers on warm weekends and holidays, so plan accordingly. Due to the presence of manatee, the entire trail is a no-wake zone. Tide is a factor on the lower half of the trail.


Wakulla River Paddling Trail

US 98 launch

The launch area has parking, paved boat ramp, grass/sand hand launch, and port-a-pottie. Small launch fee. Outfitter is next door - kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and shuttle service to the CR 365 bridge. We launched from the paved boat ramp, and used the hand launch (next to ramp) for take-out.


 

From US 98 launch to Power Lines

From the boat ramp, we paddled under the US 98 bridge and continued upstream. Many docks and homes leaving the bridge area, upstream the river narrowed slightly and we found more shade.


 

From Power Lines to CR 365 bridge

We saw what looked like a landing at the power lines, but it turned out to be members-only for a local community. There were several small islands through this upper section where we could paddle on either side; we chose the more narrow channels off the main padding trail.

The roadside launch at the CR 365 bridge was blocked by a car and family with kids playing in the water, so we didn't try to land but it appeared to be upgraded with new railings and a port-a-pottie. Just past the CR 365 bridge, a fence clearly identifies the restricted access area (about 3 miles upstream to the main spring).


Wildlife

Turtles were everywhere, plus many birds and a few gators. Normally there are numerous manatee along the river and we probably passed several, but we didn't happen to see any on this day.


Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

The park houses Wakulla Spring, among the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Financier Edward Ball purchased the property in 1934 and developed it as an attraction focused on wildlife preservation and the surrounding habitat. Today, activities include swimming, bird watching, picnicking, hiking, snorkeling, and horseback riding. Glass-bottomed boat tours are given when the water is clear enough, and a River Boat Tour runs daily (see below). Accommodations and dining are available at The Lodge (below). The park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Natural Landmark.


The Lodge

Ball built the Wakulla Springs Lodge in 1937. It offers accommodations in 27 guest rooms. Facilities are available to host special events, and include a dining room, meeting rooms, and a gift shop with a soda fountain that has the longest marble counter top in the world.


River Boat Tour

No boats are allowed on the first three miles of the river from the spring, except the tour boat. We enjoyed the pleasant and educational trip. The highlight was seeing manatee, plus turtles, gators, and birds. The 2-mile tour runs daily and takes about 45 minutes, but the time can vary depending on wildlife seen (our guide was very accommodating, and our tour was almost an hour). Leave from the Waterfront Visitor Center, fee applies.

River Boat Tour

 

Wildlife

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