Paddling In Search of a Suwanee River Skunk Ape!

Starting early on the Suwanee River

After months of planning to kayak down the Suwanee River the trip finally developed and for three days in December just before Christmas we had an incredible adventure! Rick Ashton, Jay and Jacob Etheridge and I loaded up on Sunday morning before daylight and headed to the river. Upon launching Jake suggested we make an effort to locate a Florida Skunk Ape since the river swamp has been rumored to harbor the beasts. We agreed to keep an eye out and get a photo if at all possible!

Our trip began at White Springs, Florida. We drove two trucks and four kayaks to White Springs boat landing on the Suwanee River and the paddling commenced.

The journey began at the Stephen Foster State Park
The canoe/kayak launch at Stephen Foster State Park
And it begins…

The time was mid-December and the forecast was cold and rainy, perfect for a river trip! The plan on day 1 was to start mid-morning, launch from the White Springs/Stephen Foster State Park landing and paddle downstream to our first stop which was Woods Ferry River Camp approximately 9 miles. Although I have crossed over the river hundreds of time by car I have never been on or in the river. Words alone cannot describe the beauty of the Suwanee River.

Words cannot describe the beauty of this river.

As we began to paddle the beauty of this river became apparent to us. Surrounded by old growth Live Oaks and Cypress trees growing from and thru beautiful limestone formations which lined a large portion of the river.

Much of the river is lined with beautiful limestone formations
Beautiful limestone lines the river bank
Miles of limestone
The different levels of limestone are different shades apparently depicting different times in history when they were formed.
This photo shows the different levels of limestone.

After a short eleven mile paddle we came to our first camp which was the Wood Ferry River Camp. This camp was incredible. We paddled up to the partially submerged tiered dock which allowed us to paddle onto the dock and then step out of the kayaks onto the dock. A kayak/canoe rack was a perfect place to store our boats for the night. The ramp leading from the river up to the camp is long and very well built. The camp provides large wagons and wheelbarrows for campers to haul their gear up the ramp.

Welcome to Woods Ferry River Camp.
The tiered dock allows paddlers to paddle up on the dock and step out of their boat at Woods Ferry.
The river camps are well marked.
This rack system allows paddlers to store their boats in a safe and out of the way place.
The extensive ramp system allows paddlers to walk from the river up to the campground and back. Wagons and wheelbarrows are provided to make hauling supplies easier.
Rick stands in front of one of the cabins. He is calling to report what he believes was a skunk ape sighting!

This pavillion provided a great place to cook and eat out of the weather.
This building housed bathrooms and hot showers which were really nice after a cold day on the river!

After a good night’s sleep in a Wood Ferry River Camp cabin and a hearty Mountain House Meal (Biscuits & Gravy) we continued our journey south down the river. The launch off the submerged tiered dock was flawless and we were on our way! The morning was cold and overcast but the paddle was great! More limestone riverbanks, Cypress Trees and Live Oaks. We passed by several spring and creek runoffs along the sides of the river. Soon we came across a man made limestone structure which I had seen photos of before. This structure was a wall surrounding Suwanee Springs, a mineral spring that had been a tourist attraction since before the Civil War. In fact it is the oldest tourist attraction in Florida. People traveled to the spring from around the Country in search of medicinal cures. We got out and walked around the spring and park area which was also accessible by car. A sign told the history of the spring. When we got back onto the river we paddled up near the wall and the brick opening which allowed the water to pour out into the river. The flow from the spring was very strong and there was no doubt the “mineral” the people were attracted to was sulfer!

The man made lime rock wall surrounding Suwanee Springs.
This brick archway allows the water from the spring to flow into the Suwanee River.

A little further down the river we came across this old abandoned bridge across the river. People were walking on the bridge and it was tagged with graffiti.

Old bridge across the Suwanee River.

As we continued to paddle down the river the sound of good old Interstate 75 reverberated down the river. We heard it long before we saw it and the pre-Christmas traffic was heavy! Rain had begun to fall as we approached and we were very impressed with the huge bridge structure visible from under the bridges.

Rain is falling as we approach the bridges of Interstate 75 over the Suwanee River.
The interstate 75 bridges over the Suwanee River are huge!
Jake, Rick and Jay take shelter from the rain under the bridge. Logs seen in the background were deposited there by high water.
The bridge structures were very impressive and the traffic noise was deafening.

Throughout the three day paddle trip we were treated to numerous springs and creeks that flowed into the Suwanee River. We were told that there are many more springs below the Suwanee River State Park.

This beautiful creek empties into the Suwanee River.
This small waterfall empties into the Suwanee.
This clear running spring fed creek creates a sandbar where it joins the river.

Day two ended as we paddled into the Holton Creek River Camp. Again we were very impressed with the camp accomodations. Although not as elaborate as the Wood Ferry ramp Holton Creek was not as high off the river however the ramp and campground were very nice. A camp host, restrooms and showers, cabins and a cooking pavillion were available.

The beach and stairs leading up to the Holton Creek River Camp.
The screened-in cabins at Holton Creek were very nice!

After arriving at Holton Creek River Camp we showered, had dinner and monitored the weather forecast. Rain began around 1am and was scheduled to last until early afternoon. Temperatures were hovering around 50 degrees. We slept dry inside of the cabins however if we had to wait until 1pm to leave and finish the last 13.4 miles we would be cutting it close to get to the Suwanee River State Park before dark. Leaving in the rain would subject paddlers to the chance of hypothermia. Luckily the rain began to dissipate around 10am which was just the break we were looking for we seized the opportunity, loaded the boats and took off.

Jacob leaves Holton Creek on the last day of the trip.
Rick and Jay are smelling the barn as they head for home on the last day.

Although it was cold and windy the rain held off for the most part until we got to the landing at Suwanee River State Park. Shortly after we arrived the rain became heavier.

The water temperature was warmer than the air which created this fog hanging over the water.
Warm water temperatures created this fog.
Jay paddles thru the fog on the last day of the trip.

Many old growth trees lined the river banks to include Cypress, Live Oak and others. Many trees have high water marks staining their bark from floods past. Many old rope swings could be seen hanging from from trees which reached out over the river. The trees were a very interesting part of the river not to mention the tannins that their leaves create which makes the river a dark tea color.

Crazy root systems reach down to the river water.
Tree roots search for the waters edge.
Crazy roots!

Shortly after 2 o’clock in the afternoon we arrived at the Suwanee River State Park luckily dodging the rain! We loaded the trucks and headed home.

The take out spot which ended our three day trip.

This was an incredible trip which had been in the works for some time. We were fortunate to get it done just before Christmas. Although no Swamp Apes were spotted we will try again, next time starting at Fargo and paddling to White Springs.

Maybe it was the weather, perhaps the Christmas season but for some reason we saw very few people on the river, in fact in 3 days we only saw 1 boat. Few birds were seen to include only 1 Blue Heron and 1 Wild Turkey flying over the river. No animals were seen other than few squirrels. This was strange as the area seems remote and heavily wooded and should be teeming with wildlife.

This trip gave me a chance to try a new cooking system which consisted of an alcohol stove (Spirit Burner) and a Firebox which I mistakenly left at home and had to make do on the camp grills which worked in a pinch. The Spirit Burner worked great and the alcohol created great heat but it burned more fuel that I had anticipated and I burned 12 ounces of HEET in the yellow bottle cooking 4 meals and coffee. The meals consisted of Mountain House breakfasts and dinners (Breakfast Skillet, Biscuits and Gravy, Beef Stew and Pad Thai). I also make Raman Noodles at night before the main course. Lunch consisted of dried mangos, beef jerky and trail mix. I brought several oranges that were eaten by the group as a snack and to prevent scurvey. No vitamin C deficiencies were reported on this trip..

All photos were taken with a GoPro Hero 8 Black camera and edited using a standard IPhoto editing program in a Apple MacBook Pro.

Dave Ferrell