Remote rivers and spring-fed creeks offer inland adventure
The waterways of Northwest Florida, diverse and wild, course through the region, and offer refreshing, off-the-beach alternatives for those seeking a day of adventure on the water. At the heart of one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, just an hour’s drive from the white-sand beaches, the rivers and creeks, natural and wild, flow through the region and bubble up from natural springs. Throughout this region, which stretches from east of Pensacola westward toward Tallahassee, along Interstate 10 and beyond, these inland waterways offer paddling adventures for those of all skill levels.
Paddlers, whether looking for a leisurely river run or a kayak fishing adventure, find the area to be a dream come true, with its diverse landscapes and wealth of waters. The extensive network of pristine waterways includes the Apalachicola River, Chipola River, Choctawhatchee River, Econfina Creek, Holmes Creek and Ochlockonee River.
Many have discovered the Apalachicola and Choctawhatchee rivers, but the Ochlockonee and Chipola rivers flow here, as well. Lakes, ponds and creeks, like Econfina and Holmes creeks, Apalachicola Bay, Lake Seminole and Merritt’s Mill Pond, add even more diversity. Here are some excellent paddling trail recommendations offered by Paddle Florida, an organization of avid recreational kayakers offering first-hand reports of Florida’s best kayaking and canoeing destinations. Note that many of these trails traverse remote areas, without amenities, so offer an excellent primitive experience. The Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area Paddling Trail System includes 11 numbered paddling trips crossing more than 100 miles of waterway.
- The Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail details a 51-mile trek starting at Florida Caverns State Park. Limestone bluffs and mysterious caves can be seen along the banks of this scenic river, which is fed by 63 springs and also runs through both swamp and hardwood forests. For those looking for a shorter route, there is also a separate 4.5-mile trail through the upper Chipola.
- Holmes Creek flows from near the Alabama state line to the Choctawhatchee River. There is a 34-mile Holmes Creek Paddling Trail, which starts at Burnt Sock Landing and extends to Cedar Tree Landing, on the river. High banks and sandbars are common on the northern section, but the creek opens up for a slower current and easy paddling.
- Ochlockonee River flows from South Georgia to Apalachee Bay and into the Gulf. There are two designated paddling trails, the lower one covering 27 miles and the upper totaling 62. Wind and tides make for varying degrees of difficulty here, when traversing diverse brackish water environments.
- Merritt’s Mill Pond is a crystal-clear spring-fed pond near Marianna, Florida. While it is known more for being a popular spot for springs divers, this 200-acre pond is ideal for canoeing and kayaking, as well.
A full list of paddling destinations, as well as resources for planning a visit, can be found on the Explore Northwest Florida website, which also features descriptions of other area attractions and activities.
If you go
The Northwest Florida region features a variety of campgrounds, parks and wilderness areas that cater to camping enthusiasts. From luxury coastal campgrounds to secluded forest sites, visitors will find a variety of camping options. For a truly off-the-grid experience, there are also primitive camping areas throughout the region. Hotel, motel and vacation rental accommodations are abundant throughout the region, as well.
The small towns of Northwest Florida are where its people and its culture, its heart and its heritage, really shine. Quaint downtown streets and preserved historic districts are filled with local restaurants, one-of-a-kind shops and local produce stands. The online resources at ExploreNWFlorida.com highlight the unique towns of Northwest Florida and area visitor centers are great spots to get travel advice and a dose of small-town Southern hospitality.