Best Tropical Paddling
Dozens of clear-water springs and easy navigation make the Santa Fe River a perfect day.
During the hot months, crowds of tubers, divers, and swimmers swarm to northern Florida’s spring-fed streams like mosquitoes to bare skin. But paddle the Santa Fe River in any other season, and you’ll share it mostly with turtles, otters, and the odd alligator. The Santa Fe rises as a swampy, tannic trickle upstream from O’Leno State Park, then plunges underground for 3 miles before emerging at River Rise State Park-suddenly much bigger with an infusion from a local aquifer. From there, the Santa Fe flows past hardwood hammocks and through lush swamps, and both gains and loses water through dozens of 72°F springs and mysterious siphons. Twenty-six miles from River Rise, it merges with the Suwannee River-itself a 207-mile waterway with numerous state campgrounds that allow for overnight trips.
Get there Put in at the US 41 bridge 2 miles northwest of High Springs, FL. Take out at the FL 47 bridge (13 miles) or US 129 bridge (26 miles). Rentals and shuttles: adventureoutpost.net; www.santaferiver.com.
Season Fall through spring
Contact Florida Greenways and Trail Systems, www.dep.state.fl.us/gwt; River Rise State Park, (386) 454-1853, www.floridastateparks.org/riverrise/default.cfm
Larry Rice is a contributing editor to Canoe & Kayak, and has paddled on all seven continents during 30 years of boating.