Historic Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail (FL)
Waterways: Gulf of Mexico - south of Tallahassee area to Jena, FL
Length: 105 miles
Sea kayakers have long known of the multi-day expedition possibilities along Florida’s Big Bend Gulf Coast. The area boasts one of the longest and wildest publicly-owned coastal wetlands in the United States, and a striking array of bird and marine life. Flocks of white pelicans often zoom past in winter and great egrets dot marshy expanses, white as snowflakes. Bald eagles and ospreys entertain with their aerial maneuvers, and in the often clear waters, one can spot crabs, fishes, sea turtles, manatees, cannonball jellyfish and small sharks and rays.
You must make your own arrangements for staying at Econfina River State Park (site 1) if the primitive site is not available and at Steinhatchee (site 6). The six remaining primitive campsites require a camping permit and may only be used by paddlers on the Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail. Most of the sites will give paddlers a true flavor of Gulf Coast wilderness. No other camping is allowed on the Big Bend Wildlife Management Area. The primitive campsites have a fire ring, but no bathroom facilities or potable water.
- Site 1: Econfina River State Park.
There is a primitive campsite on the Econfina River on the west bank, 0.4 miles downstream from the public boat ramp. The site is free and requires no permit. If the site is not available, then arrange for camping through the Park Concessionaire at 850-584-2135. Park camping is near the scenic Econfina River with access to showers and bathrooms. There is a fee.
- Site 2: Rock Island.
This is a remote, scenic island of about twenty acres. Camping is on the west side of the island in a small cleared area with a fire ring, partially shaded by live oaks. The island can be buggy in warm weather, especially if standing water is present.
- Site 3: Spring Warrior Creek.
This campsite is nestled along scenic Spring Warrior Creek about a half mile north of the town of Spring Warrior. Campers will enjoy a full view of the river and night sky.
- Site 4: Sponge Point.
Just past Keaton Beach, Sponge Point is an island-like hardwood hammock connected to the mainland only by salt marsh. Camping is in a shaded grove of live oaks. There may be evidence of rooting by feral hogs. Campers should be watchful for prickly pear cactus.
- Site 5: Dallus Creek.
Located in a remote hammock at the mouth of Dallus Creek, one must reach the campsite by walking down a cleared trail through needlerush. Camping is in a grassy area beneath weathered live oaks. Be watchful of rattlesnakes during warm weather.
- Site 6: Steinhatchee.
Camping or overnight lodging must be arranged on your own. You can access motels and marinas that offer lodging or camping in Steinhatchee by logging onto www.steinhatcheetoperry.com or www.purewaterwilderness.com.
- Site 7: Sink Creek.
Camping is in a scenic hardwood hammock along Sink Creek. One can take long hikes behind the campsite along the edge of the marsh and several other hammocks. The area is remote and wild.
- Site 8: Butler Island.
Camping is beneath mature cedars, live oaks and palms near huge shell middens left by early Native Americans. The coontie palm, a protected species, is present, but beware of poison ivy.
The 40-page Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail guide contains detailed maps with GPS points, mileage figures and compass bearings to help you locate campsites and explore this fascinating coastline as well as interpretive information about the rich natural and cultural history of this region. It is printed on durable, water-resistant paper and spiral bound for easy use in a kayak.
As outlined in the guide, the 105-mile trail includes side trips to springs, wild rivers, historical sites, wildlife havens and small coastal towns. Seven designated primitive campsites exclusively for trail users are spaced 10 to 14 miles apart and require permits.
The guide sells for $15.00 (plus tax and shipping) from this website: shop.wildlifeflorida.org/.
Wildlife Foundation of Florida
Big Bend Paddling Trail
P.O. Box 6181
Tallahassee, FL 32314-6181
Official website: http://myfwc.com/RECREATION/WMASites_BigBend_paddling_trail.htm