The Suwannee River Camps


NOTE:  These videos were made in 2009 with a much lower resolution video camera than I use today.  I had to do some technical gymnastics to save them from the digital dust bin of an old archived blog.  They use an old format that I had to manipulate with software in order for Youtube to upload them. Hopefully they can still be of use if you are investigating the wonderful Suwannee River River Camps.


The Woods Ferry River Camp

Video best viewed in FULL SCREEN mode.

Woods Ferry was our first river camp and only eleven miles downstream from our put-in.  We were in for a pleasant surprise.  We had heard about these river camps and their screened and covered platforms with ceiling fans and electric lights, but we were skeptical.  Everything we had heard about the amenities at the river camps was true, including flush toilets, hot showers, air conditioned bathrooms, outside sinks for washing dishes, facilities that are handicapped accessible, covered pavilions for groups and camp fire circles.  There were two other groups at Woods Ferry with us, using four of the five available platforms.  This was the only camp where we shared the facilities with others.  We were the only campers at the other two river camps we visited.   

The state of Florida has done a wonderful job in creating these river camps.  They are for the most part well designed and luxurious from a paddler’s point of view.  They are free of charge and are spotlessly maintained.  My only concern is that some of the landings are a bit difficult for kayaks.  In one place, the only landing is on stairs that descend into the water.  That being said, kudos to the Florida State Park system and the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail for developing and maintaining such wonderful paddle friendly facilities!

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Holton Creek River Camp

Video best viewed in FULL SCREEN mode.

Holton Creek River Camp is 18.7 miles downstream from Woods Ferry.  It is a lovely paddle through a meandering Suwannee River, with high limestone cliffs on the outside of every turn and glistening white sandbars on the inside.  The landing at Holton Creek is much more welcoming that that at Woods Ferry.  There is a broad beach, somewhat steep, that makes unloading and loading kayaks and securing them for the night, easy.  The camp itself is very similar in layout to Woods Ferry, with all the same amenities.  We had reservations here and found a sign on a platform with our name on it.  As it turned out we were the only residents at Holton Creek that night, as even the campground host was AWOL!  


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River Camp III

Video best viewed in FULL SCREEN mode.

River camp III is my name for a “found” camping area six miles below Suwannee River State Park.  We had reservation at the state park but arrived there so early that we elected to continue paddling and take our chances at finding some place to camp along the river.  This cut six miles off of tomorrows planned twenty-five mile day.  

Much of the river to this point had been unsettled, with very few posted signs to keep folks out.  We hoped to find a sandbar on which to camp, as sandbars are clearly within the river and as such, public property.  However, as we paddled further south, the sandbars disappeared and the very high river banks began to drop.  Eventually we found a spot that looked like it would do; an abandoned boat ramp and picnic area within what appeared to be a state forrest.


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Peacock Slough River Camp

 I was using a back-up video camera in this segment.  It does not pick up sound as well as my primary camera.  Go to “Full Screen” and turn up the sound to hear the monologue.  

 Peacock Slough is the most beautiful of the River Camps we visited.  It is in a lovely spot and has all the amenities any “camper” could want.   It was the last and the best of the river camps we stayed at.  It had a great landing and ample spaces to secure many boats.  The place where the slough reached the river was very pretty.  I stood on the landing and watched the river flow by for quite some time.  The amenities here were the best of the best.  And, once again, there was no charge and we were the only campers in the there.  

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River Camp V - On The Sandbar

Video best viewed in FULL SCREEN mode.

River Camp V was another ”found” or “commando” camp (In the video I call it Camp number two.  It was our second commando camp, but our fifth camp on the river).  I had never camped on a sandbar before and had always liked the idea of doing so.  Now was my chance.  The sandbar was on a wide curve in the river three miles below the town of Branford.  It was made of the finest, whitest sand imaginable and rose fifteen or twenty feet above the river.  It was the only campsite where we were actually on the river.  All the others had been up and back away from the water, usually in the nearby forest.  The view from our campsite was beautiful, peaceful and calming as we sat and gazed down river for a very long time.  It was hot!  Scott and I even dunked ourselves in the cold Suwannee water while keeping a watchful eye for alligators.  


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River Camp VI: Gornto Springs County Park

Gornto Springs County Park was our last camping stop before pulling out at Fanning Springs State Park.

Video best viewed in FULL SCREEN mode.

                The state of Florida has done a wonderful job of integrating existing state, county and town park facilities, with new state river camps and some private facilities in creating this wonderful wilderness trail for paddlers.   But because of the many different governmental and private interests involved, the quality of the facilities can vary considerably.  

            Gornto Springs is an example of a a camp that has deteriorated significantly through neglect, financial problems or other local issues.  The spring is shabby and choked with weeds.  The swimming stairs and platforms are collapsing.  Trash is left on the ground, even with containers nearby.  The bathrooms are dirty and without toilet paper; a necessity in a day use park.  The camping area is at the end of the boat ramp, with ample evidence that boaters had pulled their boats and trucks through the camping area on their way out.  But even with all this (and the catfish fishermen who launched their boat at 1:30 AM and returned at 5 AM), Gornto Springs was a comfortable and friendly place to spend a night.  


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Adams Tract River Camp - The Camp We Bypassed

Peacock Slough River Camp is only ten or twelve miles from Adams Tract, so we bypassed Adams Tract where we had a reservation, on our way to our fifth camp on the sandbar below Branford.  PLEASE NOTE: I call this the last River Camp, but it’s not.  There is at least one more river camp below Fanning Springs.

Video best viewed in FULL SCREEN mode.

All of the river camps are basically the same.  They all have five covered and screened tent platforms, one of which is designed to be handicapped accessible.  Each one has a “primitive” tent camping area with fire pits and picnic tables.  They all have a campfire circle and a covered pavilion for groups.  The toileting and shower facilities vary in size and configuration, but all have flush toilets, hot showers and are air conditioned.  A few have outside sinks for washing dishes.  All have racks to hold many canoes or kayaks.  

Each camp is different however, in the ease of approach from the water.  Peacock Slough was the most user friendly from a kayaker’s point of view.  It had a big flat beach to pull out on and a mat that went from the water to the bottom of the stairs on which you could drag a boat without damaging it.  

Even though somewhat steep and smaller, Holton Creek also had a decent beach for pulling out.  However, boats had to be tied up at night to assure that they wouldn’t do a slow slide back into the river.

Woods Ferry was difficult, with the only pullout next to the stairs, under the ramp leading up to camp.  The area was wet, muddy and slippery.  Our three boats shared the space with five canoes.  It was tight and made unloading and loading the boats difficult.

Adams Tract, however, had no pullout.  We had to exit our boats in the water and tie them up.  If we had stayed, we would have had to nearly empty the boats and carry them up the steps to an out of the way location; an arduous task at best!

At places like Adams Tract and Woods Ferry, some sort of a wooden ramp with the lower end in the water would allow paddlers to exit their boats and pull them to safety easily.  It would also make it much easier for paddlers with limited mobility to exit their boats and use the park facilities, which have been thoughtfully laid out for folks with disabilities.  I hope the Wilderness Trail people are listening because I see the landing and take-outs at some of the trail’s parks as the only flaw in an otherwise exemplary system.  

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 © Don Yackel 2017