The most unexpected paddling experience in Northwest Florida may be an outing on the Dead Lakes, in Wewahitchka, a community 20 miles inland from Port St. Joe. The freshwater lakes are named for the thousands of hollow cypress stumps that remain after sand bars formed in the Chipola River.
This 6,700-acre body of water is said to be part swamp, part river and part lake. It is definitely pristine Florida wilderness. The hollow stumps are joined by beautiful live cypress and white tupelo trees, along with a host of fish and wildlife. This is the epicenter of the famous tupelo honey harvest—a sweet treat known throughout the region.
The lakes are popular for bass and crappie fishing, but a guided kayak eco-tour offers an up-close experience, which feels like a journey back in time through this amazing ecosystem.
While the tupelo and cypress trees look desolate, towering up from the waters, they host plenty of life. Osprey and eagles nest here, tupelo blossoms flourish, and fish are abundant in the waters below.
Sightings of alligators and wild hogs are not uncommon.
Kayaking here is not for those in search of fast-paced, swift-water trips, but is a dream for birders, photographers and wildlife enthusiasts. The scenery is unmatched in Northwest Florida.
Primitive Trails Plentiful Throughout Northwest Florida
Here are several trail recommendations from Paddle Florida—an organization of avid recreational kayakers offering firsthand reports of Florida’s best kayaking and canoeing destinations.
Because many of these trails traverse remote areas without amenities, they provide an excellent primitive experience.
The Chipola River Designated Paddling Trail is 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 fed by 63 springs. It runs through both swamp and hardwood forests. For those looking for a shorter route, there is 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 the 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 covers 27 miles, and the upper totals 62 miles. Wind and tides make for varying degrees of difficulty here while traversing diverse brackish water environments.
Merritt’s Mill Pond is a crystal-clear, spring-fed pond near Marianna. While well-known as a popular spot for springs divers, this 200-acre pond is ideal for canoeing and kayaking.
The Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area Paddling Trail System offers an online guide that includes 11 numbered paddling trips crossing more than 100 miles of waterways. For details, see www.myfwc.com/recreation/lead/apalachicola-river/paddling.
A full list of paddling destinations, as well as resources for planning a visit, can be found on the Explore Northwest Florida website—www.explorenwflorida.com—which also features descriptions of other area attractions and activities.