The Wakulla River

by Lamar Tillery's note: A special thanks to Lamar Tillery for providing us with this adventure, including all the photos. Lamar hails from Florida's panhandle. He's an avid outdoorsman, an amateur radio operator, and a former Army ranger.

Lamar Tillery on the Wakulla River

Trip Information

General description: A 6-mile, 4-hour paddle trip along a spring-fed Florida river.

Starting point: N 30.17621, W 84.24564 Highway 98 Bridge

Ending point: Same


Contact Information:

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park Tel. 850-224-5950, 550 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs, Florida 32327

T-n-T Hideaway, Inc. Tel. 850-925-6412, 6527 Coastal Hwy, Crawfordville, FL.

From limestone sinks near Tallahassee, groundwater trickles down into ever-growing caverns and then emerges at Wakulla Springs. From a 4-acre cataract located deep in the Edward Ball Wakulla State Park, mighty Wakulla Springs pours forth an average of 250 million gallons of water a day.

This usually crystal-clear outflow forms the uppermost reach of the 9-mile-long Wakulla River. The Wakulla winds for three miles inside the State Park before reaching a fence at the Hwy 365 bridge. This fence stretches across the entire river and blocks water access to the park. The Wakulla is thus canoeable from the hwy 365 bridge down to its merger with the St. Marks River. The St. Marks then empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

No trip to the Wakulla is complete without a visit to Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. Park Rangers take tour boats full of visitors on jaunts down the Wakulla in search of alligators, turtles, snakes, vultures, ducks, coots, mullet, catfish, bass and other animals. We found this to be a great help in spotting wildlife during our later canoe trip down the Wakulla.

During periods of low water the springs become crystal clear, and, during midday hours, glass-bottom boat tours take visitors over the mouth of the springs. Mastadon bones and huge catfish are clearly visible on the bottom, 80 feet down!

The local outfitter provides weekend shuttles to the Hwy 365 bridge, but we elected to launch from the outfitter’s location and paddle upstream to the bridge.

The Wakulla exhibits tidal effects for much of its length, keeping the current relatively light until you reach the mile or so nearest the 365 bridge.

Our outfitter advised that the paddle up and float down would take about three hours, but we found that taking pictures of the extensive wildlife and spending a few minutes with the wonderful manatees took us just over four hours. Also, the outfitter noted that it’s possible to time the paddle with the tide, using the rising tide to help you paddle upstream, then the falling tide to bring you back down.

On the morning upstream paddle, we noted abundant wildlife along the river including: alligators, turtles, egret, mullet, sheepshead and, lucky for us, manatees! Two of these gentle air-breathing mammals were swimming just north of the Hwy 98 bridge. Mistaking them for large smooth rocks, we allowed our canoe to drift rather close before one of the manatees broke the surface to take a sluff-sounding breath. The manatees seemed unconcerned by our presence and remained near our canoe for several minutes before heading downstream. During our downstream paddle we were among several canoes and kayaks, and the same manatees were swimming upstream, placid amidst their admirers.

No-see-ums, tiny biting flies, were abundant on the river; insect repellent made our trip a pleasant one.

With our trusty Speedtech handheld depth finder, we tested water depth at various points along the paddle. Average depth during this low-water trip was 6-10 feet. I measured 13 feet at a couple of the deepest points.

A word about polarized lenses: It’s definitely worth the trouble to find a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. Fishermen will tell you that polarized sunglasses are great for seeing down into the water; spotting fish, and the occasional manatee, becomes much easier without the water’s glare blocking your view. Wildlife photographers use polarizing filters over their camera lenses, not only making shots of water dwellers clearer, but providing skies a deeper blue.

Communications isn’t a problem along the Wakulla; cell phone coverage (Alltel) was excellent. Houses and boat docks, while not on every inch of the river, are common.

For GPS aficionados, a geocache is hidden in a cabbage plant on an island in the middle of the Wakulla River. The geocache is small container with a logbook inside.

Within an hours’ drive are several canoeable rivers including the Wacissa, Aucilla, Sopchoppy, Ocklocknee, and the St. Marks. Low water makes sections of some of these rivers impassible, so check with local guides or outfitters before planning your trip.

Copyright 2006 Lamar Tillery
Used with permission