A canoe trip on the Chipola River within the Florida Cavern State Park systems reveals hidden springs and close encounters with Florida wildlife.
The upper Chipola River is an easy out-and-back paddle beginning at the Chipola River Sink boat ramp within Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna. The river’s name comes from the Choctaw Indian language and translates as “sweet water,” and may even refer to the pure waters that pour forth from the river’s 64 documented freshwater springs.
Paddling on the upper Chipola is an upstream journey because a short distance downstream of the boat ramp the river disappears into a submerged cave, re-emerging a 1/4 mile later. The portion of the river that continues downstream follows a man-made cut that was made decades ago in order to allow logs to be floated downstream. The cut has since become clogged with downed trees and is now preserved as wildlife habitat.
Alligators and Freshwater Springs
Upon arriving at the boat ramp visitors will notice several signs displaying historical information about the area and one prominent sign warning of the presence of alligators. For those wishing to explore the river who don’t have their own water craft, canoe rentals are available through the park’s visitor center.
The journey upstream is not too strenuous for the average visitor and they will be rewarded by views of cypress swamps. At the one mile mark the first spring, Crack in the Woods, can be seen as a surface boil on the river followed by the Baltzell Spring group at mile 1.2. This second spring group features a stunning spring run consisting of three spring vents and spectacular views of the aquatic plant life within the run.
Most paddlers turn around at Baltzell Spring and enjoy a leisurely float back downstream. Continuing upstream from the Baltzell Spring group is possible, but it gets more challenging as the river narrows and becomes more congested with overgrowth.
Wildlife on the Upper Chipola River
The river provides a home for all manner of animals including Florida’s infamous alligator. These creatures are usually shy and will avoid human contact, but it’s still a good idea to keep a safe distance from these predators. Other animals that may be spotted along the river and within the park include the Red-shouldered hawk, Great Blue heron, Horned owl, Ibis, River otter and a variety of turtle and fish.
Nearby Destinations and Activities
Although a trip on the upper Chipola normally doesn’t take longer than two or three hours, an early start will allow visitors o explore more of the park. The Blue Hole recreation area has a spring-fed pond which offers a refreshing way to beat the heat when the water clarity allows for swimming. There are also several hiking, biking and equestrian trails to explore as well as a tour through the state’s only show cave.
38 campsites are available at the park allowing visitors to explore other nearby destinations such as Merritt Mill Pond and Jackson Blue Hole, Holmes and Econfina Rivers and Falling Waters State Park. Florida Caverns State Park is located at 3345 Caverns Road in Marianna, Fl. The Chipola River Paddling Trail begins again outside of the park boundary and has 51 navigable miles of river for paddlers to explore.