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Canoeing and camping

I have enjoyed wilderness canoeing and camping in Florida for over thirty years and recommend it to anyone who wants to get close to nature without much risk, investment, or hard work. Florida is laced with small sleepy rivers that wind through untouched wilderness. My wife and I try to do a five day trip every November and as many smaller trips as we can during the year. Here are some tips and suggestions.

Canoeing is a safe, cheap, and easy way to get close to nature in Florida.

There are three types of trips.

  1. Put in and canoe upstream then return to your car. Go downstream only if you are confident about your ability to paddle against the current on the return leg. This is good for day trips or overnight camping.
  2. Go to a place that rents canoes and gear. They will transport you upstream with your gear or with rented gear. Canoe downstream to your car. Trips range from a few hours to a week.
  3. Go with a group and leave a car at the downstream end to carry drivers back to the rest of the cars at the upstream end. Trips range from a few hours to a week.
In winter there is less heat, less bugs, and less rain. It doesn't get too cold in the woods near the rivers but it is always very damp. Some rivers get crowded on the weekends.

Bring a duraflame log or two. Pieces make good kindling for logs or charcoal briquettes and can be used for a cooking fire if there is no dry wood. You can punch a lot of holes in an empty sterno can then put an egg size piece of duraflame inside. This will burn hotter than sterno for ten or fifteen minutes then go out. The down side is that duraflames are very sooty.

Lash everything into the canoe with bungee cords so all your stuff won't float away if you dump. If it is rainy lash a tarp over the top of it all. Bungee cords are also good for attaching things to trees. If there is likelihood of rain bring a piece of clear plastic big enough to cover the canoe. You can hold it up with the paddles like a tent and wait out the rain without leaving the river; most showers are short.

Use five gallon buckets for gear containers. With boat cushions on top they make good seats and small tables at your camp site. Bring a trowel and roll of toilet paper; after you dig the hole the trowel makes a good holder for the paper. Bring a machete for brush and firewood cutting; it is also good for poking the fire. A corkscrew type dog stake makes a good anchor in sandy banks. Bring good flashlights; you may find yourself canoeing home after dark due to unexpected delays.

Wear a wide brim hat to keep rain and sun off your face and deflect twigs and spider webs if you canoe through brushy areas. Use sunscreen.

Consider removing the seats from your canoe and sitting lower on cushions. This makes the boat more stable and gives a different perspective on the wild life.

The main animals you will see are birds, birds, and more birds. Turtles on logs may be common and sometimes alligators on sand banks. You may also see deer, armadillo, pigs, or otters. Near the springs you can see fish under water. Practice canoeing smoothly and silently to get close to the animals.

There is little danger from animals in Florida. Snakes are rare, bears are extremely rare, alligators are timid although dogs and children are in danger. Raccoons or possums may come after your food or trash. Armadillos are harmless. Don't be surprised by the cows; many rivers wind through pastures. Beware of fire ants and poison ivy.

Florida rivers are full of life and nature; enjoy it at close range.