February 2017 – We drove southwest about an hour and twenty minutes from Jacksonville to the Kirkpatrick Dam Boat Ramp. There was no charge for parking or launching, and we were able to park very close to the sandy canoe launch. There were quite a few people standing around fishing when we arrived (and also when we returned), but as soon as we launched and turned the corner we were alone for awhile.
We took the winding route rather tha n the straight route, hoping for fewer boats. We passed a couple of smaller fishing boats, but we were alone for most of the first half of the trip. When we came out on the main portion of the river, we could see the dam to the left and so we took a right and followed the river for a couple of miles. We pulled over and tied off at a pile of dead trees to eat lunch. We enjoyed a surprise visitor during our lunch, a small alligator that swam up a few yards from us. The river was very quiet and peaceful when we were not around boats, and it was full of life.
We tried a couple of offshoots on our way down the river, mostly as a chance to get away from boats. We had to duck under some fallen trees and paddle through some shallow water at some points, so the chance of meeting boats was fairly slim. We had the chance to see several very large alligators this way, but they all quickly dove into the water about the time we saw them.
This river is a bird-lovers paradise. We saw tons of egrets and herons. We
were followed a couple of miles by a hawk. We saw several osprey and one bald eagle. We also saw a lot of turtles, in addition to the alligators. I have heard that there have been sightings of wild hogs and bears occasionally here, but we didn’t get to see any.
Overall, this was definitely a great paddling experience. The trail is 8.6 miles if you paddle all the way to the St. Johns, but we took so many side trips that we ran out of time. The boating traffic is a bit of a pain on the main part of the river, however, and we had several jetskis pass us at full speed, kicking up several foot waves and pushing us into branches and logs. Early morning or weekdays would probably be best to avoid some of the boaters. We will definitely be back to paddle this river again.