Kayaking in St. Johns River

By Holly Giles | Florida


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Kayaking in St. Johns River

St. Johns River starts as a marsh in Indian River County and ends up flowing into the Atlantic ocean in Duval County. I have spent many years on a boat enjoying this river. My great-grandparents used to fish in this river too. As a native Floridian, I grab any chance to get out into the real Florida nature. I joined up on a kayaking adventure with Volusia County. Explore Volusia is a program where people can sign up for outings outdoors around the county. Today was kayaking in St. Johns River near Blue Spring State Park. Blue Springs is a great spot to put in your kayak. A public boat ramp is past the spring entrance at the end of the road.

There were sixteen of us on the trip. I went by myself, but I knew several people leading the outing. These days I push myself to get outside when there isn’t a friend or boy to go with me. I love joining in on these group activities that give me a chance to do what I love.

I loaded my kayak in the back of my husband’s truck and headed to the ramp. Learning to do these adventures on my own is essential for me. If I don’t have anyone to enjoy the outing with, I want to be able to sign up for group events by myself—self-sufficiency matters.

What is special about the St. Johns river?

The St. Johns river flows north and is the longest river in Florida. It spans over 310 miles. There are only two rivers in the world that flow north. The Nile is the other one. The elevation changes slowly at about one inch per mile totaling 30 feet. It is considered a lazy river. The army corps of engineers dredged many winding twists and turns to allow for more barge traffic to make the journey.

What makes it special to me is that my family has been running this river for over a hundred years. My great-grandfather fished here and down the genealogical line to my sons running the river in their john boats. It holds a special place in my history. My husband and I spent most of our dates before we were married on this river and the Wekiva river.

See my picks for kayaking!

Getting the kayak to the water

I borrowed my husband’s big, burly, loud diesel truck to get my kayak to the landing. Blending in doesn’t work well when you show up in that thing. Next, I wanted to be able to get the kayak to the water by myself. The side handles broke off my kayak last month, making it impossible to carry it alone. I brought my wheel cart, which I disliked, to get the kayak to the water.

I strapped the wheel cart under the kayak and got it out of the truck without much fanfare. However, the wheels locked up in the sand. Basically, I was dragging the kayak by the front handle, creating ruts in the sand, and doing more work for myself than asking for help!

Trey, the leader of Explore Volusia, saw my disaster and offered to help. We ditched the wheel cart and grabbed the kayak by the front and back handles. Just as we headed to the water, the front strap I had a hold of broke off. It never fails. I make a fool of myself whenever I try to slip into the crowd without being noticed.

Paddling off

Everyone got into their kayaks, and we pushed off. Our leader asked us to gather down at the springhead at the Blue Spring entrance. I waited for Lisa; she was the sweep for this outing. A sweep is the last person to bring up the rear and ensure no one is left behind (like me). Lisa is a co-worker and my sidekick for many adventures. I was glad she was assigned to kayaking in St. Johns.

kayak snake creek

Are there alligators in the St. Johns River?

Yes, alligators are common on the St. Johns river. You can see alligators over 12 feet in length in many river areas. They can live many years in these waters because of state and county lands encompassing long river stretches. We saw several on our trip sunning in the beautiful weather. Am I afraid of alligators? No. I grew up swimming in rivers and lakes here in Florida. I am afraid that people don’t respect wildlife and feed alligators. This is what causes trouble.

Manatee country

Our leader shared the numbers this season of the manatee count. It was around seven hundred. We are still in the manatee season, but the weather is warmer than usual. We did not see any manatee on our paddle. Many turtles and alligators were sunning on the banks.

See also – Family nature walk

Snake Creek

The goal was to cross the open river and head up Snake creek—a smaller scenic creek with beautiful cypress trees and natural wonders. Unfortunately, the creek was clogged with water hyacinth, and we could not go far. Instead, we crossed the logging canals and headed into Dead creek. We could only go a little up Dead creek before we hit a clog. We did have to turn around and go back out into the river.

Spraying for hyacinths begins in the summer. Since the hurricanes from last year and our high water levels, the rivers have been hard to navigate at times.

Why is St. Johns River water brown?

There is a distinct difference in water color when you are at the mouth of Blue Spring. The spring stays clear due to the force of the water pushing out into the river. The water in the central part of the river is brown due to the organic matter of plants decomposing, causing tannins to develop, which is that dark tea color in the water. It is not harmful to swim in the river.

Florida’s Natural beauty

It did not matter to me that we had to try a few different routes. I enjoyed every moment. Being out in nature to me is therapy. It was a nice day to be out on the water and enjoy watching wildlife at every turn. Paddling is great exercise, and being with a friend is even better. There were several Great Blue Herons, Little Blue herons, and an eagle in a nest. Being surrounded by woods and water is a great way to spend a morning.

Outdoors Woman

I became a Florida Master Naturalist a few years ago. It was a year-long journey. I enjoyed every class and took steps each time to be braver. I had to travel alone to class destinations and do things outside my comfort zone. Maybe being in my fifties has prompted me to let go and do what I enjoy, even if I don’t have someone to do it with. My husband is an outdoor guy but isn’t available for many activities I would like to do.

I encourage you to find time and opportunity to be brave, get outside and do out-of-the-ordinary activities that will bring you joy. You will make friends along the way. At least you will find someone to help you get your kayak to the water.



About the Author

Holly Giles is a wife, mother, and storyteller. As an author and Florida Master Naturalist, she writes about heritage homemaking skills, motherhood, and why Florida offers the best hidden natural gems to explore as a family.