Kayaking in St. Johns River

By Holly Giles | Florida


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Kayaking in St. Johns River

St. Johns River starts as a march in Indian River County and ends up flowing into the Atlantic ocean in Duval County. 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. 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.

See my picks for kayaking!

Paddling off

I needed help carrying my kayak to the water’s edge. The side handles have broken off on both sides. The front handles were the only way to carry it. As a friend helped me down the sandy ramp, the front handle broke off in my hand. Of course.  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. Lisa is a co-worker, and 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.

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 bit 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 main part of the river is brown due to the organic matter of plants decomposing, causing tanins 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.