Loading your canoe properly has a big impact on maneuverability. Too much weight up front makes it cumbersome to steer, whereas keeping weight low in the canoe will make it less prone to tipping.
Choosing a Trip and Section of River
There are all sorts of itineraries from short trips down the river to long trips. Do you want to stay at River Camps, County parks or camp on the river banks? Check out our Paddle Guide with mileage charts and travel times, rules and regulations and reservation. We have the most extensive and complete set of interactive maps on the net. Don’t paddle right past a spring, check out our Spring Map, great mobile app. Remember, waterproof phone cases are great, but when your phone is waterproof at the bottom of the river you can’t see or find it. I suggest the one on the right.
Once you load your canoe, secure the gear to prevent it from shifting around. This is critical to maintaining stability in rough water and to ensure you won't lose items in the event of a swamping. That said, use quick-release knots, tie-down straps, and bungee cords to make it easy to remove gear. Keep this step as uncomplicated as possible to make emergency maneuvers or multi-day portages straight forward and simple.
It's a matter of fact that water will enter the canoe during a paddle. To keep gear dry, waterproof all items. You can do this two ways. One method is to line regular backpacks and stuff sacks with heavy duty plastic bags, and then pack in your gear. The second is to purchase and store items in heavy-duty, waterproof containers.
While the canoe rests in shallow water and oriented parallel to the shore if possible, the packs are then loaded into the boat. With the stern person carefully steadying the canoe, the bow person (and passenger) enters the boat with the first step on the center line of the canoe and both hands on the gunwales and crouching your body to keep your center of gravity low.
After seating, the bow person takes his paddle and steadies the canoe before the passenger and finally the stern person enter. Trim the canoe when loading the packs (allow for the weight of the stern and bow persons): a) on calm days trim even with the heaviest pack in the middle, b) on windy days a one-inch trim slant is sufficient: going with the waves, load bow heavy and going against the waves, stern heavy (remember: weight opposite where the wind hits). Packs are laid flat to lower their center of gravity and this is true especially on windy days.
With time, you'll learn the carrying capacity of your canoe, but at first, you'll literally have to practice packing it on your lawn. This step might seem overly meticulous, but it's better to test pack your gear on a sunny day in your backyard and trouble shoot your cargo strategy in comfort. Knowing my luck, if I skipped this step, it'd be raining when I pulled the canoe off my car to load it at the start of my camping trip.
Test packing your gear will also get you thinking about how and where you'll want to place items in the canoe. For example, consider the items you want within arm’s reach, such as water, sunscreen, bug repellant and a spare paddle. Also take the time during test packing to ensure you have the proper straps and ropes to tie down gear (something I'll discuss later).
In canoeing, this equates to packing the heavy gear on the bottom and in the center of the vessel. Medium-heavy items can be placed over heavier gear, and lighter items can be placed at the far ends of the canoe. This tactic will keep the canoe balanced and properly trimmed. It's likely you may need to shift some weight around once paddlers are in as well, but for the most part, the strategy of centering the majority of the weight is a common practice.
You should also keep the gear below the gunwales of the canoe or limit their height as much as possible. Loading items upwards will impact your balance and the canoe's center of gravity. It will also provide more surface area for the wind to catch. Both of these two scenarios impact the overall stability and maneuverability of the canoe, which can get dangerous in high winds and rough water.
NOTE:I want to remind you to never use soap, regardless of whether its label features buzzwords such as biodegradable, natural or organic, in the river,
Why? "Biodegradable" actually only means biodegradable in soil and when put in water it can take years to break down! The bacteria required to break it down are only present in the soil.
Another fact is that there are more states now making is illegal to put soaps and cleaners into freshwater.
If you are the only person washing in a cool mountain stream with a bar of organic soap or the only person on your pond washing a boat with a bio-degradable cleanser, that one isolated incident may not have a detectable impact on the quality of the water. However, if everyone recreating nearby washed themselves in the river or cleaned their boat in the pond with biodegradable soap, the water could reduce or lose the ability to breakdown the soaps and cleansers.
Rive Camps: River camps are available for visitors who plan multiple-day paddling trips. Each one is approximately 10 miles from established parks and campgrounds on the river. Each river camp features 5 screened sleeping platforms with electricity and ceiling fans, restrooms and showers and primitive camping sites for tents. Each sleeping platform accommodates 6-8 people. River camps provide a great place to stay for a self-contained river adventure. They even have ceiling fans and lights. I haven't seen them used to much, then all the sudden they are packed, so call ahead and get reservations. Call 1-800-868-9914
NOTE: 24-hour automated phone line voice recording of current river levels (386) 362-6626 (800) 604-2272 (FL only). You can use this web site: http://www.mysuwanneeriver.org/realtime/river-levels.php
The necessity of being able to fit everything in your canoe limits how much stuff you can bring. If you forget something, you’ll have to do without, and bringing inappropriate gear or, food can lead to one uncomfortable trip. Suwannee Adventures has created check list to help with what you need to bring even for the kids. Remember, being able to fit everything in your canoe has limits.
Using a checklist is the best way to start deciding what you need to take on a canoeing trip. I keep a list on my computer, so when I return from a trip I can add an item I wish I would have packed or note ones that I didn't need to use. To start my canoe-camping prep, I print off a copy and add or remove items that are specific to my next route and itinerary. I gave you the choice of printing out the check list in Microsoft word for editing or PDF
A list should include details on the following: camping gear, cooking hardware and fuel, food items with a planned menu for each day, clothes, safety equipment, canoeing gear, and miscellaneous items.
After completing the first draft of your list, go through it and try and remove items that aren't necessities. After all, you'll need to pack all this stuff into a canoe. Most of us have the tendency to over pack, so reducing your gear and traveling light is critical. Now, if you think you successfully trimmed down the list enough, it's time for the next step.
Remember you can only pack so much in a canoe. There are bare bones, do-it-yourself, back to nature, river campers who pack as lightly as possible. Food, shelter and water are kept to bare survival levels for these folks. Most river campers, however, fall somewhere between these two extremes.
Type of shelters
I would say by observation that everybody pretty much use some kind of cover but I would say that riverside camps involve tents. Most people still like a wall between them and whatever is in the dark on the outside.
I have used a lot of tents and never found one I liked. You have to leave the tent flaps up and the door open. Screens do, however, keep most of the bugs at bay. Too often, though, this style of camping makes for hot nights. Breezes can't flow through small screened windows like they can with more open-air setups. So let me suggest using a screened canopy.
Screened canopies have become more popular in the last decade. They allow for less buggy meal times and work especially well for those wanting to sleep in a less restricting environment than inside tent walls. One can certainly catch the night breezes and enjoy the sounds a great deal more in a screened-in canopy.
Tarps are extremely functional as river camp cover. Size of the tarp needed depends on the number of campers sleeping over. I tie the bank side of the tarp to overhanging tree limbs and carry tent poles and guide ropes for the fronts and side of the tarp.
NOTE: I am like most people, can’t go anywhere without my phone. So you think waterproof case. If you capsize or just drop you phone in the river, in the brown water of the Suwannee, you have just lost a peace of your life, at least for me. I use the phone case and lanyard to the far right.
The very first thing, you need to find out the water levels in the river before you go. Is there water where I want to paddle? Sure don't want to carry canoes and gear over rocks. At real low levels you can not canoe the upper Suwannee because of the rocks and you have to carry your canoe over dry patches in the river. Outfitters will not rent at real low levels north of I-10 because of the damages to their boats.
Also note that at various water levels the river looks and feels totally different. At low water the current will be lazy so you will have to work harder but you will find many springs, caves and submerged items (such as ship wrecks and huge cypress trees) in the water that you will never see otherwise. Water levels are very important when it comes to camping on the Suwannee. When the water is too high there are no sandy beaches which means you have to camp up on the bank,
Check out my page on "Understanding water levels" then come back and use this phone number to find out the current water levels on the rivers. 24-hour automated phone line voice recording of current river levels (386) 362-6626 (800) 604-2272 (FL only). You can use this web site also: http://www.mysuwanneeriver.org/realtime/river-levels.php
Suwannee River Management: For questions regarding the accessibility of specific facilities or lands or for information about Special Use Authorizations, please contact the District's Land Management Specialist at (386)-362.1001 or (800)226-1066. Primitive camping is available to canoeists and boaters by river access and to organized groups through the issuance of SUAs. SUAs are free and available from the District.
The Suwannee River meandering some 235 miles from the Okefenokee swamp in Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico and for that reason I have loosely broken the Suwannee up into 3 sections: Stephen C. Foster State Park to Suwannee Springs Launch (Upper Suwannee), Suwannee Springs Launch to Branford (Middle Suwannee) and Branford to the Gulf (Lower Suwannee). We also have a paddle guide for the Santa Fe River.
Each section of the river has its own look and feel, different currents, river banks, different facilities and for that reason I have given each section its own page. The links above are loaded with tips, launch sites, maps and suggested tips dedicated to its own section.
NOTE: If paddling on the weekends, the extremely nice cabins in the State Park “Hubs” of the SRWT require a minimum 2-night stay – not very helpful to people paddling the river. Nor are the Florida State Parks laid out in a way very accommodating for river paddlers.
To stay in any the state parks along the route (except Lafayette Blue Springs) you should plan on tent camping, long walks from the river up to the pay station at the park entrance station and back, then long carries of all your gear from the river to the camping area and back to the river the next morning.
Paddle camping on the Withlacoochee River? Lafayette Blue Springs State Park makes it easy. Make reservation and when you get there Just call 386-594-3667 to check-in. Leave a message if there is no answer. A Ranger will call and arrange to meet you to register and pay camping fees.
Suwannee River State Park has places for paddle campers that's free - across the river from the park to the north side of the Withlacoochee River. The banks a steep but better than the long walk.
River camping provides solitude and interaction with nature and wildlife that simply is not possible with other styles of camping. Camping on the bank of a river or stream is an activity many river rats enjoy during the warm summer months. Almost all will agree that there is no better way to enjoy a river than to spend a night or two under the stars, listening to the sounds of night and gurgle of water as it flows past camp.
However, opinions are as varied as the campers themselves concerning how to camp on a river. The vast majority of paddle campers like to have a lot of the comforts of home in their riverside camps, and it is not unusual to see camps host of their gadgets.
Picking where you want to go may be the hardest part of planning a trip and also can be the most exciting part. DO NOT FORGET TO FILE A TRAVEL PLAN!