Kayaking / Canoeing
Peace River Canoe Trail
Desoto, Hardee, Polk counties, Florida
Easily covered distances, nice camping spots and more gators than you can shake a paddle at!
by Dana Farnsworth, Outdoor Travels
For one, two or three day canoe/kayaking trips it might be a hard thing to find a more convenient paddle than the Peace River in Florida. Several outfitters willing to shuttle your boats and or rent you one, a nice slow current, pretty scenery, nice camping spots and a wonderful lack of motorized boats all add up to a easy to plan adventure.
Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs is a central point for a lot of trips. Some day trips originate around 13 miles north and end at Pioneer Park. Our two day one night trip began at Pioneer Park and ended - or was supposed to end in Gardner, 23 miles downstream. Different outfitters offer different trips that can vary slightly in beginning and ending options. Even if you have your own boat, hiring an outfitter to shuttle you and your boat from point A to B is a very good and convenient idea.
With our boats loaded up with gear, we met with our outfitter at the Pioneer Park boat ramp for a bit of orientation, a map and directions and tips on camping and our take out spot. Camping is along the right bank only in this area, as the owner of the vast majority of the left bank does not allow camping.
Settling into our boats, it was apparent that this trip wasn't going to be a strenuous paddle; the current easily propelled us along at a leisurely pace that required only a bit of paddling to cruise along. This makes sightseeing and photography a breeze - that is until I drifted into a downed branch while looking through my camera.
Our plan for the day was simple. Start at Pioneer Park and paddle/drift as far as we wanted to until we found a nice camping spot. Our only landmark was and is a privately owned older bridge that "if you see it, you should probably have already found a camping spot, as it's only about two hours from the take out spot. We figured that covering the majority of the trip the first day was a good idea. The only problem is that there really only is the ONE distinctive landmark and no mileage signs or the like to help plan a first-day stopping point. So, we spent the afternoon wondering if we were covering enough ground, er, water.
After drifting and paddling along through some truly pretty scenery, we cam upon, yes you guessed it, the private bridge. We had easily covered the large majority of the trip in easy fashion. There were still a couple hours of daylight when we found a nice campsite - something we almost needed to take advantage of.
True to ODT form, something went wrong. I had ignored every rule of camping, especially the one that states "set up your tent before you leave on your trip". Yep, the shock cord in our tent poles was cooked from summers in my Florida garage. Options: Fix tent or paddle the extra two hours... Hmmm... I haven't been backcountry camping in some time, so damn it, I was going to fix the tent!
After a bit of a struggle, my wife and I erected the tent successfully, cooked a nice dinner, drank some wine and settled into a comfortable night's sleep serenaded by the somewhat unnerving croaking of alligators.
After a bite of breakfast we were off. With instructions to find the Garner Boat ramp that has a sign that "you can't miss" we paddled off into a beautiful placid morning. A popular river for campers, our early start enabled us to have the river to ourselves as we passed other campers, still milling about in a myriad of sites remained landlocked.
What was to happen next is such a crappy display of being a human that I hope the wilderness karma comes back to bite this lying sack of dung on the ass. As we paddled up to the first boat ramp on the right, Kelli and I debated twhat ramp this was, as there was no "obvious sign" as we were instructed to look for. Inquiring as to what the facility was, and where the Gardner Boat ramp was, a woman that could have easily been mistaken for a manatee thought it funny to lie to us and tell us that the ramp we were looking for was "just around the corner". You can see where this goes.... Yes, that was our ramp and no, there were no other ramps for MILES.
After about three solid hours of paddling, we knew something was up. Grudgingly using our cell phone, we placed a call to our outfitter to find out what we already knew - we had passed the ramp about an hour or so ago. We ended up paddling a short distance to the next ramp at Brownville Park.
It's not that we "had to" paddle extra miles, because it was enjoyable - we were upset because someone chose to obviously lie to us and think it funny. While waiting for our rescheduled pick-up to arrive we chatted about all the wildlife we had spotted - more alligators than we could count, deer, a redtail hawk close up, turtles, many king fishers, egrets, tons of turkey buzzards along with a host of other fowl.
The Peace River is an easy to paddle and very enjoyable trip suitable for easy one or two day adventures. My best piece of advise is since there are relatively few landmarks, make certain to have very good descriptions of those landmarks or your trip may be a little longer than planned.
The Peace River Canoe Trail is officially designated as part of Florida’s Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. The Spanish, on a map as early as 1544, called it “Rio de la Paz” --
river of peace. Seminole’s called it Tallackchopo (cow peas) because the river’s banks were covered with wild peas. The Peace River, true to its name, is a serene, slow-moving river
with few signs of civilization. Whether you paddle for a day or a week, the Peace River’s quiet isolation lets you leave big city worries behind. The scars of 19th century phosphate mining of the river banks and bed have been absorbed by the river and lush vegetation. Red-shouldered hawk soar high above
moss-draped cypress trees. Turtles slide into the water as a paddler drifts by. Deer and turkey feed in the palmetto thickets. A black bear may wander to the river’s edge. Wading birds walk along the bank looking for food while keeping an eye on a nearby alligator. Otter play among the willows. Horizontal cabbage palm dip their trunks in the water before curving straight up so the tops clear the surface.
Along its 67 miles, the pale, tea-colored river shows many different faces. Sometimes the river is narrow, passing swiftly between high banks. Around a gentle curve, the river may widen and the current become slow-moving. Past another of the S curves, the river becomes a quiet shallow pond before narrowing again. The Peace River is split by tiny islands and joined by numerous creeks. Sandy beaches and sloping banks provide excellent camping spots. www.floridagreenwaysandtrails.org This publication is provided as a public service by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways & Trails and is intended for general informational purposes only.
1. US 98 Bridge: At Ft. Meade Recreational Park, one mile east of US 17 off of US 98.
2. CR 657 Bridge: From US 17, two miles south of Ft. Meade, take CR 657 (Mt. Pisgah Road) southeast one mile to bridge. (3 miles)
3. CR 664 Bridge: From US 17, .5 mile north of Bowling Green, go one mile on County Line Road to bridge (Paynes Creek Historical Site). (7 miles)
4. CR 664-A Bridge: From US 17 in Bowling Green, take SR 664-A (Lake Branch Road) east two miles to bridge. (2 miles)
5. Lower CR 664-A Bridge: In North Wauchula, go south 1.5 miles on US 17 to Rea Road. Turn right (east) and follow Rea Road to intersection with CR 664-A. Turn left (north) on 664-A and go .5 mile to bridge. (4 miles)
6. Crews Park Boat Ramp: At Wauchula, take SR 64A east to boat ramp. (2 miles)
7. CR 652 Bridge: At Wauchula, take SR 64-A .5 mile east to CR 652. Turn south on SR 652 and continue to bridge. (1 mile)
8. Pioneer Park / Boat Ramp: (Very popular spot for starting two day trips and ending a one day paddle) From Wauchula, head south on US 17 to SR 64 in Zolfo Springs. Turn right (west) on SR 64 and look for park and boat ramp. (1 mile)
9. Gardner Boat Ramp: Take US 17 thirteen miles south of Zolfo Springs. Turn right on River Road, go 1.5 miles to boat ramp. (23 miles)
10. Brownville Park: From Arcadia, take US 17 north approximately four miles to Brownville Street. Take a left (west) and proceed 1.5 miles to entrance. (6 miles)
11. SR 70 Bridge: From US 17 in Arcadia, head west on SR 70 1.5 miles to bridge. (18 miles)