Beginning as a blackwater river in the Okefenokee Swamp, the river of musical legend emerges below the sill and flows 240 miles southwest to the Gulf of Mexico to the town of Suwannee. In Florida, the river is joined by Georgia's beautiful blackwater Alapaha and Withlacoochie rivers, before it receives tremendous volumes of clear spring water from underground springs. The Santa Fe River is the last major tributary that enters the Suwannee before it reaches the Gulf. The upper reaches, in the swamp and below the sill, are the best areas for canoeing. A permit, which is required to portage the sill, can be obtained by calling the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.
The river remains isolated and pristine in its upper sections, where canoeists will pass shallow, white sandy banks and forests of baldcypress bearded with Spanish moss, blackgum, sweetbay, magnolia, pine, and palmetto. Wildlife is as abundant as in the refuge.
The Suwannee River begins officially 2 miles north of the boat basin entrance from Stephen C. Foster State Park at the confluence of the East and Middle forks at the northern end of Billys Island. Compulsive canoeists can paddle north then turn around so they can say they started at the beginning, or just turn left out of the boat basin and start down the river for 5 miles to the sill. In a few miles, canoeists reach the River Narrows, which it does, surrounded by a heavily logged area of baldcypress stumps, blackgum, fetterbush, and smilax vines. After winding through the narrow channel, paddlers reach prairie and then the river narrows again, in an area lined with blackgum, before eventually reaching the river sill.
Below the sill, the Suwannee becomes a river and flows 17 miles to Fargo, where there is a public boat ramp and small park. Between the refuge and Fargo, 2 miles below the sill on the eastern bank is Griffis Fish Camp, phone (912) 637-5395, which offers camping and takeout for a fee. From Fargo, the river winds 20 miles through beautiful wilderness, crossing the state line before reaching the next best takeout site at Florida Highway 6.
The Suwannee River is well known due to the songwriting talents of Stephen C. Foster, who also wrote Beautiful Dreamer, Camptown Races, Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair, and My Old Kentucky Home from 1844 to 1864. Swanee River is also known as The Old Folks at Home. He apparently never visited the river he made famous. An alcoholic, he died poor at the age of 38 in the charity ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital.
Suggested Canoe Trips: Stephen C. Foster State Park to Griffis Landing, 8 miles; Stephen C. Foster State Park to Fargo, 20 miles; Fargo to Florida Highway 6, 20 miles.
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