The Chipola River paddling trail starts near Marianna, Fla, and continues 51 miles to the small community of Scott’s Ferry near Florida’s “Dead Lakes”. The upper portion of the river offers high limestone banks and lush hardwood forest; the middle and lower portions open up into a rich floodplain forest. Along the entire length are numerous springs and several shoals including “Look and Tremble” rapids touted as a Class I – II rapid depending on river conditions.
A paddling trip on the Chipola traditionally starts near Florida Caverns State Park at the Hwy 166 Yancey Bridge. A small roadside park on the southwest side of the bridge provides access to the river. In years past paddlers used to be able to travel though Florida Caverns State Park through an old logging canal, but the section within the park has since been closed and preserved as wildlife habitat. Paddlers can still paddle upstream from the park explore the extreme upper Chipola.
Paddling along the Chipola
The waters of the Chipola are often described as having a somewhat greenish hue unlike the vast majority of Florida’s tannin-colored rivers, and the number of springs along the river makes a paddle trip on the Chipola a real treat. There are interesting limestone formations along much of the river and even a cave which locals call “The Oven” where paddlers can pull over and explore. “Look & Tremble” rapids lie just below the SR 274 bridge; stay along the east side of the river during low water to portage if necessary.
There are very few places to pull-up and take a break on the majority of the Chipola due to the limestone banks and even fewer places to camp since much of the banks belongs to private owners. Despite private land ownership there are remarkably few houses along the river leaving much of it in its natural state. Paddlers wishing to paddle the entire Chipola would do best to make arrangements to camp at Florida Caverns State Park, Scott’s Ferry Campground or at Arrowhead Campgrounds near beautiful Merritt Mill Pond.
There are 63 documented springs along the Chipola River basin, 30 of which are above I-10 with the remainder being south of it. Not all of the springs are actually on the river itself, but instead feed it through tributaries such as Dry Creek, Spring Creek and Rocky Creek. With the exception of Jackson Blue Spring, a first magnitude spring in Merritt Mill Pond feeding Spring Creek, most of the Chipola’s springs weigh in at second, third and fourth magnitude springs.
Put-in and Take-out Locations for the Chipola River
The trip can be tackled in phases beginning at Yancey Bridge on Hwy 166 just north of Marianna. From the start location put-in and takeout spots can be found roughly every 10 miles by following S.R. 71 south towards Scott’s Ferry and then taking the following roads to each of the subsequent bridge/landings:
- Yancey Bridge on Hwy 166 @ N30 47.572 W85 13.340
- Magnolia Road Bridge/S.R. 280 @ N30 43.045 W85 12.022
- Peacock Bridge Road/S.R. 278
- S.R. 274 Bridge
- S.R. 20 Bridge
- S.R. 71 Bridge at Scott’s Ferry.
For planning purposes paddlers should be aware that the upper Chipola may have a few portages to deal with. Low water levels may also present a problem in the form of exposed limestone making paddling difficult. Water level information can be found through the U.S.G.S.
This article is copyrighted by Beverly Hill
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