Friday, August 28, 2015

Canoeing Florida's Juniper Run

Juniper Springs Recreation Area is located in Florida's Ocala National Forest, 22 miles east of Silver Springs on State Road 40. The Ocala is the only subtropical national forest in our country. Local lore tells of someone trying to use dynamite to kill and collect fish in the spring. This caused the spring to collapse and fill in with boulders and sand, and only a trickle of water remained flowing. In the 1930s, a CCC crew was sent here to clear the rock and sand by hand. They then constructed a concrete and rock pool around the springs, and the recreation area facility was begun.

The canoe launch is just yards from the source, Juniper Spring, just to the right of this photo from the launch platform... 

...and the first several hundred yards are very narrow, as seen in the photo below, until a second spring, Fern Hammock, adds water through its creek. Canoes are available for rental (15' and 17') and the $33.00 rental fee (2015 price) includes pickup at Juniper Wayside Park, about eight miles downstream, and the shuttle back. You have the option of using your own canoe or kayak and then paying just for the shuttle back.

I've done this paddle four times, and the first two times, since it's a designated wilderness area, dozens and dozens of fallen trees were left where they had fallen, making the entire run a gigantic obstacle course. The paddle is advertised as NOT for inexperienced paddlers, for reasons exemplified by this photo. I took a canoe by myself and was constantly negotiating around complex combinations of fallen trees. In addition, the stream constantly twists and turns and has very few sections that run straight for more than 20 feet. Underwater obstacles abound and are often impossible to see until you hit them. I never capsized but did have several close calls, and others who were paddling this day did tip over. It is a very beautiful and interesting trip, but don't let your attention wander! Since then, and following a brush with a hurricane, crews have entered the wilderness and cleared the obstructions, though new storms of course create new downfalls.

This boat below got wedged under the tree trunk and had to try several times to get unstuck. If one panics in a situation like this, you'll no doubt wind up wet, and you might have noticed from these photos, there is virtually NO place to get up on the river bank to get the water out of your canoe so you can shove off again.

As the stream widens, you have more room to maneuver, and the scenery remains majestic the entire run of the river.

Around each frequent bend in the river, the scenery continues to astound your senses. I think by now it's obvious why this is such a popular canoeing venue -- and why I've done it four times!


I saw numerous turtles, a number of deer, and this heron which calmly posed for this photo. The final mile or so leaves the semi-tropical environment and opens up to savanna and marsh as seen here where sandbars become the biggest obstacle to avoid. The literature advertises a dock half-way where you can rest or have lunch, but it was closed due to its unsafe condition. There are very few places to conveniently land since most of the shore is dense vegetation, and the presence of alligators and snakes might make you think twice about going onto shore.

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