I had never been on the Santa Fe before, so I was not sure what the river would be like. The folks at Rum 138 Outfitters were great, taking the time to match us up to the right boat. Many of of our group choose tandem kayaks, a few went in canoes, and the rest of us went in single kayaks.
My choice was between a nice touring, or a comfortable recreational kayak. After being told that the current was so strong, that we could probably make the run with very few paddle strokes. I picked the recreational boat, while Cody, our friend from the tourism bureau, took the other.
A recreational kayak is little wider, making it more stable, and it has a much larger opening. You do not have to squeeze into the cockpit of one. Once inside there is plenty of leg room. When paddling a boat like these, I tend to lean back in the seat and prop my feet up on top of the boat.
As we entered the water, the current began our slow push down river. We drifted under a bridge and some old bridge piers. The river was wide and beautiful and we shared it with a few homes and several fisherman.
Our outfitter had told us to expect mostly dark water until we reached the springs. He said before all the recent rains, the river was the clearest that it had been in a very long time.
Turtles sunned themselves on every available log and snag. Many logs were completely covered in turtles, with no room for others. It is good to see so many of them. I like it when the turtles outnumber the paddlers.
The river twisted and turned with few signs of people along most of the way. In some places, small cabins sat high on the bluffs. Every once and a while a rope swing hung from a tree.
Time went quickly and with very limited paddling we arrived at Poe Springs, our lunch stop. This county park was filled with families enjoying the day and the cool spring waters. Kids waded in the water while the smell of burgers on the grill filled the air.
After lunch, we left the clear spring water and continued our journey. I was padding with Cody and he was keeping a lookout for a little spring. Although it is almost hidden from view he spotted it, and we joined a few others near the tiny entrance. The spring is to small for any boat to enter, but a small group of us was able to tuck in our canoes and kayaks for a closer look. A family was already there, enjoying their “secret spot”. After a nice visit with friendly folks, they told us to tell the world about paddling the beautiful Santa Fe, but please do not tell them how to find this hidden spring. All that I am going tell you is that there are over fifty springs along the river. Keep your eyes open, and maybe you will find this one.
Our takeout point was on Rum Island. The story goes like this: the island is in the river between Columbia County and and Gilchrist County. Back during Prohibition, neither of the county sheriffs paid it much attention. With clear spring water and a still, local commerce was born. Welcome to Rum Island. The still may be gone, but the locals still are enjoying the location.
We passed the island for a side trip, a visit to Gilchrist Blue Springs. It is a privately-owned spring with a raised boardwalk running from the river to the spring. As long as you stay in the water, it is okay to paddle in for a quick look. The spring is roped off. It is an amazing spring and would be worth a visit when there is time to spend the day there.
Ours was a short trip, only four miles. The outfitter was right. You could have done the entire trip with very little paddling if you had the time. Their base camp is just down the road. We made a call to let them know we were there and the picked us up in a matter of minutes.
If you have all day, the Santa Fe River continues an additional six miles, where you will pass other larger springs into you reach the final take-out before it merges with the Suwannee.