As Kevin and I began our paddle to Dead Lakes from the launch at Dead Lakes Park near Wewahitchka, Sandy and the rest of our group – sitting on board the pontoon boat – disappeared from sight.
Kevin and I were the only ones to brave, or crazy enough, to go off into the unknown under our own power. It was later in the day than either one of us would usually start a paddling trip.
Location: Dead Lakes Park, Wewahitchka
Lat-Lon: 30.136888, -85.199645 (boat ramp)
Restrooms: near the boat ramp
Bring your own kayak or arrange a trip with Off the Map Expeditions. This is one of Florida’s most unusual paddling destinations. Map and GPS or compass – or expert guide – suggested if you want to fully explore the lakes.
It wasn’t long before we were covering up to protect ourselves from the sun. Kevin in his Buff and baseball cap and me in my trusty Tilley. I had never thought about wearing a Buff while kayaking. Mine is mostly reserved for cooler weather. We had already covered ourselves with sunblock, and I had rolled down my sleeves for all the sun protection I could get.
The paddle along West Arm Creek at this time of the day was without shade. The cypress, willow, and tupelo trees along the waters edge were so thick that they allowed no sight of any shoreline.
With the wind at our back, we enjoyed an easy paddle to Dead Lakes. Matt, our host from Off the Map Expeditions, said that he would come back and check on us in an hour or so. He believed that it would take that long before we reached the semi-open water.
Reaching Dead Lakes much quicker that any of us thought, we stuck to the left side of the “open” water. Again, we could see no shore, just a thick, impenetrable wall of trees with their trunks rising out of the dark water.
I had never paddled in an environment like the Dead Lakes before. It’s a swamp, but then again, it’s not. It’s where the Chipola River broadens as it draws close to the Apalachicola River, and other creeks join in. A dam once held back the waters, which may explain all the dead cypress and snags in the water. Loggers took their toll, too.
The waterways were a maze in every direction. Stands of cypress trees became like small landless islands, in every direction for as far as we could see.
Old license plates and beer cans, nailed to the trunks of cypress trees, became our only channel markers. I normally do not carry a GPS in a kayak, but out there I wished that we had one along.
After an hour of paddling between the stands of cypress trees, seeing only water, willows, tupelo trees, and a couple of turtles, we decided to turn around and see if we could remember our way back.
With a slight wind now in our faces, there would be no coasting. We would get that extra upper body workout. Off in the distance we heard the sound of a motor. Scanning the water, looking between the cypress islands, we searched for its source.
About a quarter-mile ahead of us, the pontoon boat appeared. It quickly went around a bend and was gone. We whistled, shouted, and waved our paddles. It was too late. They were too far away and the rumble of the outboard had drowned out our calls.
Our pace quickened as we watched the trees for the homemade channel markers. Out here on the Dead Lakes, everything begins to look alike. Sometimes it is hard to stay in that main channel. More than once, we took a short cut between the cypress trunks and knees to find a different way back to the channel.
We both breathed sighs of relief as we found our way back into West Arm Creek. It’s hard to judge distance when everything looks the same. More than once we thought the dock was just around that next bend. It wasn’t.
Matt returned with the pontoon boat to find us. He wanted to get us back to shore in time for our tupelo honey tasting, the next stop on our trip.
With the kayaks tied up and skiing behind the boat. Kevin and I enjoyed the shade, camaraderie, and the effortless movement. Our ride was maybe a quarter of a mile back to the dock. We had almost made it back under our own power.