We prefer spending more time on water than shuttling from put-in to take-out in our car. Tate’s Hell lets one camp in one site and paddle any number of rivers suitable for a variety of skill levels with or without shuttles. Shuttle distances are not long. (http://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/27522/521772/TatesHellSF.pdf )
Womack Creek, forinstance, provides either a downstream paddle from Nick’s Road campsite (a short about 5 miles by car or bike) to Womack Creek campground — about 4 miles — or a usually easy upstream and back paddle for 8. Crooked river at Loop camp site is about 2 miles from Womack Creek landing, depending on which road one takes.
We have paddled almost all of Tate’s Hell rivers and creeks and will be writing reports on each as we revisit them. Other paddling reports for those planning to paddle the Panhandle and are looking for paddling places is The Green Wave Forum. For the past year and a half the number of reports have slowed down on that site , but the historic reports will still give you put-in and take-out locations (but not current paddle conditions).
We have written reports about the New River from FH 22 east of Sumatra to Tate’s Hell New River campsite 7. From Camp Site 7 downstream, the river is usually open all year round and generally clear of debris because it is also use by jon boats. Jon boat fishermen are usually very considerate of paddlers. These are usually local folks who are out to anchor at their favorite fishing spots and will not be traversing the rivers at great speed. We have gotten good information on good paddling spots from these fishermen.
The New River from camp site 7 downstream is subject to tides and is much wider than the upstream. There are a few on river campsites on both river right and left. Beyond Gully Branch (with several sites, vault toilets, and a constant water source which is not potable), Pope’s Place is a good take-out place on the east side of the river. Downstream of Gully Branch the river widens and will be more influenced by adverse winds. Surrounding land is upland mainly pine forests, but there are stands of Atlantic White Cedar and deciduous trees along the river. During hunting season, this area is hunted.
Whiskey George and Deep Creek have also been reported on. These are on the west side of Tate’s Hell, closer to Hway 65 and Eastpoint. We have not yet camped in any of the west-side sites. We had reserved Pidcock Road campsite in January, but didn’t show because of predicted temperatures in the high teens. Deep Creek has a campsite right on river, but access to that campsite by river may be difficult when Deep Creek is low. Like all Tate’s Hell campsites on water, all are reachable by car. These sites have no water, toilet facilities but have a fire pit and picnic table and possibly a stand-up grill.
Cash Creek is another paddling spot on the west side and just a short drive off hway 65 with a covered picnic area and vault toilets. It is estuarine for about 1 mile upstream and we do not recommend it during the summer unless you are a heat-lover. Upstream beyond that the creek narrows and has a mix of hardwood and swamp brush and will provide shade. There are large alligators on that creek if you want to get a photo of them — they are skittish of humans, as they should be, and will splash into the water first chance they know you are there. Unless you want to photograph them, we suggest you occasionally tap your boat with your paddle before you go around a turn to warn the sunning alligators around the corner that you are there — a surprised alligator, particularly a large one, can create a big splash and can startle you. This is good advice to give to fledgling paddlers in your group.
For those who want to do a multi-day paddle, one can paddle from Log Cabin campsite on the northeast corner of Tate’s Hell on the Ocklockonee River to Womack Creek campground for lunch (or rest stop, flush toilets) to the Crooked River on river right (about 2 miles downstream of Womack Creek landing) to Loop campsite or Rock Landing (about 3.5 miles from Loop Campsite with 3 campsites and vault toilet). The next overnight might be Campsite 2 or 1 on the opposite side of the Crooked River and the final day go under the Hway 67 bridge (which may require a portage across hway 67 if the river is running very high) to Pope’s Place (upriver New River) or to Trout Creek (landing not too far from confluence with New) which is about a mile below Pope’s Place. You can camp at Pope’s Place also. You can also paddle upstream to Gully Branch (with vault toilet and campsites) to any of the campsites on the New River. Or, you can take any segment for a shorter overnight paddle. Unless indicated, all campsites are primitive (no water, no toilet facilities, usually a standing grill, fire pit and picnic table.)
On the east and middle campsites there is quiet from motorized noises, except the occasional boat motor. This is not a military maneuvering area and commercial airplanes are too high to let their sounds intrude on your nature moments. There may be a civilian small plane or two, but rarely. We heard more jet sounds at Voyageur’s National Park in Minnesota than we do in Tate’s Hell. On the west side of Tate’s Hell, around 10:30am and 2:30pm military jets do maneuvers in the Apalachicola National Forest and the sounds carry over.
There are any number of creeks one can explore from the following campsites: Womack Creek campground (Womack Creek 8 miles up and back); between Loop campsite and Rock Landing (Brandy Creek, about 1-1.5 miles down and back); west of Rock Landing (two branches, one less than half a mile west — a short, small creek with shrubs and brushes under canopies of larger mixed swamp trees — and further west about a mile west of Rock Landing, Tom Hahn Creek with 2 branches — the one on the left larger and twice as long –1.1 to .5 miles one way), off hway 67 west (Pine-log creek, depending on tide 1/2 to 1 mile one way, small creek, lots of wildlife and birds and for such a small creek lots of flowering plants.)
Tate’s Hell has only one hiking trail off hway 98 (coastal road), the Coastal trail which runs just east of Eastpoint and west of Carrabelle with two parking areas. It has beautiful stands of lush native lavender lupine which usually bloom in April. Watch out for pygmy rattlesnakes on the path — they like to sun there. Birds seem to like that trail, also.
There are any number of sand packed roads for bicycling in Tate’s Hell, particularly between Hway 65 and 67. In this section, some of the roads have been filled with gravel at the low spots to allow for natural water flow and after several days of rain may have as much as a foot or more of water coursing from one side to the other. Tate’s Hell is being restored to its historic role as watershed of the Apalachicola River, that is, unless other uses which impact the land adversely are allowed.
A week’s family or friends’ nature-based outing? You betcha!