Category Archives: Paddling

For paddlers: Tate’s Hell State Forest, camp guide

It is possible, if one is not adverse to going upriver, to do a half circle from the Ochlockonee River to Crooked River to Carrabelle River and end up on one of the campsites on the New River (or the reverse), camping along the way. This will take you through the deciduous lowlands, estuary/swamps and upper pineland areas of the second largest Florida state forest. Except at Womack Creek campground, there are no showers available. At Rock Landing Day Use Area on the Crooked River and Gully Branch Day Use Area vault toilets are available. However, consider this primitive camping all the way and bring your own water. You may be able to filter water at Womack Creek Campground and Gully Branch Campground where water is available, but not potable. We recommend you bring your own water for drinking and cooking.

The best time to be paddling and camping in Tate’s Hell is from mid-October through mid-May. After May some areas will have yellow flies, which, unlike mosquitoes and other flying insects, will follow you on the water and even enter your cockpit. Yellow flies are particularly bad in the summer at Gully Branch Recreation Area and Log Cabin Campground.

Here is a list of the paddling venues in Tate’s Hell State Forest and the campsites which may be accessible to paddlers. For specific camp site information, search by Campsite number of name on this site.

Ochlockonee River

  • Log cabin Campground *: Campsite #23 has the easiest access and is used by paddlers on the Ochlockonee as an overnight or a rest/lunch stop. Campsite 24 has access to the river, but better when the river is high or the tide is incoming. Campsite 25 and 26 have no easy access to the Ochlockonee, use campsite 23 access.
  • Womack Creek Campground/Day Use Area, CS #29-CS #40 *: There is gravel landing used by motorized boats and paddlers. There are tent and 3 RV/tent campsites here with 3 sites with electricity. Womack Creek Campground is the only campground in Tate’s Hell with showers. Campers from other sites, can use the showers by paying $2 day use fee. Water not potable, sulphurous.

Crooked River is affected by tides from Ochlockonee Bay to the east and the Gulf of Mexico via Carrabelle to the west. It goes under the CR 67 bridge and, at high water periods, may require portage across CR 67. There are a few short branches of this river which can be explored.

  • CS 28, Loop road, easy access
  • Rock Landing Campground/Day Use Area, campsite 41-43*:
  • Rock Landing has a concrete boat ramp, vault toilet, covered picnic tables. You will have to carry your boats to the landing. There is a grassy area on either side of the concrete ramp.
  • Crooked River #44, has a gravel landing used also by motorized boats. There is a grassy parking area for trailer parking. CS#45 is accessible to the Crooked River, but there is a drop when the water is low (or the tide is outgoing).
  • Sunday Rollaway, #46, good sandy landing.
  • Oxbow #47 a sloping, sandy hill, but there is sufficient flat sandy area near the water to be able to take-out horizontal to the land.
  • Warren Bluff #48, good sandy landing.

New River: the upper stretch from CS #1 to CS #17 can be a challenging paddle due to treefalls, strainers, smilax and may not be entirely navigable from April through the early winter. Where access is available on the New River campsites, care should be taken when the river is low, there are deep drops and one could loose one’s initial footing with the downriver current and get in over one’s leg stretch.

  • Sumatra, CS 1, generally easy unless the river is low, sharp drop into river
  • New River West, CS 3, accessible, but steep drop when water is low
  • Gully Branch tent only, CS 4, use Gully Branch Day Use area (will have to carry your boat there), concrete-sectioned landing used by motorized boats also. Vault toilet.
  • Dew Drop, CS 5, no easy access to river.
  • Parker Place CS 8, good access, watch sharp drop when water is low or tide is out.
  • Pope Place CS 9, good access
  • New River East, CS 13, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 14, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 15, yes with caution when water is low
  • New River East, CS 16, yes, use creek to access north of campsite and carry-up boats to camp level (incoming tide will fill up creek; if boat left in creek, should be tied loosely to accommodate rise in water level.)
  • New River East, CS 17, yes. one of the best camping sites for 8 tents if paddling the upper New River since the shuttle from FR 22 will take longer than most shuttles and you may not be able to get into the river till about 2.5 hours after meet-up.

Borrow Pits: CS 6 is on one borrow pit and close to another, CS 7 is on a different borrow pit, both ponds are small and suitable for children and beginners, easy access. There are fish in the borrow pits.

  • Borrow Pit CS 6, very large site, grassy, great for families because of the flat space available for children (and adults) to play games like bocce, croquet, football, soccer, petanque, etc. Road around the borrow pit enables short walks. Good visibility for easier surveillance of children. However, it is off West River Road and may have some traffic on that road.
  • Borrow Pit CS 7, is more isolated and less trafficked, but has similar characteristics as Barrow Pit CS 6.

Cash Creek on the west side of Tate’s Hell SF is off SR 65 and has access to the estuaries which will take one to other creeks and the Apalachicola River. Cash Creek upriver has about 12 miles of paddling options.

  • Cash Creek Campground/Day Use Area: concrete landing with sandy section for kayaks and canoes. Vault toilet, covered picnic table. CS 55, 56, 57 (walk in), are small, open sites suitable for 1 RV/trailer or tent. This is a popular motorized boat landing to launch boats down into the estuaries and the Apalachicola river.
  • Pidcock Road, CS 49, very nice high campsite over Cash Creek, but may be difficult to access boats into water, with possibility when the tide is in. Can accommodate 8 small tents.

Whiskey George Creek is part of the estuarine creeks which empty eventually into the Apalachicola River or East Bay of the Apalachicola River.

  • Dry Bridge, CS 51, has an accessible, grass on mud landing which is slippery when wet.

Doyle Creek is part of the estuarine/swamp creeks which empty eventually into the Apalachicola River or East Bay of the Apalachicola River.

  • Doyle Creek, CS 52, difficult access to water, muddy.

Deep Creek joins Graham Creek downriver which joins East River (to river right) to the Apalachicola River. It is navigable to Graham only when the water is high. When the water is very high, the campsite dry area is severely diminished.

  • Deep Creek CS 53, very secluded, cozy campsite, which when the water is high may have a section of the site under water. Good access to water, upstream and downstream to Graham Creek.

Womack Creek is a 3.75 mile creek (with additional shorter branches) which connects Womack Creek Campground landing to Nick’s Road campsite. For us, it’s a gem of a creek with flowering shrubs and understory plants. We have a separate blog site just on this creek http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com, A Paddler’s Guide to the Flowering Plants of Womack Creek.

  • Nick’s Road CS 27, is a secluded, large campsite with easy paddle access on Womack Creek. Upcreek there are branches to explore (a family of otters live there) and downcreek there are additional branches to explore. There is hardly any upriver current, but tides influence the level of the creek waters. It is 3.75 miles downriver to Womack Creek Campground.
  • Womack Creek Campground/Day Use Area, CS #29-CS#40. This Day Use Area has a covered pavilion with 2 grills for day use users. $2 per person day user fee. Flush toilets, hot showers. No potable water. This is a good place to put-in for a round-trip on Womack Creek of not quite 8 miles. See http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com , Paddler’s Guide to the Blooming Plants of Womack Creek for information on living things on Womack creek.

*The maximum number of adults allowable per site is 8, but many of the sites are suitable for group camping/paddling. These are indicated with an asterisk. If you are organizing a group camp/paddle, consult with Bin Wan, Recreation Coordinator Talquin District, Florida Forestry. He may be able able to help with planning and site selection. When using sites with strictly primitive camping, you may wish to consider rental of a portable toilet or bring several portable toilets with disposable, biodegradable toilet sacks.

CS 13 – New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest

Reserve this site at Reserve America, CS 13, New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest, Juniper Creek section. When you get to this campsite, locate closest point you can get cell coverage. If you call 911, use 2900 New River Campsite #13 Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest, GPD 29.97152, -84.72610. First responders will not be able to located you just by campsite number. Reserve America will not include this information with your confirmation.

The entry is long, ensuring you privacy.

The primary campsite is small for the New River campsites, but a flat, grassy area allows for camping away from the river.

Unless the tenter has a good air mattress, these roots may make for an uncomfortable sleep.

But there are options are this site.

Even at low water levels it seems possible to enter into and return from the river in a canoe or kayak.

The view upriver, and below that the view downriver.

Only during early spring, golden clubs blooming in the ditch along the site.

CS 17 – New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest



Reserve this site at Reserve America, campsite 17, Tates Hell State Forest, Juniper Creek section. When you arrive here, find the closest area you can get cell coverage. If you call 911 give 3650 New River Campsite #17 Road, GPS 30.00983, -84.75582, as your address. First responders will not know how to reach you with just a campsite number. Reserve America does not include this information in your confirmation.

This is our favorite site in Tate’s Hell — we love paddling the upper New River, doing it up and back without shuttle. Except for the late winter, early spring months, the river is not fully navigable, but going up and back means we don’t have to drag the kayaks over shallow areas with insufficient water which might happen if we paddle downriver only. It can be a challenging 9.5 mile paddle: tree falls across the river, strainers and fast currents can make for surprises which can tax even experienced paddlers. It’s aggravating to find oneself being pricked or entangled by green briers which seem to be the most persistent vine on this part of the river. There is no close road access for about 9 miles of this section of the river.

Once a year, we organize a paddle when the full river should be navigable, starting at FR 22 east of Sumatra. If we do the whole river to Pope Place, we camp here with the group, which we did in 2018. Photo from that trip is posted in a previous post. This year we plan to end the trip at this campsite, making it a shorter 1 day trip.

This site easily holds 8 single person small tents with enough room to spare for a canopy. For tent campers there are fewer exposed tree roots on this site than other sites on the New River.

There is a fire pit which is to the left of the picnic table.

The launching area is one of the best of the Tate’s Hell SF campsites. One has a choice of a grassy/sandy flume (unlike the Dry Bridge Creek flume which is muddy) or a wider access to a lower section of the campsite which allows for several boats to be launched at the same time.

The river was low when we were there, usually the water will come up part to where the first set of cypress knees (on left) , making for easy access.

This is how the site looks from the river when the water is low.

Clearly, the flume cannot be used when the water is this low.

Note, that although the tidal current is not too noticeable this far up the river, the incoming tide will raise the water levels. Boats should be always secure if not brought up to the campsite.

This site flooded when a group of paddlers were camping here years ago. The river rises and falls much more rapidly than one would expect and the lowest tenter was the first to raise the alarm after everyone had fallen asleep. All tents had to be moved to the entry road.

This and many of the sites along the New River are leased during hunting season.

The upper river view is shown first, then the lower river view.

When we organize a group paddle for camping here, we rent a portable toilet. It is too difficult for individual holes to be dug here because of the tree roots. When camping with a family, a single large pit dug ahead of time with dirt troweled lightly after each use, is possible.

ON CAMPING IN TATE’S HELL STATE FOREST

We are thankful that we have Tate’s Hell State Forest to give us wilderness camping experiences within an easy auto drive/or auto-paddle access from our home. We understand, not everyone camps, and not everyone who camps likes primitive camping. Wilderness campers chose to be “inconvenienced” — to make do with what they bring, away from electronics, away from the conveniences of modern life.

However, even we can start complaining — it seems like an antidote to discomfort from phasing in from comforts of home to challenges at campside, particularly if one forgot some “indispensable” item which proves later to be not so indispensable after all.

Before you start complaining after getting to a campsite, or before someone in your party starts on a long, discomforting wail of what the site does not offer, know this.

This was once a pine plantation. A very large plantation. You will see remnants of that pine operation in the channels which have been cut to drain water and the numerous roads which seem to lead nowhere.

The state acquired it under our legacy program, Florida Forever, to restore lands which are necessary to keep the ecological balance of our state in spite of, and because of, growth.

Tate’s Hell State Forest is an essential natural watershed for both the Ochlockonee and Apalachicola Rivers. The younger among you will have been schooled in the importance of watersheds to our national waterways; you may have to get used to the concept — it’s important if we want clean water.

State lands acquired for restoration and conservation are managed by various public agencies. Every 10 years the managing agency has to prepare a 10 year master plan for the property for which they are responsible. Some of the agencies are Florida State Parks, Florida Forestry Services, the various water management districts, counties and municipalities and state preservation agencies.

In the case of forestry, the principle set by the Legislature is that these lands must be self-sustaining. Like the National Forest systems, logging and sale of wood is an important part of the financial self-sufficiency of the forests.

In Tate’s Hell State Forest, until last September, the chief forester (the person in charge of managing the timberlands, of negotiating which parcels are to be harvested, and enforcing the terms of the contract) was David Morse. David was awarded State Forester of the Year in 2017. As well he should be.

Under David’s management, you saw no clear-cutting of woods, but only small sections which have been harvested. A U of Florida forestry graduate (and before that a navy veteran), David practiced sustainable forestry. But there is always a bottom line: once acquired for restoration, forest lands must still pay the cost of ongoing maintenance and restoration of lands.

For those who pass burned out forests, these are set purposely as part of the forest management. By periodically mimicking the natural burns which occur with lightening, the forest undergrowth is cleared and major devastating fires are avoided. When you see what seems to be unsightly burns, consider that this mimics lightening fires, except we set it, to again, try to restore the land. These burn crews can also include volunteers who have been trained and certified. Volunteers are essential to maintaining a predictable level of maintenance of most state agencies. Those interested in being trained to help with managed burns should contact the Lake Talquin regional office (which includes Tate’s Hell SF) of Florida Forestry Services, Department of Agriculture (850 681-5950).

We have come to prefer state and national forestry for camping to get away from multi-story cities, traffic, noise and a mechanically-fast paced world. Because we are not the primary focus of land management (e.g. to provide recreational “experiences”), forestry lands offers more wilderness than we get camping in state parks, where waking up in our 2 person tent only to face the walls of huge RV’s on either side of our site had become too common an experience.

Tate’s Hell State Forest campsites usually sit alone and are big. Your nearest camping neighbor may be miles away from you. The exceptions are Womack Creek campground with 12 sites; Cash creek with 3 sites, Log Cabin Creek with 4 sites, Rock Landing with 3 sites, Borrow Pit with 2 sites, and OHV (off highway vehicles) campground with 3 sites. There are 57 campsites in that second largest of Florida’s state forests.

While congregate sites may have vault toilets and Womack Creek Campground has hot showers and flush toilets, most of the sites are primitive: no water, no toilets. (Womack Creek’s restroom facilities may soon close because the banks along the Ochlockonee River are eroding and now about 1 foot away from the foundation of the building.)

Tate’s Hell’s roads sit just above the water table. When it rains, it puddles or worse. Since the natural drainage is being restored, concrete culverts have been removed and low lying areas are covered with gravel to allow for freer flow of water. For a passenger car, encountering what seems to be a ford, check before driving in. It is always wise to call the Tate’s Hell Office in Carrabelle before you arrive to inquire about road conditions leading to your camp site and request alternate routes to the site if the usual way is under water.

You may need to detour — if the natural drainage area seems a lot deeper than you feel comfortable, detour. There are depth markers, but one thing about markers in a system going natural — things change. At one time the markers may have been in the deepest part of that road, but over time that section changed. Don’t rely on the depth markers, if you’re not sure. Get out of the car and test the deepest part of the drainage field. One of the great things about this forest: there is hardly any traffic. You’ll have to walk several miles depending on where you are stranded to get help (cell signals may be weak or non-existent).

And isn’t this what getting into the wilderness means? You are not guaranteed convenience. You’re on your own.

Also, don’t trust all road signs. Signs have been taken or pranksters have turned signs such that some are pointing the wrong way. Again, financial resources cannot be put toward our convenience by replacing signs which would sooner than not be vandalized again.

Eventually, we’re hoping to post coordinates of the critical turn points, but it’s not on our list of priorities right not. Don’t rely on Google for directions on unpaved roads.

It gets more adventuresome doesn’t it? We heard about reports from a paddling group from Missouri we led on the New River from CS 17 to Gully Branch Road. Word was they thought getting to the put-in was more hazardous than paddling the river. Maybe it was the sand; all the roads were passable with a few puddles.

Most of you would question the craziness of anyone who would eschew convenience and shrug off discomfort as a great experience. There are so few places like this in the eastern US (the Apalachians are one, the Adirondacks). Having this forest near us is a gift. Camping here may require more challenges than in the state parks, but it also brings more rewards.

You can respond loudly to the barred owls from your tent as they call to each other at night; there is no curfew to quell your voice. And except in the campgrounds, you have no camping neighbors who can hear you. There is only nature’s night sounds. The only lights are the ones you produce. (If you’ve in a camper, you’ll miss some of this.) And the rhythm of your day becomes more attuned to the natural rhythm around you. It does, indeed, restore your soul.

If you’re not up to the wonders and inconveniences of the natural world, try the state parks.

But first, particularly if you have young children, try it. Young children are very adaptable and see in the natural setting more possibilities than adults do. Start with the campgrounds in the forests where there are vault toilets or bring along a portable toilet if in a primitive camp site (this seems to be a major deterrent to older children, fastidious spouses and maybe you). And you know, with young kids, when they start balking, get them excited again — show them the infinite possibilities of nature.

We have paddled and camped 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces. We appreciate what we have in North Florida each time we return. Yet, the number of campers, though slightly increased since 2012 have not been overwhelming.

Do people know that wilderness camping paradise is less than 2 hours away?

 

We would love to see more young families with children camping, paddling, bicycling (sandy roads), fishing in this forest. They are part of the legacy the state has a commitment to — it’s for them and their kids that this land is being restored to its natural roots. And were the politics to change in the future, the adventures you take them on in wilderness now may be the only times in their lives which this experience will ever be available to them again. If this were ever to happen, wouldn’t you say that you were able to give them a priceless gift?

Know, if you go: If you must call 911, each campsite has an address. First responders will not be able to respond to a campsite number in the forest. Reserve America does not give you this address. The addresses are posted in this blog with the campsite information. Also, cell coverage varies within this very large forest. When you reach your site, check to see if you can get coverage. If not, find the closest spot where you can transmit and receive signals. If you have a teenager with you, they already know that or ask them to locate that spot.

Trout Creek, Tate’s Hell SF, a great place to learn to paddle.

A very short tributary of the New River, south of Pope Place (CS 9) on West River Road. The put-in is just south and west of the bridge over Trout Creek which lies at the junction of West River Road and River Road, a little over a mile south of CS 9.

It is narrow enough to be protected from wind and has minimum current. However, the tide does affect the level of the creek. If you should ever have to paddle under a log or a large branch going upstream (limbo), note which way the tide is going. You may not have room on the return trip if you paddled up on an incoming tide.

About 1/4 mile east of the bridge is the New River. Paddlers can paddle from upstream on the New and be picked up here, if they prefer not to take-out at an occupied camp site.

We saw a red cockaded woodpecker in the slash pines here several years ago.

This is a perfect place for kayak polo, for those who have shorter kayaks and a floatable ball and some type of “basket” or bucket.

Campsite 9: Pope Place, Tate’s Hell State Forest

You can reserve CS 9 at Reserve America, Tate’s Hell State Forest New River (section).  When you get to your campsite, find the closest point where you can get cell connection.  If you call 911, your site street address is 1591 River Road, Tate’s Hell State Forest. GPS 29.89629,-84.73390.  First responders cannot find you with only a campsite number.   Reserve America’s confirmation documents will not include this address.

Pope Place Campsite, a very large RV and Tent primitive camp site on the New River.   This site, can easily accommodate up to 8 people and as many small single tents.

Privacy is insured not only by the distance between sites,  but also by the trees and vegetation around each campsite.

Entry is wide and can accommodate several parked cars, but there is more than ample space in the site itself.

This is a good site for paddlers since the landing is sandy.  This photo was taken at low tide.  There is a drop so, when taking out, be sure that your feet are on the exposed sand, if possible.  This site is below Gully Branch Road after which tidal currents can be felt. If one capsizes in a fast outgoing current, one could easily lose one’s craft.

The view from this site is spectacular.

Looking upriver.

And…

downriver.

Campers can put-in from upriver sites on the New River or paddle from this site.  Tidal current may be noticeable.   If the current is too strong for up and back or down and back and a shuttle is not possible, try Trout Creek.   Trout Creek is just south of this campsite on West River Road at the intersection with River Road, a little over a mile of this campsite.

The current is not that noticeable on Trout Creek, except where it meets the New River, but water levels will go up and down.  Paddlers need to consider the level of the water if going under limbos on this creek (if there are any), a higher level of water may narrow the opening on a return to take-out.   This is an excellent creek to paddle with children just learning to paddle or for adults who have reluctantly been urged to try paddling.

If you can shuttle, putting in at Gully Branch Road landing, will give you a nice downriver paddle to the campsite.

Adventurous paddlers, who like wilderness paddling with its uncertain challenges (or not),  put in at FR 22 east of Sumatra, camp over at campsite 17 on the New River (in Tate’s Hell SF Juniper section) and paddle to Pope Place for a next day take-out.  The total paddling mileage is about 23 miles: 9.5 miles the first day and 12.5 the next day.  There is a 9 miles upriver section in which no road access is available to the river, so only those capable of handling uncertain river conditions should attempt the top 9.5 miles.

Paddlers have access to the water through your site. Paddlers should park their cars in the entry driveway and not the campsite.

There is no water or toilet facilities.  The forest is heavily rooted and a trowel isn’t going to give you a deep enough pit.  Bring a portable toilet (with biodegradable, disposable bags).  Everything should be packed out.  There are bears in Tates’s Hell and food should be kept in cars, or hung away from sleeping areas.   A kayak hatch is not a good place to keep food or scented items such as shampoo, soap, etc. overnight.

The photos were taken at low water levels; tides affect the water level on this site. 

If you camp(ed) here please comment in the box provided at the end of this post.

New River Paddle -March 3-4, 2017

Fifteen paddlers signed up to experience 2 days on the New River, camping overnight at Campsite 17 (previously numbered campsite 7).

The group came from Tallahassee west to Pensacola and north to Montgomery.  Some camped the night before to make the early meet-up in Sumatra.  From the meet-up, the group drove to the put-in on sandy forestry roads, dropped off the boats, and drivers drove their cars to the take-out on day 2.   The drivers were returned to the put-in in an outfitter’s van.  In normal shuttles, the car(s) carrying the drivers back would be parked at the put-in and retrieved at the end of the paddle.   However, the put-in spot seems to be a local party spot with beer cans and bottles strewn around.  And this was a weekend.

Those who remained at the put-in while the drivers drove their cars to the final take-out spot, carried the kayaks down a steep, sandy path to the creek.

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When the drivers returned, the trip was on.

 

The temperature was perfect, the sky was blue, the water 18 inches lower.  Uh…oh, the 4 scouts the previous week thought — those scoot-overs are not going to be be scootable.

A section of the river looks  like a sculpture garden, formed by wind and water.

As we paddled, the scouts were befuddled — this was turning to be an paddle without the challenges of the previous week.  Where were all those scoot-overs, pull-overs, and there was only one limbo?   The adventure we had talked up was not to be had — we’ve had more technical and tougher paddles in other frequently paddled creeks and rivers.

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We got to the campsite with lots of time for people to set up their tents, set up their chairs and socialize.    Each person prepared her/his own meal,  the logs in the fire pit lit.  Those who were tired went into their tents, the campfire addicts monitored the fire and enjoyed the starry evening.  We lucked out on the weather!

The next day, for the final, easy 12 miles downriver, we didn’t have to rush to get on the river, stopped for lunch at Gully Branch, and proceeded the rest of the New River, no barriers, no strainers, no fallen trees.  That section was as advertised.

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I asked a paddler what he thought of the paddle: “Piece of cake”.

Unfortunately.

If we do it in 2018,  we probably should not  scout — let every paddler enjoy an uncleared, un-scouted adventure.  That’s probably the best way to enjoy the upper section of the New.