Picture of canoes on the sandy banks of Coldwater Creek, Florida

Canoers prepare for a trip with Adventures Unlimited on Coldwater Creek in Milton.

Photograph courtesy Adventures Unlimited

By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett

Florida's first "highways" were the coastal routes and inner waterways traveled by the Calusa Indians. These early Floridians hollowed out cypress logs to create dugout canoes and built homes on stilts near the water's edge. Follow in the paddle strokes of the Calusa and other Florida explorers, settlers, and adventurers on a backcountry canoe camping adventure.

Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost and Resort, Fort McCoy

Paddling down the Ocklawaha River is like traveling back in time, says Shelly Zdan-O'Neal, co-owner with husband Michael of Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost and Resort. The couple offers one- and two-night canoeing trips, including tent camping on high ground near the river and, depending on the route you choose, 18 to 31 miles of paddling. "Our river takes you back to what Florida was like hundreds of year ago," says Zdan-O'Neal. "We provide a map so you can go down the river on your own, or our guide, who knows the river like the back of his hand, can go with you, even on the overnights."

Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, Mayo

Five river camps—Woods Ferry, Holton Creek, Dowling Park, Peacock Slough, and Adams Tract—are accessible exclusively to canoeists and kayakers paddling the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. At each location, the camping is free (call 800-868-9914 to reserve a site) and includes some unexpected creature comforts: five screened platforms with ceiling fans and electrical outlets, restrooms with hot showers, and a picnic pavilion with charcoal grills.

Coldwater Creek, Adventures Unlimited, Milton

"Overnight camping on Coldwater Creek is a real wilderness experience," says Jack Sanborn, owner of Milton-based outfitter Adventures Unlimited. "We drive you upstream with all your gear, help you load your canoe, then send you downstream with a map and all the canoe equipment you'll need. The white-quartz-sand beaches provide dozens of places to stop and picnic, swim, camp, and build a camp bonfire using the driftwood or deadfall you collect." Despite the backcountry setting and barebones accommodations, a Coldwater Creek overnight canoe trip can be appropriate for families with the proper supplies and camping skills. The creek is clear and shallow, making it easy to see the bottom and steer clear of obstacles most of the way. Plus, it can be fast-flowing at times, which means minimal paddling is required.

Know Before You Go: The Suwannee River is prone to occasional flooding, so check conditions before launching to ensure that it's safe to canoe and that the river camps are open.

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