Florida has 11,000 miles of rivers and most Floridians will remember that the 310-mile St. Johns River flows very slowly northward just a few miles from the Atlantic before reaching the ocean. People recognize the Suwannee River, with its 206 miles in Florida and 32 miles in Georgia from a song written by a man who never visited Florida..
Yet many of Florida’s smallest rivers provide locals and visitors the most recreational fun. I am not going to include the many springs that flow just a few hundred yards into a major stream. These are my “favorite little Florida rivers.”
The Braden River is a 21-mile (34 km) waterway and the largest tributary of the Manatee River. The lower river is navigable by canoe and kayak and despite its almost urban location, the river is home to abundant wildlife.
At the Linger Lodge
Linger Lodge is a place to rent boats, park your RV, and eat old Florida style in a place that Forbes Magazine called one of the most unique dining spots in the nation. Some would call the rustic location and menu of gators, frog legs, and local seafood a little weird. The food is great, but service depends of how busy they get. I don’t fish or camp, but I vouch it is a neat place for nature photography.
Over in urban Palm Beach County the 17 mile Loxahatchee River a great place to fish, canoe, kayak, and enjoy natural Florida. The North Fork goes to Jonathan Dickinson State Park, my choice as the best all-around Florida facility.
This is near Palm Beach?
You can not only rent canoes and kayaks, you can hike up Hobe Mountain. This park is the largest in Southeast Florida and has cabins, RV sites, horseback riding, mountain bike trails, and primitive camping. And just across A1A is the Atlantic with swimming, surfing, and boating.
The Estero River is just six miles long but it makes an exciting trip location. Enter Koreshan State Park to see the many surviving buildings of a 19th century utopian community who believed people lived inside the globe.
The Planetarium at Koreshan Utopian Community
Besides the usual camping and hiking facilities, experienced paddlers will want to go charter down the river to Estero Bay to Mound Key, site of the largest Calusa Indian village, the one that Ponce de Leon probably saw on his second voyage.
Up by Saint Augustine is Pellicer Creek, an eleven-mile coastal river and one of the favorite state designated canoe trail. The best place to get a canoe or kayak is at Faver-Dykes State Park.
The creek is just two to six feet deep and it is a lovely route, where the sighting of bald eagles and river otters are a regular observation.
Most everyone in Florida knows that the place to canoe or snorkel next to manatees is the very clear Crystal River, a seven-mile excursion into the Gulf of Mexico. It is best to have an experienced guide to paddle into the complex of mangroves and that form the wide ocean delta.
A resident of Crystal River and Kings Bay
The town of Crystal River has several waterside motels and restaurants with the Plantation Inn the largest and most famous. The resort has a 27-hole championship golf course and four on site restaurants. This means some family members can be swimming with manatees in the spring while others fish or golf.
The eight-mile Homosassa River is just twenty miles to the south on US19 and there is the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park with its underwater observatory where you can watch both freshwater and saltwater fishes. There will be manatees here also as well as a boat tour along this tropical river.
The Underwater Observatory at Homosassa Springs
If you like a little history you might like the eleven-mile Wakulla River, which starts at the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, where they filmed the Creature of the Black Lagoon. The inn here is the largest such property on any Florida park.
Traffic on the Wakulla River
The Wakulla flows into the St. Marks River three miles north of the Gulf of Mexico where St. Marks Lighthouse is the landmark. Up the St. Marks is San Marcos de Aplachee State Park where old Spanish and Confederate fortifications can be found.