Head up Highway 79 to Vernon for a day of paddling fun
Holmes Creek is one of the most diverse paddles in the Northwest Florida Panhandle area.
As part of Florida’s statewide system of Greenways and Trails, Holmes Creek flows through a variety of diverse habitats. The upper and lower portions pass high sandy banks while the majority of the tail is through low-lying swamplands.
Rich with flora and fauna, the creek is abundant with turtles and birds, including blue, green and white heron, ibis, warblers and woodpeckers.
Several sections of the creek are shallow and clear. Underwater plants seem alive with movement as they ripple under the water’s surface. Water lilies are in abundance, and on this mid-summer day, were just starting to bloom.
Bird and wasp nests dangled from the trees seemed almost as though suspended in air as you looked above towards the treetop’s canopies.
There are several crystal clear springs, including Cypress Springs, which flows at 89 million gallons per day and Becton Springs, which flows at 40 million gallons per day, that feed the creek. There is a smaller spring at the Brunson landing where you can pull in, take a short walk along a wooded trail and find the small spring approximately 35 ft. in diameter.
Bring your snorkeling gear, as a dive into Cypress Springs is one of the highlights of the paddle offering you the opportunity to get up close and personal with a beautiful spring boil.
The creek has many low-hanging branches and submerged tree trunks, which can present a small, but not difficult challenge. For the most part, the gentle curves and a slow current make Holmes Creek an easy paddle through beautiful hardwood swamps.
On this summer’s day, we paddled from the Culpepper Landing upstream to Cypress Springs, then a 9-mile paddle back downstream, taking out at Hightower Springs Landing.
Frances Stone from the West Florida Canoe and Kayak Club shares her knowledge of the best places to put in and take out:
1. Cotton Landing: 3 miles north of Vernon on CR 277. This managed by Northwest Water Management District with primitive camping allowed. There is a small pavilion with tables, a portable toilet, fire ring, and area for tents or trailers. It is down a 1 mile gravel road from County Hwy. 278.
One mile downstream, the Cypress Springs run is on the right, paddle a short distance upstream to a swim and snorkel in a Magnitude 2 spring. The land is privately owned, but allows boaters access as long as visitors keep the area clean.
2. Culpepper Landing: Travel north on CR 277 for 2 miles to a Washington County Boat Ramp. Put your boat in here and paddle upstream for less than a mile, and then up the Cypress Springs run. After playing in the cold, clear water, you can go back to the Culpepper Landing and take-out, or continue two miles downstream to the Vernon Boat Ramp, or chose the longer paddle to Hightower Springs Landing.
3. Downstream from Vernon: This is the trip that I paddled for the report. Another friend and I put ran a shuttle down SR 79 about 4 miles, and turned R on Hightower Springs Road. We left our two solo canoes at the Vernon Boat Ramp attached to a chain link fence with a bicycle chain. We left the truck at Hightower, came back to the put-in in my car. We paddled for 3 hours. My GPS did not give an accurate read-out, but the Holmes Creek Canoe Trail website said it is a 10 mile paddle. We stopped at Fanning Branch Landing, which has a pavilion with tables, a screened-in octagonal building with tables, portable rest room and a boat launch. This is another good place to take-out, and this landing is accessible from SR79 by turning at Two Creeks Boulevard, a misnomer if there ever was one, since it is a dusty gravel road.
5. Brunson Landing: We found another landing below Fanning Branch Landing and stopped to check it out. After the paddle we turned left on CR 278 immediately before the bridge, traveled two miles, and turned L on Dorch Circle, and again took a left on Bronson Landing Road. This is a more primitive landing than Fanning Branch or Hightower, but the grass was mowed, and there was a cracked cement boat ramp. No facilities were available.
6. Hightower Springs Landing: This was the take-out for our paddle. There is a small springs with a pond on the left side of the landing. Local people say they swim in the spring, but the banks were swampy and the edges mucky to wade out into the water. I didn’t find a spot that I would use to access the spring. There are picnic tables, grills, and a portable restroom.
For more information about the statewide website dedicated to providing information about paddling in the state of Florida, go to: www.clubkayak.com/greenwave
For a map of the entire Holmes Creek Trail:
Brunson Landing Spring
There is a canoe livery service for Holmes Creek:
Located at SR 79 North of the Vernon Bridge.
To find it, drive into the Vernon Park and boat landing
For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as for most of the Northwest Florida springs, go to “Florida Springs Database” Website at http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida