Wildlife abounds along the Chipola River

August 26, 2009

A barred owl perched along the Chipola River.
A barred owl perched along the Chipola River.

A peek at Section 1 of the Chipola River Paddling Trail

Part of Florida’s Greenways and Trails, the 51-mile Chipola Paddling Trail is the largest tributary of the Apalachicola, and boasts 63 fresh water springs, the largest number of any river shed in Northwest Florida. The trail runs from just south of the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna in Jackson County, south to just east and south of Clarksville in Calhoun County, Florida.

Diverse in flora and fauna, the river cuts through limestone rock and boasts caves and springs accessible for exploration. A cave nicknamed “The Oven” along Section 1 of the river can be easily explored with a headlamp or flashlight.

Trees provide a comfortable canopy of shade for a good portion of the journey and provide excellent habitat for wildlife. Bald cypress, green ash, loblolly bay, swamp gum, sweet bay, tupelo gum, water hickory are some of the species that line the river, with bluestem palmetto abundant beneath.

Alligator suns itself on the Chipola River.
Alligator suns itself on the Chipola River.

The first spring to explore on Section 1 is Sand Bag spring. You will see a private home on stilts shortly after to start your paddle from Yancey Bridge. Go just past the house and turn right. This spring is on private property, so exiting your vessel is prohibited. Interesting and unique this home sporting it’s own private spring in their front yard.

After you pass under the US 90 Bridge and paddle for 3.5 miles there will be a nice lunch stop on the left with a large field. This site will eventually become a park operated by the City of Marianna.

Further down there is a small spring run on the left called Maund Spring. This is a good location to get out and take a swim.

Turtle watching the paddlers on the Chipola River.
Turtle watching the paddlers on the Chipola River.

Next, you will find Spring Creek entering the Chipola on the left.  You may choose to rest, or paddle upstream a short distance.  This is the outflow from Jackson Blue Springs, which is dammed up to create Merritt’s Mill Pond about 5 or 6 miles upstream.

The Chipola offered plentiful wildlife viewing on this late August day, as barred owls, red-tailed hawks, osprey, green heron, blue heron, and kingfishers were spotted, along with alligators and several turtles sunning themselves on fallen trees jutting out of the river.

Another one of Northwest Florida’s spectacular paddles.

Bear Paw Adventures
2100 Bear Paw Lane
Marianna, FL 32446
(850) 482-4948
Rickie & Anna McAlpin
Bear Paw offers several options for trips including Spring Run. Bear Paw rents kayaks, canoes and tubes. They pick up and return you to their livery after your paddle.

Access areas for the Chipola River Trail:

Note: Although the Trail starts at Florida Caverns State Park, paddlers should begin at the SR 166 bridge. The trail downstream from the State Park is hazardous and has been closed.

Access Point 1: Directions to put-in SR 166 (Yancey) Bridge
From I-10 travel north on SR 71, turn left (west) on US 90, continue to the town center of Marianna, turn right (north) on CR 166 (follow signs to Florida Caverns State Park); access is a small roadside park on the southwest side of the bridge crossing the Chipola River.

Access Point 2: Directions to put-in Magnolia Road Bridge:
From US 90 or I-10, exit on SR 71 and travel south, (from the I-10 exit it is only 0.5 miles south on SR 71), turn right on Magnolia Rd and travel about 1.5 miles, and look for boat ramp on the left, just after the bridge.

Access Point 3: Directions to put-in CR 278 / Peacock Bridge Road
From US 90 or I-10, exit on SR 71 and travel south to CR 278 (about 7 miles south of I-10 exit). Turn right on CR 278 and proceed less than a mile to the boat landing on the left side of the road just before the bridge.

Access Point 4: Directions to put-in CR 274 Bridge
From US 90 0r I-10, exit on SR 71 and travel south to CR 274 (about 11 miles south of I-10 exit).  Turn right on CR 274 in Altha and travel west about two miles, look for dirt road and boat ramp sign on the right, follow less than a mile to the boat ramp.

Access Point 5:
Directions to put-in SR 20 Bridge
From US 90 0r I-10, exit on SR 71 and travel south to CR 275, (about 14 miles south of the I-10 exit).  Continue about 7 miles to SR 20, turn west and proceed about 1.3 miles to the small park and boat ramp on the northwest side of the bridge

Access Point 6: Directions to SR 71 bridge / Scott’s Ferry:
From US 90 or I-10, exit on SR 71 and travel south to CR 275, (about 14 miles south of the I-10 exit).  Bear right on SR 275, continue to intersection to reconnect with SR 71 (about 15 miles), turn right (south) proceed about 3 miles and look for access on northeast side of bridge (private ramp with fee).

Camping options: Florida Caverns State Park and Scott’s Ferry Campground offer camping for a fee.

Helpful links:


    1. I was on that paddle with you Lori, and your video captured the essence of a wonderful day on the Chipola River. You are so talented.

    1. Lori,
      Ahhh…. what special event you experienced. Next time, go further into the Jack Lake region. Then one day down to the Dead Lakes. Great story. I’ll take you up the Apalachicola River when you are ready. Elam

    1. Thanks Elam,
      Yes… one advantage of paddling on a week day and being the first one on the river is you see all the wildlife still in action and undisturbed. It was a special treat to see so much in one day.
      I plan to do rest of the Chipola in segments as 10 miles is about all the ‘ol gal can do in one day! Thanks for the info on Jack Lake and Dead Lakes.
      I will take you up on the Apalachicola River offer anytime!

    1. Thank you Frances, it is always a pleasure to paddle down our rivers an creeks with an expert like you. Always an enjoyable journey. We live in such a beautiful place to explore.

    1. Lori,
      We really do live in such a special place!
      Yes our beaches are “world class” but there are so many hidden gems here and you’re doing a great job of letting everyone know about those too! Thanks for getting the info out there—-keep up the good work! : )

    1. Wanna see some wildlife head to Holmes Creek in Vernon Fl. Put in at the third boat ramp south of Vernon or the 2nd one at Hightower Springs. HUGE trees OLD GROWTH does exist in Washington county. Go on a weekday and get the true experience. Went on the Chipola last sunday and was very impressed! Put in just south of the Caverens and had to drag my kayak over a few logs, but WELL worth it. Is there a paddeling club in the area? I’m in Dothan and don’t know of any, just wondering.

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