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Ultimate Florida Challenge
for
Sea Kayaks, Canoes & Small Boats

Stage 4
Fort Clinch to Cedar Key

This just might be the toughest stage of the whole challenge.  Certainly it is the longest consisting of 90 miles upstream on the St. Marys River, a 40-mile portage from St. George to Fargo, 220 miles downstream on the Suwannee River, and a final 20 miles to Cedar Key for a grand total of 390 miles.  Several miles on the rivers can be extremely difficult depending on water levels any given year.  If the water is too low, you end up pushing and pulling your boat for mile after mile.  If the water is too high, first you are fighting a strong current on the St. Marys.  Then you are dealing with white water at Big Shoals and other spots in a loaded boat designed for straight line cruising. 

But there is some good news.  The upper St. Marys and Suwannee Rivers have some of the most interesting and beautiful campsites you will find anywhere. 

Did I mention alligators?

So are you ready for some fun!

Fort Clinch State Park, FL - The CP

This park is located at the very NE tip of Florida near Fernandina Beach which is north of Jacksonville.  Launch time is 06:00.

Lat/Lon of CP Beach 

030° 42.30 N
081° 27.41 W

This is at the checkpoint beach a very short distance from the fort and the campsites.  This beach is on the inside, north end of the island.

Fort Clinch to St. George

Here is a pdf showing the route from Fort Clinch to St. George.  Fort Clinch to St. George

You started in Florida but the first checkpoint is on the Georgia side of the river.  Traders Hill is a historical site that has been used by the Indians, the Spanish, the English, and American Colonials.  Even Daniel Boone used this site on some of his southern hunting expeditions.  Sailors came up this far to get fresh water that was known to stay "fresh" for long periods.  Known in the 1700 as Fort Alert, early settlers used the fort as a refuge during the Indian Wars.

Its location at the head of navigation on the St. Marys River made it one of the most important trading centers in the Southeast.  In 1854 it became the county seat of Charlton County, and maintained that distinction until 1901 when Folkston, flourishing along the old S.F. & W. Railroad from Savannah to Jacksonville, became the new county seat.  Traders Hill Park has been developed at the site of the old courthouse.

It continues today as a popular recreation site with a nice boat ramp and a small campground.  

This is where class 4 boats can switch to a canoe and kayak.  Your support crew can reach Traders Hill Park by turning off Georgia 121 onto Tracy's Ferry Rd.  The turn is well marked with a sign for the Traders Hill Recreation Area.

There are several miles left to go on the St. Marys before you reach St. George and the take out for the portage to Fargo.

Lat/Lon of Traders Hill Landing 

030° 46.97 N
082° 01.45 W

This is the canoe landing on the St. Marys river at the Traders Hill checkpoint.  

IMPORTANT:  Go past the dock and the cement boat ramp.  Go just past a cypress tree/stump.  You will find this nice landing.  You can't see this until you pass the cypress tree/stump.

St. George to Fargo

Finally you get to portage.  Here is a pdf showing the portage.  Please ignore the portage into the Okefenokee as we do not have permission to transit the park - maybe in some future year.  The Portage

Fargo is five miles north of the Florida/Georgia line.  After you finish your long trek from St. George your access point is on the NW side of the river just off of GA Highway 94. There is a paved launch ramp and a sandy area to camp.

Fargo is a small town with a good size convenience store and a couple of country restaurants.  It is perhaps 1/2 mile from the canoe landing.  Although camping at the landing is not officially allowed, if you arrive late at night and apply a bit of stealth, you can probably take a break.  If you walk up to the store for re-supply, be sure to take all valuables with you and leave your boat hidden.  Don't be gone too long.  It is best to help keep honest people honest.

Lat/Lon of Fargo Landing 

030° 40.98 N
082° 33.57 W

Note:  This area has changed and the following description will have to be amended and probably the lat/lon too.  Take with a grain of salt for now.

You will see a knarly tree in the sand.  Right next to it is a tree with a yellow paint mark on it.  Chained to the tree with the mark is the orange lock box.  This landing is very large before the bridge.  If you need supplies it is about 0.5 miles into town to the BP station and convenience store.  Hours are roughly 6 to 11 most days.

Fargo to White Springs

The Suwannee River has the only class 3 rapids in Florida called the Big Shoals.  Clyde C. Council in his book, Suwannee Country says,

"I do not recommend that you shoot the rapids with a loaded canoe.  Unload and with a Life Preserver try your luck if it looks safe.  Shoot the right side of the rapids.  Don't use a fiberglass canoe.  I found half of one down river from the rapids one day."

There is a portage around these rapids.  Also, if the water is low you can line your canoe along the left bank.  If you decide to run it, you should scout first and watch for trees and roots that can snag your boat or you and create very dangerous situations.

My plan is to scout the rapids first.  Then if it looks like fun I will portage my gear and run the rapids in my unloaded Dreamcatcher.  ~ Chief ( a few years ago)

The general layout of Big Shoals from upstream to downstream is as follows:

  • White warning sign

  • Portage takeout on the left bank

  • Upstream wiffle

  • 1st drop

  • 2nd drop

  • Downstream wiffle

  • Portage put in

What's a wiffle?  It's my term for ruffled water due to fast current over rocks but no real standing waves.  Kind of a warning of what is to come.  If the water level is higher, you might not see these wiffles.  

Note this could have changed since it was last scouted a few years ago.

White Springs is a great place to resupply and maybe get a nice meal.  This is a call in checkpoint.  You must call in a report from White Springs.

White Springs to Suwannee River State Park

The Suwannee River State Park marks a transition for the river.  The upper Suwannee is fairly remote.  From here to the mouth there is more boat traffic so be careful.  Numerous springs and some great scenery sprinkled between housing development make up for the increased population and boat traffic.  You have another 130 miles to the Gulf.

For camping information and reservations for family and friends meeting you at checkpoint 3 contact the park as follows:

Suwannee River State Park
20185 Country Road 132
Live Oak, FL 32060

904-362-2746

On the way to This Checkpoint you will pass thru Branford which is another mandatory reporting point.  You must call in a report at Branford.

Lat/Lon of CP Boat Ramp Landing 

030° 23.26 N
083° 10.14 W

This is at the boat ramp for the Suwannee River State Park.  


Lat/Lon of the Lock Box

030° 23.26 N
083° 10.11 W

This is at the anticipated location of the lock box.  It will be chained to the last fence post at the top of the ramp on the left side as you travel up the ramp.

This is where class 4 challengers can drop off their canoe or kayak and pick up their class 4 boat.

Suwannee River State Park to Cedar Key

Cedar Key is roughly 20 miles south of the mouth of the Suwannee River on Florida's west coast.

Before leaving the mouth of the Suwannee River you must make a mandatory position report at or near the town of Suwannee.  You do not have to stop in Suwannee.  If your cell phone works, great.  But if not there is a pay phone at Millers Landing.

The finish line will be at Mermaid's Landing.  This is a group of 8 cabins that have been restored but retain their old-time Florida character. 

Rumor has it that Mermaids land here every night at midnight.  They leave just before sunrise.  My guess is that this story originated with a sleep deprived challenger, but you never know.  Maybe we will find out 

Lat/Lon of Beach at the Cedar Key CP

029° 08.56 N
083° 02.04 W

This is the grassy beach to the left of cabin 4 at Mermaid's Landing.  Note that it is on causeway leading from the mainland to Cedar Key very close to town.  You will have to go around Cedar Key to get to it or pick you way thru the back channel.  Water can be very shallow at low tide and some would even call it mud.

You are almost done with the Toughest Small Boat Race in the World.  On to the finish!

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