Up the Suwannee River

Okefenokee Swamp journal, October 25, 2022…

Snowy Egret, Egretta thula, and three American White Ibis, Eudocimus albus, water birds foraging on the Suwannee River in the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, USA. October 25, 2022. ©www.williamwisephoto.com

When I arrived in the Okefenokee on October 25, 2022, I knew the lack of rainfall through the spring and summer would make the swamp waters low… and they certainly were! Walking to the edge of the Suwannee River Sill to launch my canoe into the water, I marveled that I could actually see the bottom! The layer of peat, leaves and muck are typically hidden under the dark, tannin-stained blackwater.

​Sliding my canoe onto the swamp, the water couldn’t have been more than a foot deep and the bottom of my canoe was scraping the bottom of the channel. I paddled a few feet, then had to use my oar as a push-pole to dislodge from the peat-covered bottom. A few hundred feet of struggling and I realized I just wasn’t going to be able to paddle up the Sill. Bummer. Now what? Thankfully, there was another route to explore without loading up my gear and canoe to travel elsewhere. I headed eastward up the Suwannee River on the brown canoe trail.

American Alligator basking in the sun along the Suwannee River in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, USA. ©www.williamwisephoto.com

The Suwannee River begins within, and flows through, the Okefenokee. Upon exiting  Billy’s Lake it flows through The Narrows and Mixon’s Hammock until it intersects with the dam along The Sill. The Suwannee then continues westward out of the swamp, eventually meandering to the Gulf Coast of Florida. On this day, the waters of the Suwannee appeared to be flowing strong and steady where they poured onto The Sill.  Hopefully  the swift currents kept the water deep enough for paddling.

The landscape of the brown trail between The Sill and The Narrows is mostly open sky and the canal is lined by tall Maidencane grasses. Large stumps hint at the giant Cypress that stood in this area a century ago. Only a few young, slender Cypress point skyward now. The channel of the Suwannee is fairly narrow as it passes through Mixon’s Hammock and the current is very strong, especially in times of low water. I was thankful that the swift water kept the canal dug out deep enough to use my trolling motor, for paddling alone would have been exhausting.

I made it quite slowly three-miles upriver against the current before turning around just before The Narrows, a constricted tunnel of vegetation that leads to Billy’s Lake. Upon turning around and going with the current, the motor was no longer needed, and paddling was at a minimum just to keep my canoe steered in the right direction. I love the feeling of a lazy Okefenokee afternoon drift downstream. This is the life!


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