Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

The Santa Fe River and Two Tries at River Rise

Wednesday March 15 to Saturday March 19, 2017                                               Most Recent Posts:
O’Leno State Park and River Rise State Preserve                             March at O’Leno – So Far Raining and Cold
High Springs, Florida                                                                      Apalachicola Oysters – Boy are They GOOD!



Wednesday is doctor day and I go with David for the 25 mile trip to Gainesville.  When the day is finished I remember why I usually don’t do this.  I ended up waiting at Florida Cancer Specialists for 2 hours while he got his velcade shot and then waiting another 30 minutes while he went into the ABC Store to pick out beer,  then a stop at Walgreens to refill prescriptions and at the grocery store to stock up.  Good-bye Wednesday.



On Thursday I really want to hike over to River Rise where the Santa Fe comes back up out of the ground.  It’s a long hike and we get a late start because it has been so cold here over night.  Last night’s low was 35 and today’s high only 59 and that was at 5:00 pm.  We’ve become weather wusses.  It has to be at least in the 50’s for us to hike.  But tonight is supposed to be even colder so today’s the day for the hike.

We walk over to the suspension bridge and take what we call the “Knees Trail” down through the bottom. Along the way we get some pictures of these knees.  First we take one that comes up to my knees, but then we just keep seeing taller and taller ones.


Up to my waist.

Up to my chest.


Same height as I am.



At the end of “knees” we pick up the River Trail (yellow blaze) for a short way and then take the Paraners Trail (Green Blaze) going down the back to our real goal which is the Sweetwater Trail (Blue blaze).




Along the way we find this swallowtail butterfly.



We also find this locked box just out in a palmetto field.  The tumbler combination lock holds the top piece to the bottom.  There is a cement base which says FGS 4-04.  We’re guessing that this is from the Florida Geographic Survey.  Not sure if the numbers mean April of 2004 or what might be in the metal box but if Sue Malone is reading, maybe she can tell us.







The Green Trail continues to mostly look like a service road at least on this back section we’re hiking.



We arrive at the intersection with the Blue Trail and see that it’s 3.5 miles to River Rise.  Hmmm.  We’ve already hiked 2 miles and it’s 1:30.  Can we make it and back before dark without pushing our selves more than we like to?




We come to Jug Lake which looks totally covered with duckweed.  Seriously green.  Would anyone actually swim in there?  Well besides gators and turtles.




We walk on and come to the other end of Jug where there is some clear water.





This Sweetwater Trail has a variety of habitats all created by only slight changes in Altitude.





At about mid way we cross the Old Bellemy Road created in the early 1800’s as the first road to connect the new capital Tallahassee with St. Augustine.  There are information boards down the 1.1 mile road inside the park.  If we had more time, we might well hike this too and read them.



But we cross on over and continue on the Sweetwater Trail.  Now we’re in a Long Pine forest.



We cross into a hardwood forest.



When we see the outhouse just off the trail in the middle of nowhere in the forest we realize we are approaching Sweetwater Lake and the primitive campsite there.  Beautiful campsite and having an outhouse is pretty top of the line for a primitive site.  Don’t think there are any of those on the Cross Florida Trail.






There’s a big fire circle with large rocks circling it.  David is looking at the lake.



It’s not much further to the turn that indicates we’ve got 1.4 miles more to River Rise.  It’s 2:45, we’ve done 11,357 steps and 4.5 miles.  We have to face it that to go all the way would mean a total of another 7.5 miles before we’re back at the rig.   DARN!  Really wanted to see River Rise again.  It will have to be another day.




We turn around and head back down the Sweetwater Trail.   One fun thing we find is a gator on the far side of Jug Lake.




He’s got duckweed decoration.






Maybe he’s left the end of his tail in the water as a little cooling mechanism.  It has gotten warmer and warmer all day long.



On along the way we also find a red bellied woodpecker who might well be checking out a nesting spot.







We’re back at the park just after 4:30, in time to make dinner.  Good decision not to add to our hike 3 full miles and the time to enjoy River Rise.   At this point we have 20, 870   steps and over 8 miles.

We come out in the cabin area of O’Leno.  This one, #13 is my favorite.  It’s at the end of the road away from all the rest.  But looking at Recreation.gov it seems that you can only rent the entire set up of all the cabins and the other buildings in the group area.  There hasn’t been anyone in the area since we’ve been here.  I wonder about the wisdom of such a reservation restriction but perhaps the summer revenues make up for what they might get renting the cabins individually.






Today we want to mix it up a little and do some kayaking instead of hiking. We’ve never put in at O’Leno to kayak the Sante Fe so we’re excited to do it.  Last nights low was TWENTY SIX, in Florida, good grief.  That, of course, also led to a late start today but that’s OK since paddling never takes as long as hiking.

It’s a nice put in but a long way from the parking lot.  If I were not with David so that we could both carry the kayaks, we’d have to use carts and then some how negotiate the steps near the put in.



It’s a lovely river.







Turtles on the left.



Apparently we frighten the guy on the bottom away as we go by.





Along the right bank I mange to get one not great shot of this waterthrush.  Not sure if it is a Louisiana or a Northern.  Perhaps better birders than I can tell me.  It appears that Northern can winter here but they both can migrate through.  He bobs his butt constantly as he flits all around the shoreline.




In the middle of the river is a group of stunning cypress trees.  It’s like being in a fairy tale.






David goes by on one side and I on the other.



We can see the riffles in the water that indicate shallow water.  We just don’t know how shallow.



Turns out it is so shallow and rocky it requires a portage so I pull Tootsie through.  The water feels great.






David has a reputation for dropping cameras and phones in the water so he doesn’t risk getting out of his boat but eventually he has no choice since all this attempt to push himself across the rocks and what he calls “scootching” by trying to thrust the boat along, doesn’t work.




This is “scooching”.  You make fists and throw yourself forward and try to make the boat go too.  Don’t try this at home.




Can his hands walk him forward?  Nope.   Just after this, he tells me he’s almost there so I go on up river but when he catches me he says he had to get out of the boat so I missed any pictures of that.  Maybe it was intentional on his part.  <smile>



We make it past and paddle on down the lovely river









And then we see those riffles again.  I try to power through this time but no luck. Stuck again.





I back up and check out the situation on the other side.




No way through here either.   So it’s portage again or turn around. 



I really wouldn’t mind portaging again.  The water is just wonderful but we both agree that there could be an infinite number of these as we go further back up the river to its source.  We are paddling away from the River Sink so the river will likely get more narrow and possibly more shallow as we go.   Our afternoon paddle gets cut short and we coast back with the slow current headed for the River Sink.










It was a shorter paddle than we wanted but it’s probably our fault for assuming about the river rather than asking at the Ranger station what the depth of the river was.  From the banks at the park it looked fine but you really never know. 




What’s a real shame is that we won’t have time now to go over and paddle the gorgeous Ichetucknee river up to the springs which we would have done had we known this end of the Santa Fe was too shallow.

But we’ve done the Ichetucknee before and will definitely do it again.  We’ve also kayaked the Santa Fe closer to High Springs and up to Ginnie and other springs.  Also on the list for a return visit list will definitely be to Kayak the 3 miles up the Sante Fe from High Springs to the River Rise.  Tomorrow we’re going there on foot for sure.




Today we decide to drive over to the Old Bellamy Road where there is a parking lot for those who want to bike or hike the old road and read all the signs.  We’ll hike down to where the Sweetwater Trail crosses the road and take the trail all the way to the River Rise this time.  It’s our last day at O’Leno and the temperature gets up to 83 degrees.  Amazing, a low of 26 one night and and 36 hours later it’s 83.

The first historical infomation sign is just beyond the trail.  It shows pictures of the road in earlier days.  I have to give the park a huge amount of credit for the restoration here.  The road really does look now like it did in these old photographs.








The second board has more information and more photographs. There are five boards in all but today we will be turning off the road at board number 3 to take the Sweetwater Trail.






It’s a beautiful old road and we both said how easy it is to imagine people on horseback and wagons going to the town of Keno along it.



And speaking of horses, at the third sign where we were on Thursday, we turn right, look back down the Old Bellamy Road and there are three horses and riders coming up behind us.




We get off the road and head on down the trail but apparently we’ve spooked one of the horses who isn’t sure what we are.  So the rider just asks us to say something so they can know we are only people.




Having owned horses, we understand so we go back out into the road and talk to the horses.  No great sacrifice. <smile>



The River rise Preserve State Park really only has Equestrian Trails.  You can hike them but they all are sandy and wide like service roads.  There are a lot of them and the riders really love them.  I would have too.  Great place to ride.


But no horses on the Sweetwater Trail which is the only bikes/hikers only trail in the River Rise Park.



Trees are tall, sun is bright.


The trail is beautiful








We arrive again at the Sweetwater Campsite.



This time when we ge3t to the turn off for 1.4 miles to River rise, we take it.  It’s a horse trail that allows riders to go to River Rise and tie up their horses.   The tall Long Leaf pines have dropped a lot of their large cones on the trail in one section.   I remember being so surprised when I saw how tiny the Giant Sequoia cones were but these are BIG.









David appreciates one of the big Long Leaf pines.



As we come to the River rise  come upon two more of those locked boxes  near the end of the trail.



No horses and no swimming at River Rise.  The trail leads right down to the River Rise in just a few feet.



And there it is.




The knees give me a hand down to the water.



What a gorgeous spot.  We have it all to ourselves.  We haven’t seen another soul since we left the horses at the Old Bellamy Road.




What a wonderful spot to just take in the natural beauty and be thankful to those who saved this beautiful place from inevitable development.



Talk about lunch with a view.  In the spirit of John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go.




One of the big reasons David loves River Rise is the huge old trees.  After lunch we walk around on the right side of the river first.



This side seems to possibly be a peninsula around which the river curves.  Wish I could walk all the way around the edge and find out but David wants to go back on the other side where he knows there are BIG live oaks.



I am so surprised to see in this hardwood forest a little palm tree.  Way to go little buddy.



We cross back over biside the River Rise.  It’s not obvious where the river comes up.  There is nothing like the bubbling of a spring that we can see.  Perhaps it’s just a ledge and the water just slides right up nice and easy.   So quiet here it is just magnificent.



Here he is beween his two favorites.



There are a lot of big trees here and they need hugs.  So do I.




Time for a rest while David tromps around some more.






The afternoon is waning as we turn back.  Looking over at the Rise I see a kayak coming up.  Boy would I like to do that.  We walk back and talk to him and find out that it is only 3 miles up river from the High Springs boat dock to River Rise.  Wish I’d known that yesterday, I might have passed on the Santa Fe paddle especially knowing what I know now.



It’s been a great day finally getting to River Rise.  When we pass back through Sweetwater we see that some backpackers are there for the night.  I’m not surprised since it is Saturday night.  But I have been very surprised that on a Saturday during Spring Break we could have the River Rise all to ourselves.   How terrific!



This picture is for David’s niece Amy who brought him this shirt from Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  To hike there was always his dream which his health will no longer permit him to do.  Thanks again Amy,  the shirt goes a lot of places.  It’s his favorite.


This is our last day at O’Leno.  We move to Rodman Campground, a place we have never been becasue of the Cross Florida Canal and the Rodman Dam but I’ve finished the biography of Marjorie Harris Carr by Peggy MacDonald and want to pay my respects to the area Carr fought so valiently to save.  She did stop the canal after 16 miles had already been built.  Stopping a pork barrel project by the Army Corps of Engineers had never been done before.  Marjorie Carr isn’t well known but she should be.  She was during her life time a champion of the Environment and as well known and respected as her colleagues Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold.  She was an amazing woman.


  1. Great for Dave to visit ABC store for a Craft Beer after a day like that. Great tour Sherry.

  2. Your photos depict what my mind visualises when I think of Florida. Not having spent much time in the state I can't really say, but this looks like Florida to me!

  3. Great pictures, Sherry. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I love River Rise. It is one of my favorite places in Florida. So calm and peaceful.

  5. Your hike reminded me of The Big Thicket in East Texas. . .my childhood memories are of having adventures and running woods that looked like that. Brought back great memories of being at Grandma's place. . .

  6. Thanks for sharing a unique part of Florida, most of us will never see.

  7. Loved the picture of the gator, maybe it is a vegetarian... :cD

  8. Another one of those unique places in Florida that we still need to experience!! Thanks for taking us along:o))

  9. Such amazing forests offering so many varieties of trees - just lovely. Mr Gator looks a little miffed that the duckweed is messing with his tough exterior :-) The river though, really speaks to me! Thanks for sharing more turtles, I love them.

  10. I saw Santa Fe and thought, "Boy, it really has been a long time!" I am fascinated by the cypress trees, as well. If you and David pass through north Georgia, look up Gibbs Gardens. I think the two of you would love to spend a day there.

    The gator looked like he was swimming in that green pond. Gives me the creeps. Love following you and David as you kayak. I just don't get on the computer that much any more. Glad to see you still living life to the fullest.

  11. We kayaked on the Santa Fe last winter from the launch at O'Leno and encountered exactly the same problem as you guys did—it got so darned shallow, and after a couple of portages, we gave up and turned around. It sure is a beautiful park, though, and you definitely do it justice with your photos!

  12. So much for my memory - I thought the Sequoia cones were huge, like 10-12 inches. Maybe that was redwood. I also did not remember what a wonderful park O'Leno is and how many great things there are to do here for us. Thanks for the great revisiting ... ;)

  13. I don't remember this place at all. That gator needs a bath! Looks like your weather is pretty nice!

  14. Not sure I would keep up with you distance hikers. I love seeing the calm and serene waterscape, so lush and filled with life when you paddle. Your photos with the reflections are superb. Such a contrast to my winter views. Those temperature differences are crazy. I'd have a hard time getting out in the morning.

  15. Great hike! I like the knees and the name River Rise. Lovely pictures...makes me feel like I'm there.


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