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

Henry David Thoreau

Up River to Hontoon – will we make it?

Friday Afternoon February 28, 2014
Blue Spring State Park
Orange City, Florida



The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida and it flows South to North. 




After our morning with the manatee, (previous post) we had some lunch and went back over to the boat launch where we had tied up our kayaks.  Today we were going to take the front way to St. Johns.  Last year we had gone up the back way on Snake Creek which was a gorgeous paddle through fairly quiet waters until you get fairly near the park which is an island in the river.  That post is here.  

You aren’t actually supposed to dock your boats on the back side of the island though we didn’t know that until we actiually got there.  When we called on the phone last year to ask if it was possible to access the island via the Snake Creek with a kayak they said yes.  But when we got there, there were signs saying no docking.  


But I digress.



This year we go up the legal way to the front of the park but that means 3.5 miles up the St. Johns which is a big river.  Now you’d think since we are south of the park and the river flows north that this would be an easy paddle.  That’s what I thought.  But we’d both be wrong.  The wind was 3 mph and then 5mph and then 8 mph.  So what starts out as a leisurely paddle turns into a “you can’t stop paddling or you’ll be going back down the river” trip.






It is a really beautiful day on the river as you can see. The river is wide.  We paddle up the left hand side where the spatterdock (thanks Page) are thick and many birds are fishing there.   We take some pictures though not as many as usual because of the wind which is stronger blowing toward us than the current is taking us north.  Still, not a very nice paddle.





David is out in front of me a ways as I stop early on when the wind is less strong to take pictures of the cormorants, the flowers, a great blue among the spatterdock.










I love the water so, I wonder if I’d like full timing on it as well as Winnona?



This river craft leisurely coming along set me to wondering about full timing in a pontoon houseboat and doing all the navigable rivers in the country.  I wonder if docking slips are as hard to get as campgrounds in Florida or if you can just pull over to the side and anchor anywhere you want.  What about power for lights and heat and cooking?   I’ve never seen one with solar panels.



I’ve lost sight of David up ahead.  Boy he is making great time.  I’d better hurry to catch up.  And then among the spatterdock I see……….he’s hidden much better than the Great Blue.  He’s enjoying a quiet time with the cypress while he waits for me I imagine.






The water spatterdock declines and the banks become more cypress lined.  The birds are in the trees here.  It really looks like a swamp I think but it’s the edge of the St. John’s River.





Am I looking at a yellow rumped warbler?  We always called them butter butts.






David gets his turn at getting stuck watching the wildlife.


As I paddle along,  I come unawares upon a turtle and a green heron on the bank.  I don’t see them until I am right even with them.  Too late to get a picture of them.  I’m past them seconds after I see them.  

I think about going back but David is now behind me so I point them out to him and ask him to take some pictures.  He does and this turns into one of those stay a while and watch things that I do so often.  Only this time he does it.  He really has gotten some great pictures.


Kind of looks like a stand off doesn’t it?







The turtle does what turtles do.  Nothing.  The heron continues to posture.  How beautiful he is. Just look at those colors and those eyes





And then he gets distracted.







After pretty steady paddling the last mile and a half or so we reach the island.




We make a left to go into the channel and then the “harbor” where we can dock the boats.  We find that it has taken us over 2 hours to come up.  We have about an hour and half to explore the island before we must head out to be back at sunset.   It’s a longer period than we had last time but still not as much as we like to hike in our normal leisurely style.

We decide to hike to the shell mound which we didn’t have time to see on our last trip.  We’ll hike to it leisurely and then do a quick march back.  


We decide all this while trying to figure out where to dock the boats.  We like to just pull them up on land but the water is so high here that there is nowhere to step out.  So we pull up to the docks with the big power boats and get out on the steps.  As he gets out and is on the dock, David’s camera falls out of his pocket.  NO it did not fall into the water this time but he still hasn’t figured out that you must secure your camera in its case before you exit your kayak.  He’s mighty lucky given that this is his 4th camera I think.



This may be the shortest island ferry cross in the state.  The country?  The world?



With this incident and the need to get on the trail I neglect to take a picture of the dock with our little kayaks tied up across from the big boys.  I also forget to take a separate picture of the little store/ranger station and the people sitting around chatting in rocking chairs in front of it.  But you can see it in the background of the picture I did get of the State Park Ferry bringing people across the inlet from the land side to the island.  A whole 50 yards.  So even if you do not have a boat to paddle to the island.  Just drive to the ferry landing and the ranger will come over and get you.  Or you can swim over.  LOL


We stop briefly in the store and pick up some information and then we are on our way.  The main path to the shell mound is a lovely boardwalk for part of the way.  Other parts are quite muddy from all the rain.





Tree hugger at large.


It is wonderful to be on an entire island left to be in its natural state.  I’m doubt  the live oaks are virgin trees but they are big enough to have trouble giving them a hug.  Bigger than our 10’10” worth of arms could go around.







Why is it that people have to carve things in trees. 


This one has apparently been fallen over for some time.  We see 1964 and 2014 carved in to it one below the other.






The sign seems to mark the half way point at an open space in the hammock.   The hammock itself feels and looks like a jungle.  A jaguar around every corner???





The path starts climbing gently.


We recognize the mound not only by the shells on the path but also by the grade we were walking up.  A Cypress swamp is now below us.   I have to wonder how the Native Americans made a mound this tall out of these tiny shells.  These are not oyster shells there seem to be a lot of snails.








That’s the swamp below.  We have been on flat ground until now.




At the end of the trail is a nice bench for sitting.  IF you have time. 



Note to self:  this paddle is an ALL day trip.  Not a half day trip as you have done both times now.

The sign above the bench says.  Trail Ends Here.  HA! 

It is is not a loop trail so after enjoying this spot we climb up to the highest point and take a picture as evidence we had made it. 





We head back the way we have come to the first cross trail which is the “Cross Island Road.” This part of the road crosses an entirely different habitat as you can see. No hammock, no canopy, no live oaks. It is a pine palmetto forest.  The road is wide and flat, no mud,  and we can hustle along.  Which is what is needed at this point.







Eventually we arrive at the campground road which leads back to the store.  


The campground is obviously pack it in.  Tents only.  There are also several cabins you can rent as well.   It’s a lovely spot.











We make it back, grab our paddles from where we have left them in front of the store and head back down the river.


We have JUST enough time to make it before sunset if it doesn’t take us more than about 100 minutes which means we’ll have to shave about 20 minutes off our paddling up time.  Not much time for pictures.  We pass the park sign, turn the corner and I find that I am battling both the current and an increased wind, I put my camera away.   Hope we make it.








I’m a bit concerned.  If we have to fight both of these all the way back, I’ll be exhausted.


Once we are out of the channel to the park and back into the St. John’s the wind is luckily at our backs so even though we are now fighting the current, we are breaking even.   Still I mostly paddle and all the pictures from here on are David’s.












It’s just about exactly sunset when we arrive back at the spring run. 


We’ve actually made great time and I’m not even that tired.




But there’s more……….

It’s been a wonderful day on the river and in Hontoon State Park but the best is yet to come.   It’s just one of those serendipity fantastic things that can happen when you least expect it.  But this post is long enough  so the end of my Fantastic Friday will be another post.






  1. Beautiful Heron, never seen one quite like it.

    We will leave here at 06:30 and hopefully find the park. The weather forecast looks good. Hope we see you guys.

  2. Good golly - I'm exhausted!!!

    Virtual hugs,


  3. How stinky.. a cliff hanger!!! Loved the turtle pics and that bird seemed to be upset at the turtle...haha

  4. Yet again a cliff hanger! You two ought to sleep well tonight!!

  5. Nice trip out and back, but I would be nervous getting back that late. I guess you can paddle after dark but I sure wouldn't want to do it.

  6. Great paddle, but those were not water lilies. That plant is Spatterdock and trying to paddle through it is like trying to paddle through sand in my book. I've had a few times in a loaded canoe when the Spatterdock almost won. My shoulders ache just remembering.

    1. Thanks so much Page. I've gone back and changed the post. I can always count on my commenters to set me straight. What would I do without you?

  7. Lovely paddle! The heron vs. turtle especially made me smile. Probably good we didn't try that paddle & hike, George does more of the paddling than I do, he would have been exhausted :-)

  8. In the process of living your life and writing your blog, you have become a wonderful photographer. I'm with everyone else. I'm bushed after reading of your day's activity. I know you and David will sleep well. :)

  9. Hey, Sherry, check out site 20 at Blue Springs. I think it is kinda nice and the people are a bit weird

  10. What a beautiful paddle and hike! We want to do both -- but I'm taking note of your comment that we need to set aside an entire day for the adventure. Great pics of the green heron -- one of my favorite birds! Where are you headed from Blue Spring? We're back in Apalachicola.

  11. Aw, come on.....no post of yours is too long! Loved the pics of the trip to Hontoon Island, but I want the surprise! Guess I'll just have to wit with everyone else.

  12. I think I know what's coming up for Fantastic Friday ;) What a great paddle! I love the egret and turtle photos. Also, that Great Blue looks like a water giraffe - what a LONG neck! I also like the picture of Dad communing with the cypress. What a lovely day all around.

  13. Beautiful birds and I see that David got a shot of an alligator. I had to click on it to make it bigger so my old eyes could see it. I have a camera case with a strap on it (not waterproof) that I wear over my shoulder (across my body so you can't lose it). David might look into one of those. Pricey but maybe worth it given that you take lots of pictures in places where there's water, are the Otter cases. They are waterproof.

  14. It was a wonderful day which almost continued into the night;o(( You two are a hoot and I agree, you need to allow a lot more time for all of your adventures!!! Glad it all worked out:o)

  15. Thanks for pointing out the green heron - what a great look I got at him/her! And what a beautiful day for a paddle and hike too. Wonder why they call it an Indian Mound. It did not look like other shell middens made from heaps of shells left from eating shell fish. Maybe all that is under a layer of dirt. Hmmm - no time to ask the ranger. Next time.

  16. Have enjoyed your blog. If you're ever in N Ft Myers area, WP Franklin (ACOE) in Alva, FL has a campground for RVers & Boat Slips. Nice park, first lock on the Caloosahatchee River. Enjoyed watching the manatees enter the locks and meeting water travelers. Believe I'll keep the RV, afraid of pirates on the high seas! Lynn


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