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

Henry David Thoreau

Reaching Beautiful River Rise By Water

Tuesday March 24, 2015
O’Leno State Park
High Springs, Florida





Those of you who follow along with us will remember our hike over to River Rise just a few days ago so you’ll be familiar with how really lovely it is.   If you missed that post you can find it here.

River Rise is just so beautiful that when we discover we can paddle up there from a free county boat ramp put in, we are all over it.  It does mean we have to paddle up the river against the flow for 2 miles or so but then we can float back.

Luckily for us the Santa Fe is not a swift river but still unless you pull over to the side and find a place out of the flow, you have to keep paddling.


I really like the Santa Fe for paddling especially during the week and not during the summer.  The river is born in Lake Santa Fe, a spring fed lake 42 miles from O’Leno.  It flows a total of 72 miles from the lake to the Suwanee River which then flows to the Gulf of Mexico.  Rivers and streams seem to me to be like the veins and arteries of our planet Earth.   The Santa Fe is the Suwanee’s largest tributary. 



The most famous thing about the Santa Fe is its disappearance down a sink hole in O’Leno State Park and reappearance 3 miles away in River Rise State Park.  That’s where we are going today.  Up river to where it rises out of the ground after its 3 mile journey.  Another interesting thing is that the two sections of the river, before and after the sink/rise are quite different.  I learn all of the following information from a very informative sign at the county dock where we put in.  I want to remember this so I’ll share it here.

The upper Santa Fe from the lake headed to O’Leno runs through a region of wet pine forests and swamps where there is an underlying layer of impenetrable clay.  The rain that falls there is captured at the surface and returns to the river in slow moving streams where tannins from decaying swamp vegetation stain the water the color of tea. 

As the river moves westward toward the sink, the landscape changes to a dry plain.  There is no layer of clay.  The rainwater sinks quickly through sandy soil into the porous limestone bedrock and flows underground to the river.  The many sinkholes, springs, swallets and rises seen along the Santa Fe after the river rises formed as naturally acidic rainwater dissolved the bedrock over thousands of years.  Such a landscape is called karst.   The most dramatic karst feature on the river is the river sink and rise here.



More than 75 springs, whose water is filtered by limestone, is remarkably clear and comes from the Florida aquifer,  feed the lower Santa Fe River.   During periods of low rainfall the water in the upper Santa Fe decreases and the springs, which contribute hundreds of millions of gallons of water a day, cause the lower Santa Fe to run very clear.  However during rainy periods, tannin stained water pours out of the Santa Fe Lake surrounding swamps and bottomlands along the way which cause the entire river to turn brown.   It’s a very interesting river.

In the first two pictures above you can see a couple of mushroom sort of looking things in the water.  Coming out of this launch it’s a good thing the river is not too swift since you wouldn’t want to crash into them; they are concrete.  These are the remnant pilings from a wagon bridge built around 1900.   It was the only bridge over the river until the Rt 441 bridge, over which we drive here, was built a quarter of a mile east of here in 1934.  



Back to our paddle on this neat river.

High today is predicted to be 69 so the air is very pleasant but not exactly warm. We each wear a jacket over our kayak shirts. The skies are totally cloudy which makes for a white background in all the pictures. Not my favorite.

We head up river paddling against the current.  We pass only about 6 houses with docks along the entire way. I am frankly shocked that this and the fact that all but one of these houses is a very nice distance back from the shore keeping this river very peaceful.



As we pass by one of the houses I see along the river an uncommon sight.  Wisteria growing along the bank.  It smells fantastic and gives a bright spot of color on an otherwise rather dull weather day.  Beautiful flowers.






The paddle is peaceful and too lovely for words.  A perfect river trip.   I guess we’ve gone about a mile or so upstream when we see the sign that says you are entering River Rise Preserve and State Park.  It is off to the left side and Mother Nature is clearly trying to hide it.





There isn’t any sunshine to coax the turtles out onto the river but we do see this one and then a very interesting shape in the water.  Those of you who have been with us a long time know that I am always seeing faces and animals in the landscape around me.  But this was one of the best.





I’m paddling along at an easy pace when I look over and see this.  What does it look like to you?





I stop paddling and float back to get a full on front shot of this river creature.



The river is just exquisite.  Native spatterdock lilies reflect beautifully in the dark waters of the river as do the trunks of the striking cypress trees.









After about an hour and a half we see our destination.  The River Rise looks just as delightful from the water as from the land.   What a surprise it must be for those who don’t know about the sink and rise if they think they will paddle the river to is source.  Or perhaps those were only early explorers looking for the source and every modern day paddler is already aware of the famous sink and rise.






Just a few days ago we walked these steps down to the water and now we could walk them up to the land.


Because we have seen the enormous trees and picturesque land surrounding the River Rise we decide to use the fine two kayak parking space David selects to eat our lunch at water level.


The lunch selfie.



The lunch views.




By the time we leave to float back down stream. the sun is finally burning off some of the clouds and blue skies are peeking out.  We hope.   Yes this is a reflection shot of the sky in the river.





The sun brought out the turtles.  We’d only seen one or two on the paddle up.  But floating back they were everywhere.  Turtle lovers get ready.









The current seems to like to turn David sideways and around backwards.  He doesn’t have a rudder like I do.  He doesn’t care.  He just goes with the flow.






Seems like an unlikely pair doesn’t it.  And an uncomfortable position too.





Both legs out.  Wonder why they often seem to have at least one up in the air?  I suppose the only way to really know is to ask them.  It sure takes a lot of energy for me to do that yoga pose on my stomach holding both my legs up in the air.  To stay there for an period of time – impossible.





The gray skies turn to a little window of blue among the puffy clouds and then to more and more blue as we mostly float along down stream. 







We follow one or several, who knows, kingfishers down the river.  This is the best of the ridiculous number of pictures I try to take of him.  Many just taken a split second after he flies.    But I think this one may be my all time best.







I feel like we are traveling through a beautiful painting until we hear voices. 









They are the first people we’ve seen all day except for one hiker at the Rise who left just after we arrived.  On the water, it’s a family. Men on paddle boats. Well Dad and the boys.  One of them was around the bend when I took this picture.  Mom and the girls in canoe and kayak.  

The boaters are having some trouble steering as David floats right toward them.  He’s so mean.  He cut over to the left at the last minute.   It’s true they were on the wrong side but they hadn’t gotten the hang of it clearly.







It is just so peaceful floating down the river.  First David is behind me and then he’s in front of me turned around with the camera in his hand.







So I give him a look at my water boots.  It’s nowhere near cold enough in the water or outside to wear these but we overlooked our little low cut light weight water shoes drying on the picnic table.  They are always with the paddles, but not today.  Having water shoes makes it much easier to get in and out of the kayaks.






We finally get some nearly totally blue skies.









By the end of the paddle, the turtles are out in droves.  So different from our paddle upstream.







He looks sleepy.  By the end.  me too.  Actually you could take a nap on the way down the Santa Fe as long as it was a fairly short one.  The river will take care of you.   But unless you know the river banks well you don’t want to float on by your take out.





There’s our landing spot.  It took an hour and a half to paddle up and two and a half to float down.  It’s a lazy river and we let it do nearly all the work.   But still, we got some exercise for the day.





The Santa Fe is a very beautiful and interesting river with multiple springs along the way and multiple put in and take out points near by as well.   This won’t be our last paddle on it that’s for sure.


  1. Ahhh....I never got to paddle the Santa Fe, and it is definitely on the dream list. I just hope I can get Mo back to Florida someday...sigh. And, my first visit to Ocala in 2000 was marked by the gorgeous wisteria in full bloom everywhere....even from the telephone poles. I guess wisteria is actually a seriously troublesome noxious weed in this part of Florida. Bummer. they are so lovely and fragrant.

  2. A whole lot of turtles!

    I'm seeing wisteria in a number of blogs from southern locations. It's something we never see here, of course.

  3. a t first I saw the Loch Ness monster....but then I remembered where you were and decided on an alligator...in another picture I thought I saw the skeleton wishbone of a prehistoric bird...I love to imagine and see things...I loved floating through your painting...

  4. I could do that one over and over and over again! !t looks like a dreamland! Perfect day!

  5. I Love reflection photos....good job with those. I hope when life gets full of unwanted turmoil, that these hikes and boating trips will bring peace and comfort to you both. --Dave (GoingRvWay.com)

  6. Nice kingfisher shot. I think it is your best... so far. ;)

  7. The river was so calm and those reflection photos are amazing:) Some are tough to tell which was is up! The wisteria (especially the final photo) is so gorgeous!! That alligator is a hoot! Totally uncomfortable if you ask me. What a fantastic day!! I would have so enjoyed the float back down. Glad the sun came out for the trip home:)

  8. I like the reflection shots of the cypress trees. Looks like a beautiful day on the river.

  9. Another perfect day -- you guys are getting in some fabulous kayak trips while you're staying at O'Leno. I would love kayaking to River Rise. I'm trying to remember why we didn't kayak it when we were there a couple of years ago -- I think the river was closed to kayakers because the water was too high. So glad you were able to do it and to show us the beauty.

  10. You, more and more make me want a kayak. Your photos are stunning. So envious of your temperatures. This weekend is predicted to be hotter than a furnace on a cold winter night.

  11. Beautiful...simply beautiful!! I love the reflection shots:o)) Great photo of the Kingfisher and really excited to see the unusual River Dolphin;o))

  12. Nice shot of the elusive kingfisher....they just don't like having their picture taken !

  13. The kingfisher is great! It looks like a great area we need to explore.

  14. Love the wisteria. I miss seeing them and I swear, when I looked at the close up picture, I could smell the wonderful fragrance.

    You got a great Kingfisher photo. They are definitely difficult to catch.

    Those water shoes of yours looks very much like dive booties.

  15. Karst plays all kinds of games with water. What a joy to see, and smell, the wisteria. Hard to believe anything that beautiful could be called a “noxious weed”. Looks like a goose's head to me sticking out of the water. And I believe I saw the skeleton of a beached whale. Better to paddle upstream than get sucked into the sink. It's so fun to see things from multiple perspectives. If I can see another trail or road from where I am, I want to explore it too. I don't see Kingfishers in AZ but love everyone seen elsewhere, only South Africa so far, so I really enjoy the ones you see. I think you do quite well capturing birds. Sun or not the dense growth with their mirrored reflections almost doesn't look real, or like you say, paddling into a painting. What a beautiful image that leaves in my mind. Thank you for kayaking the river rise.

  16. Nice paddle ... I like the idea of a lazy float downriver. Love the reflection shot of the trees.

  17. I guess those boys are pretty sure of themselves using paddle boards in gator infested water. Not for me, I'd be a gator's lunch in no time... :cO

    Wonderful picture of the Kingfisher, Nat Geo quality!

  18. First it was a dolphin, then a duck, but when you came back for a closer shot it was a two-headed duck. The gator looked like he was stretching his back, but maybe he was just guarding his end of the log from all the turtles! Interesting to see the difference in numbers between cloudy and sunny. Love the yoga turtle and the Kingfisher, but the boot pic is my favorite one of you so far! The reflections on of the trees create such an amazing "enclosure" of natural beauty. Thanks for sharing another great paddle :-))

  19. I'm with Jodee as it looked like a door in sticking it's head out for a chat. Loved the lazy river. It seems the best way to go, paddle upstream then the lazy float back. I would so love drinking in all the beautiful scenery. AHHHH!

  20. Dolphin sighting in the river! :) What a lovely paddle...or should I say float? Lovely reflections and pretty wisteria! Another great day on a neat river.

  21. Sounds so peaceful. If I close my eyes I can almost hear the birds and the water as the paddles dip in and out.

  22. Add my vote for the kingfisher photo!

  23. Love the Wisteria! How interesting to find it in the river. That Kingfisher is a beaut!

  24. The natural world is a place of wonder and comfort to the soul on such a fine day. I thank my lucky stars for such a peaceful paddle & float!

  25. OMG, so beautiful and the reflections shots are just gorgeous. Agree with you the Kingfisher capped your perfect paddling day. It is so calm and clear and so serene out there.


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