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St. Johns River from Hatbill Park to Rt. 46,
west of Mims, Florida USA
Kayaking or canoeing the St. Johns River is a special experience. The St. Johns is noteworthy not only for its spectacular natural beauty but also as a perspective on Florida's long and colorful history. Native Americans used the St. Johns River and its tributaries extensively for transportation. Before railroads or roads, the river later served as a major artery for paddle-wheel boats. Over 300 miles long, it is the longest river in Florida and one of only 14 American Heritage Rivers in the USA. This rare northern-flowing U.S. river begins in the marshes of Blue Cypress Lake and ends at it's mouth on the Atlantic in Jacksonville.
The first land-accessible kayaking and canoeing sections of this river are upstream (south) of Melbourne, Florida through Lake Hell N Blazes and the two Sawgrass Lakes.
(One can also take a number of paddle trips out and back from Hatbill Park.)
After launching from Hatbill Park, we paddled downstream (westward) about half a mile to the main navigation channel on the river. Locals have installed helpful PVC pipe channel markings at this point. At the main channel, we kayaked north (downstream) toward Puzzle Lake. You have a choice here of taking two channels north.
Though well downstream of it's headwaters, this section of the river from Hatbill Park to Route 46, has a more remote feel than many sections upstream as it divides and rejoins around many islands through multiple channels the river has cut, exposing muddy banks during low water.
We saw a number of alligators and a variety of bird life, the most remarkable of which were many large eagles.
I saw more eagles during this one day of paddling on the St. Johns River than I've seen the rest of my life.
These large, fast and powerful raptors, our country's symbol of strength, speed and grace, were abundant in the middle section of this paddle; most remote and farthest away from roads.
We saw several eagles flying with huge fish in their talons. One landed to eat. We tried to walk slowly toward it over the open grasses to get a better photo, but these wild birds took flight when we got within 100 meters. So take a good long lens if you'd like to get a good photo.
Not all animals we saw were wild. This group of cattle were curious and gave us a good look before deciding they could continue to eat the abundant grasses.
We watched these beautiful American Black Necked Stilts walking slowly in the shallow water.
As we came in sight of the Route 46 bridge, we paddled by large groups of seagulls. This section of winding channels with our bridge destination in sight for quite some time was tiring as we tediously wound our way back and forth toward the end of our trip.
We had a great day on a great river.