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St. Johns River from Route 192 to Lake Hell N Blazes, Melbourne, Florida USA
Kayaking or canoeing the St. Johns River, one of only 14 American Heritage Rivers in the USA, is enjoyable not only for its spectacular natural beauty but also as a perspective on Florida 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. The northern-flowing river begins in the marshes of Blue Cypress Lake and ends at it's mouth on the Atlantic in Jacksonville.
This is the first section of the St. Johns River that sees regular boat traffic. We paddled upstream (southward) from Camp Holly on Route 192 to the south end of Lake Hell N Blazes at the the very beginning of the navigable section in the Three Forks Marsh area. You may also kayak or canoe northward (downstream) from Camp Holly to Lake Washington.
Though this is a gorgeous paddle, be prepared for some airboat and motorboat traffic. Airboats love the swampy grassy areas along the shores of river. But we found every boater polite, friendly and careful to steer clear of us paddlers. I placed a bright, tall orange flag over my kayak to be more visible when we paddled into the high grasses on the sides of the river and lakes. You may also want to take a loud horn to warn away any boaters that might not be paying attention.
At the southeast corner of Little Sawgrass Lake is a day shelter shown at right, a comfortable stop to get out and stretch. There are no facilities there other than a shelter and dock. Just northeast of the shelter on a short channel off the lake is also a landing that is a popular place for airboaters.
The 2 mile section of river connecting Little Sawgrass to Lake Hell N Blazes had some of the most stunning scenery, such as Cypress trees and the large flock of wood storks shown at left. I found it inspirational that these somewhat homely birds displayed such spectacular beauty as a flock in flight. And Ibis were everywhere.
Hell N Blazes is an impressive, large lake; the first Lake on the navigable portion of the St. Johns River. That's where we found several grassy banks frequented by alligators like the one I found walking into the water in the photo above. There are several side channels to explore, and a couple of primitive campgrounds. We finally stopped for lunch on a mushy grass landing about 100 yards south of Lake Hell N Blazes on west bank of the the main channel. Always be mindful on these beaches that there are probably alligators nearby underwater.