The Chipola River
The Chipola is a winding, clear stream offering a variety of trips through the northweast Florida panhandle. The Fellow Travelers have canoed the river twice, both trips beginning at the SR 166 landing just north of Marianna and just below Florida Caverns State Park. There are canoeable sections upstream of the park but the river goes underground and rises again. Reportedly there is a log canal which is extremely obstructed between the park and the SR 166 put-in. The first trip ended at Scott’s Bridge on SR 71 but the second ended at the Chipola River Park at SR 20 a few miles west of Blountstown. The thirteen miles from SR 20 to SR 71 saw the river meander through swampy territory and made the trip somewhat long for a three-day outing.
Campsites are rare on the Chipola, and there are many houses and trailers along the river. There is way too much litter on much of the river.
The landing at SR 166 is well-used and is probably a safe place to leave vehicles. The ramp is used mostly by canoeists and is an easy place to launch the boats. The Chipola is more like a creek at this access and remains twisting and obstructed most of the way to the next landing which is ten miles downstream at the Magnolia bridge over SR 280A. Unfortunately the river is heavily littered in this section, but the scenery is very nice. Expect to fight the way through downed trees and brush, and do not be surprised if there are a few pull-overs. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile section and poses no danger for the inexperienced.
About two miles downstream the river passes under the US 90 bridge but there is no access at that point. About three more miles downstream the railroad crosses the river. Just below the railroad bridge on the right bank is Alamo Cave. It is large enough to enter and would probably make a good stopping place for a lunch break.
A short distance beyond the cave the spring run from Dykes Spring enters from the left. It is only a short paddle to the spring. Though not a huge spring, it is very pretty and has a deep blue color. It is not posted and would make a suitable campsite. As with most of the land along the Chipola, the campsites are in wooded areas and that means bugs. For all practical purposes there are no sandbars on the Chipola.
Magnolia Bridge is ten miles below SR 166. There is a canoe livery on the left bank just upstream from the bridge. There is a good access at the bridge. Canoeing downstream the river becomes a little less winding and the banks alternate between rather high clay banks and limestone banks reminiscent of the upper sections of the Suwannee. The river also becomes wider but remains shallow. There are numerous small shoals which speed up the paddling but none pose a threat. However, there are a lot of sharp limestone rocks which can catch the unwary tourist. The river bed alternates between gravel, limestone, and sand.
The Chipola is not a tannic river but displays a pretty green color much like some springs. It is generally clear and fish of many sizes and varieties can be seen. Whether or not they can be caught is an open question.
Seven miles beyond the SR 280A bridge Dry Creek enters from the right. It is a fairly large creek and is reported to be canoeable at higher water levels. The Peacock Bridge is ten miles below Magnolia Bridge at SR 278. Camping may be possible at the grassy landing but it might be a gathering place for locals.
After passing the SR 278 bridge the river traverses many rocky shoals. The water travels fast over the rocks and some skill is helpful in negotiating the section, but beginners can probably handle the situation. About an hour before reaching the next bridge is Johnny Boy’s Landing. This is reputed to be a rowdy party spot but it does look like a possible camping spot. It is a popular launching for tubers who put in for take out at Look and Tremble rapid or at Lamb Eddie’s landing. This section of the river remains littered, and the litter consists not only of Bud Lite cans but many abandoned tubes and inflatable rafts.
The bridge at SR 274 is eight miles below Peacock Bridge. The bridge itself is an arched concrete structure marked by much graffiti. There is not a boat ramp at the bridge. It is only a short distance to the famous Look and Tremble rapid. This is a popular gathering spot with road access. The rapid is not in the league with the Big Shoals of the Suwannee but offers a lot of opportunity for upsets. There is a portage along the right hand bank and it is advisable to make use of it by any canoeist doubting the ability to safely run the rapid.
The river continues downstream and continues to be littered. There are a lot of houses and few suitable campsites. One possible campsite is on an island just past several houses. There is a good boat ramp at Lamb Eddie’s which is probably about six miles on the right beyond the bridge. There are no facilities but it does offer sites among the trees. There is a long carry up the ramp the landing. This area, too, may be a hangout for locals.
From Lamb Eddie’s it is probably about four miles to the SR 20 bridge at the Calhoun County. There are no shoals in this area and there are several possible campsites. A good one is on the left after passing a sweeping bend with a huge dead cypress. The takeout is on the right. Although there are bathroom facilities at the stop the condition of them invites most people to use the woods instead. The park is probably a safe place to park cars and there are a lot of vehicles parked there.
The trip from SR 20 to SR 71 was done several years ago. Memories are of canoeing through an area of swampy terrain and of difficulty determining the course of the river. It is thirteen miles of paddling.