Bear Creek is a distributary of the Ocklawaha River. It originates as a small 35′ wide creek, 1/4 mile East of the HWY 19 bridge, 19 miles North of Salt Springs. The creek basically flows 4.25 miles Southeast on its winding way to the St Johns River.
The creek parallels the Ocklawaha River on the South, along the north border of Little Lake George Wilderness. At 0.75 miles Bear Creek passes north of 8PU644 Bear Creek Indian Mound. At its source, the creek is approximately 35′ across and widening to 75′ by the time it meets the Ocklawaha at mile 2.5. Here, Bear Creek continues on its own as a 30′ canopied stream until it reaches the St Johns River at 100′ wide. The flow is slow and gentle.
Bear Creek is a wonderful paddle through a typical Bottomland Hardwood Forest. Often flooded, bottomland forests are characterized with Cypress, Gum, Ash, Maple among others. The trunks are usually fluted and often form a tangled canopy overhead. The shoreline is loosely defined with the typical ‘Swamp Smell’, which are gases produced by decaying bacteria and vegetation. Bear Creek is known for it’s diversity of Flora and Fauna.
Bear Creek Details:
Launch Point: Bryant’s Wharf on Palmetto Street in Welaka.
Paddle Distance: Round trip for this paddle was 6.25 miles
Difficulty: Easy. Wind can be a factor on the St. Johns River.
Average Paddle Speed: 1.85 mph. Probably slower today due to photography and observations.
Width and Depth:
- St. Johns River 1/4 mile wide, 40′ deep in main channel
- Bear Creek, 25′ – 80′ wide, depth variable from a few feet to over 6′
- Ocklawaha River 130 – 150′ wide, variable depth 8’+
Current – Tidal: Gentle current
Side Paddles: This trip does have a side paddle. Once on the Ocklawaha, 3/4 mile down river on RL is a tributary to the river.
Rest Areas: There are no rest areas along this loop.
Important Information: Watch for downfall on Bear Creek. Winds may be an issue on the St; Johns River, sun and heat along the Ocklawaha.
The Paddle Route…
Bryant’s Wharf Launch…
The launch site is a small grassy area at Bryant’s Wharf on Palmetto Street in Welaka. The wharf has a history dating back to 1855 when Colonel James Bryant bought Old Miguel Crosby Spanish Land Grant. Following the Civil War, Welaka survived from the seafood business on the St Johns River. According to a brief history, posted at Bryant’s Wharf, Football Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas owned Welaka Seafood in the late 1900s.
There is adequate parking at Bryant’s Wharf as well as a dock and restroom facilities.
St. Johns River…
The St Johns River is 1/4 mile across from our launch and we proceed to cross the river. This morning it is warm, 84°, sunny and calm. There is no boat traffic or wind on the St Johns River which is a blessing and makes the crossing quite pleasant.
The western shoreline of the St. John’s is characterized by wide masses of Spadderdock that average 100′ – 200′ feet wide. We paddle through a small passage through the Spadderdock, along the shoreline past the Ocklawaha River, to the entrance to Bear Creek.
The mouth of Bear Creek can be seen from a distance across the sea of Spadderdock on the St. Johns River, 1.5 miles into our paddle…location map. A good landmark is the St Johns River Marker #52 near the mouth of the Ocklawaha River. From the Ocklawaha, Bear Creek is just under 1000′ to the South.
Bear Creek is just over 100′ wide as it enters the St Johns River. The flow is gentle and there is no problem paddling against the current. The water level is noticeably high, with the lower branches of many Cypress and palms below the waterline. There were several new trees downed since our last visit, but none obstructed our paddle under their canopy. The air was still and the familiar smell of the swamp was in the air as we paddled the 1.75 miles up to where Bear Creek brushes the Ocklawaha River.
Red Maples made for great color accents with their bright red and orange leaves on a backgound of green from the Bald Cypress. Carolina Ash still had numerous seed pods remaining on them and many Cypress trees displayed their male catkins like tinsel on a Christmas Tree. Climbing Hempvine was in full bloom the entire length of Bear Creak and Swamp Dogwood displayed numerous berries along the way. The Creek was a diversity of trees and shrubs to include, Wax Myrtle, Carolina Ash, Swamp Tupelo, Red Maple, Sweet Gum, Bald Cypress, Water Locust, and Swamp Dogwood.
What was noticeable was the absence of birds, which normally, are abundant along Bear Creek. I included photos of Ibis and a Red-Shouldered Hawk from a past paddle, however, today, a couple of Anhingas and a Great Heron was all that we saw.
1.75 miles up Bear Creak is a junction. It is here that Bear Creek, flowing from the West, actually flows into the Ocklawaha River. It is also here, that the small creek we just paddled up emerges from the Ocklawaha and is named Bear Creek. See Graphic… There is a 175′ distance between this smaller Bear Creek to the confluence of the larger Bear Creek and the Ocklawaha. Paddling through this opening brings us into the much wider and open Ocklawaha River. Here the river is 150′ wide with 50′ of this width matted with Spadderdock around every turn.
The river is beautiful, gently flowing, and like Bear Creek is accented with the bright leaves of the Red Maples. The paddle is effortless and surprising there is no boat traffic at all. It is much warmer now and we paddle 1.75 miles down the river to the St. Johns River. From there, back to our launch at Bryant’s Wharf, Welaka. Definitely an enjoyable 6+ mile paddle!