Yet another ‘1st’ to my kayaking of Florida waterways. Juniper Creek, the 7-mile paddle from Juniper Springs Recreation Area to Juniper Wayside ( Hwy 19 ) is always a treat and considered one of the top 25 waterways to paddle in America. That is only a part of this 10-mile creek’s story. Much less talked about, is the second half of Juniper Creek that continues on, past Juniper Wayside and flows another 3 miles to Lake George! Today, Florida Paddle Notes explores the Lower Juniper Creek…James
Juniper Creek is a 10.0-mile-long tributary of the St. Johns River at Lake George. It is located in both Marion County and Lake County, Florida. Originating from Juniper Spring, a 3rd magnitude spring located in the Juniper Springs Recreation Area, the creek flows northward and then eastward through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness and on to Lake George, the St. Johns River.
The water is clear for over 9 miles before darkening, widening, and flowing into Lake George. There are numerous sandy shallow areas and narrow channels where the bottom has eelgrass and lime rocks. About halfway down Lower Juniper Creek, there is a fork, with Little Juniper Creek flowing to the left. Here, both creeks deepen and become wider, the water more dark as it flows into Lake George.
Lower Juniper Creek Details:
Location: The Lower Juniper Creek is located in two counties, the first mile in Marion County and the second 2 miles in Lake County.
Launch and Take-Out Point: is located at Juniper Wayside on Highway 19 in Marion County. This is the take-out point for the popular Juniper Creek run that starts in the Juniper Springs Recreational Area and flows 7 miles to Juniper Wayside. This will be both the launch and take-out for this paddle. There are other take-out points, when planning different routes, that involve paddling into Lake George and heading south to the Lake George Public Boat Ramp, or paddling north to Silver Glen Springs. ( see the paddle map below).
Paddle Distance: 7.25 miles from Juniper Wayside to Lake George (via Little Juniper Creek) paddling south on Lake George and entering Juniper Creek and returning to Juniper Wayside. ( see the paddle map below).
Difficulty: Easy to difficult. Low water levels can present several portage issues over the sandy bottom, high winds on Lake George can be a challenge, and paddling back against the current on Juniper Creek will require some stamina…more so in the final 1 1/2 miles.
Average Paddle Speed: 1.35 mph. This takes in count the brisk current flowing downstream and paddling against that current on the way back. I believe a more accurate reading may be 2+ mph because it also accounts for some slowing down for photos and observations.
Width and Depth:
- Juniper Creek, at the launch, is around 50′ wide, the creek widens and narrows, with the widest section being 150′ before entering Little Juniper Creek. Here, Little Juniper Creeks is a narrow 30′ – 50′ and widens to 200′ upon entering Lake George. From Lake George, entering Juniper Creek, it is 200+’ wide, narrowing down to around 150′ back at the entrance to Little Juniper Creek.
- Depth today – 6″ to 7’+. Lake George was just under 2′.
Current – Tidal: A quick current for the first mile and a half, and noticeably slower after that on both Juniper Creek and Little Juniper Creek.
Side Paddles: This paddle can be extended to continue on Juniper Creek to Lake George and paddling south to Lake George Public Boat Ramp ( 5.3 mi ) or paddling north to Silver Glen Springs ( 7 mi ). For the adventurist, continue paddling north on Lake George to Salt Springs ( 17 mi ).
Rest Areas: Depending on the water level, there are numerous sandbars to exit your boat and enjoy the cool water. There is a popular rest area on the right where Little Juniper Creek leaves the main creek. And a couple of visible rest spots on both creeks that can be spotted.
Important Information: Watch for shallow water, swift currents during the rainy season, winds and waves on Lake George. Bring plenty of fluids for the heat in summer!
Lower Juniper Creek Paddle Map…
Juniper Wayside Launch…
Juniper Wayside is located on Hwy 19 in the Ocala National Forest on the southwest corner of the bridge passing over the creek. Parking is paved with a loop to unload boats however parking is limited, so get there early on weekends. There are restroom facilities and no fee is required. A concrete ramp, as well as tiered stairs, provide access to the water.
This is the take-out point for the upper Juniper Creek run as well as the launch to paddle the lower Juniper Creek.
A shallow Juniper Creek…
Launch time was 12:00 PM and I really thought it would be crowded, however only a couple of paddlers were there waiting to be picked up. The parking lot was less than a quarter full. It was hot and we wasted no time getting on and in the water.
This first section is shallow with a sandy bottom. There is actually a narrow channel that we paddled in, passing over lime rock and eelgrass. The channel was bordered with Rush, Cattails, Myrtles, Ferns, Palms, and others. Scarlet Rose Mallows, Swamp Lilies, and Salt Marsh Mallows were blooming throughout the paddle. It was open overhead and the current was flowing nicely. Below the surface, schools of mullet raced by. On this day it was wise to remain in the visible channel as the water over the white sand was barely 6″ deep. These shallow areas persisted a little over a mile and a half where the creek forks, with Little Juniper Creek to the left and Juniper Creek continuing ahead. We entered Little Juniper Creek.
The Loop & Lake George…
At mile 1.65, there is a rest stop on the right. The area is open but nicely shaded by Palms and Bay. Numerous ferns carpeted the ground. Here, are two memorials, commemorating a couple of folks who visited the creek often. The newer, blue, arrowhead-shaped memorial, is for Thomas Dees Sr. who lived 1948 – 2019. He was known as “Pop” Dees, and loved building and racing airboats, often camping and boating on Lake George and Juniper Creek. The other memorial, much older looking, commemorates a person whose name looks to be “Tubbs”. It was hard for me to read. I determined that these were memorials and not actual gravesites by checking an official list of cemeteries in the area.
This is a beautiful sub-tropical run with typical Palms, Cypress, Bay, Willows, and Swamp Dogwood. As we neared Lake George, Ospreys were abundant, flying overhead and perched on branches of tall dead tree trunks. There was a minimal flow on Little Juniper Creek, the water is dark and in several places, actually muddy. I noted in my book that it was ‘heavy’ water. At mile 2.9, there is a 1/4 mile cut through on the right to Juniper Creek. This would come in handy if the wind and waves were a problem on Lake George, but today the lake was like glass, which we reached a quarter mile further.
Lake George was calm today. No wind, no waves…a quiet paddle along the 1/4 mile shoreline from Little Juniper Run Creek, south to the entrance of Juniper Creek. It was just under 2′ deep and along the way we observed several patches of Late Boneset –Eupatorium serotinum.
There is an obvious landmark marking the entrance to Juniper Creek…a tall dead tree with a “Y” in the top branches. We turned in, observed more Ospreys, and also checked out a large Osprey nest on top of a No Wake sign, located where the cut-through comes in from Little Juniper Creek, mile 4.1.
Here the creek is wide and open, and although paddling up the creek, the current was not a problem due to the width and depth. At mile marker 5.25, the water begins clearing and the sandy bottom becomes more visible. We reached the Memorial Rest Stop on this loopback and indeed, rested and enjoyed cooling in the now clearer, shallower water.
The Final Stretch…
The last mile and a half, back to Juniper Wayside, paddling against a strong current, in shallow water, was challenging on this hot afternoon! Halfway back on this section, we took another brief break under the shade of a tree, then completed the remainder of the paddle.
Despite the challenging paddle against the current for that last mile, this was a very enjoyable paddle, one I will definitely do again!
***View Florida Paddle Notes‘ post for Upper Juniper Creek here!***
Guides, Maps & Info…
- Lower Juniper Creek Topo Map…
- Little Juniper Creek Topo Map…
- Juniper Prairie Wilderness Topo Map…
- Juniper Springs Recreation Area…
- Juniper Springs Information…
- Lake George Information…