Upper Santa Fe River & Sink

Paddling the Santa Fe River at Oleno
Paddling the Santa Fe River to the Sink at O’Leno St. Park

Last week we explored the upper Santa Fe River and Olustee Creek. This week, we decided to paddle downstream from our launch at Bible Camp Road and head toward the Santa Fe Sink, located at O’Leno State Park. The sink is where the Santa Fe River goes underground for just over three miles before emerging at River Rise. Access to the sink is blocked at the park, a half-mile upstream, however, the two-mile paddle to the park and back was quite an adventure!…James

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The Upper Santa Fe River flows in a southwesterly direction from Bible Camp Road Boat Launch where 2.75 miles downstream, it eventually sinks underground at O’Leno State Park. The river continues flowing underground for a little over three miles before emerging in River Rise State Park. The geology of the Santa Fe River basin features Karst Limestone formation which produces many of the springs found along the river and for also creating this three-mile underground tunnel in which the Santa Fe flows. The area above the river, as it flowed underground, was used for thousands of years as a natural bridge to travel across the river, and is part of the Old Bellamy Road. There are links following this post with information for further reading.


Upper Santa Fe River & Sink Paddle Map…

Upper Santa Fe River Sink Paddle Map
Upper Santa Fe River Sink Paddle Map

Santa Fe River & Sink Details…

Location IconLocation: The Upper Santa Fe River is considered that section of the river both upstream and downstream for Worthington Springs…(Upper Santa Fe River map).

 

Kayak Launch IconLaunch point and Take out: The launch and take for this paddle is Bible Camp Road Boat Launch, located at the end of Bible Camp Road, High Springs, 32643. If you have two vehicles, one could be left at O’Leno St. Park which would eliminate the return paddle over the shoal.

 

Distance IconPaddle Distance: 4.6 miles.

 

Duration IconDifficulty: Easy to Hard, depending on the water level. Today’s paddle exposed a shoal that was no problem on the way downstream but required some portaging coming back over the shoal. As mentioned above, if you have two vehicles, one could be left at O’Leno St. Park which would eliminate the return paddle over the shoal.

 

Duration IconAverage Paddle Speed: 2.00 mph.

 

Width Depth iconWidth and Depth: The Santa Fe River, at the launch is around 150′ wide, narrowing to 50 – 75′ the remaining distance. The depth at the launch was well over 7′ ( 38′ (NAVD88). Other sections were more shallow, some around 1.5′ deep.

 

Current tidal IconCurrent – Tidal: Current, was mild except over the shoal which was very strong.

 

Side Paddle IconSide Paddles: NA

 

icon-restroomsRest Areas: There are no bathroom facilities at the launch but there are several secluded spots there as well as along the river to rest and heed nature’s call if need be. There are facilities at O’Leno St. Park.


Bible Camp Road Launch…

Bible Camp Road Boat Launch
Bible Camp Road Boat Launch

Bible Camp Road Boat Launch is at the end of nowhere. Turning right off of Hwy 41 just past the entrance to O’Leno St. Park, drive 3.4 miles east until the road ends at I-75. The launch is very nice. Spacious, with a concrete ramp and a large sandy area for a soft launch or staging. There is ample parking but no restroom facilities. There is no fee to launch here.

What a difference a week makes! The water level was about 14″ higher today then it was in last week’s paddle. This definitely made for an enjoyable paddle that otherwise might have required portaging.


Paddling  Downstream …

Bald Cypress in the Santa Fe River
Bald Cypress in the Santa Fe River

After passing a few ‘sandbar’ type islands covered with Willows, we soon had a wonderful canopy of River Birch overhead. The six-foot-high banks were lined with Bald Cypress knees from the many cypresses that bordered this paddle. What was most notable was the extraordinary amount of River Birch trees along this entire section! From the shoreline, they stretched out and leaned over the river and in many sections created picturesque and cooling canopies.

By the time we reached the one-mile mark, Cypress trees were appearing in mid-river and creating small islands and passages that added to a beautiful ambiance. River Birch, Bald Cypress, American Elm, and Oaks where the predominant trees, while along the left bank, Saw Palmettos and Shrubby St. John’s Wort were a visible understory. Peppervine hung from the Birch branches. Wildlife was sparse, save for a few turtles, one young alligator, and a couple of Great White Egrets, that flew along ahead of us the entire way, stopping, waiting for us to catch up and then flying further ahead. Notable here, at mile 1.05, RR, is a small cove known as Vinzant Landing, the location of Vinzant Swallet, however, we were not able to view the swallet.

 


The Shoal…

Upper Santa Fe Shoals
Upper Santa Fe Shoal
The Shoals
The Shoal

At mile 1.4, just around a corner, is the shoal. It can be heard several hundred feet ahead, but not seen until after a small bend in the river. Along the left bank are several large, exposed rocks that provide a place to stop, and observe the best way to paddle the shoal. The water is moving quite fast through here, however, the route is obvious. Following the smooth “V” at center-right, we went through quickly, stayed to our right, and then followed through back to the center of the river. A quick thrill to add to this enjoyable paddle.

We did not dwell on how we would get over the shoal on our return!  ***If you have two vehicles, one could be left at O’Leno St. Park which would eliminate the return paddle over the shoal.


O’Leno State Park & The Sink…

Pull over at Oleno St. Park
Pullover at Oleno St. Park

Continuing on after the shoal, the River Birch canopy continues. To our left, Pines are visible up and beyond the higher bank. Along this ridge are numerous Saw Palmetto and Shrubby St. Johns Wort. To the right, the bank is lower with more numerous cypress knees and trees. A good stretch of this section is shallow and no more than a foot and a half over the rock bottom.

In less than a mile from the shoal, we reach the end of the line, O’Leno St. Park. Here there is a buoyed roped across the river and signs indicating “No Boats Beyond this Point“. It is a beautiful park. This endpoint is the canoe rental area and the swimming area, with a nice platform. The river continues under the suspension bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1938, flows over another shoal, and enters it’s underground journey one-half mile downstream. We stop, have lunch, and relax before heading back.


icon-information-sm-orangeAt this water level, it is an awesome, relatively short paddle with great scenery. As mentioned above, in the details on difficulty, it could be a challenge for some getting back over the shoal. The water was just too strong to paddle up over the same place we went down. The right side requires portaging over the rocks. We chose the left side, exiting our kayaks, and using our tow ropes, walked our kayaks about twenty feet, in the water along the bank. We then entered once past the main current into the shoal and continued our paddle back. As mentioned above, if you have two vehicles, one could be left at O’Leno St. Park which would eliminate the return paddle over the shoal.


Guides, Maps & Info…


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10 Comments

  1. Clyde A Brady lll

    James,
    I assume that you were on this section Aug 29, 2020? Since our group will do this paddle soon, I hope, I’m trying to get a picture of the actual water level when you were there. According to the charts, on Aug 29, the water level near I-75 Oleno S.P. was 37.9 ft.
    Looks like a good paddle.

    1. Hello Clyde. We did the actual paddle on Wednesday the 26th and the water level at I-75 near O’Leno was just at 38′. A foot lower would be a bit more challenging in my opinion. For me, this was great and for future paddles, I will use the 38′ mark as my reference as to whether to go again or not.

  2. Peter A Clayton

    James,
    Could I make a suggestion for added information to your great write-ups – USGA gauge data. For instance on this paddle it seems that the gauge at Worthington Springs would be most helpful – it registered a height of 11.5′ on the 29th (day I assume you paddled). Since you mention that the extra 14″ of water from your earlier paddle made a big difference, it would be most helpful.

    Thanks for your info – we can’t wait.

    1. Hi Clyde…we did the actual paddle o Wednesday the 26th and the Worthington Springs gauge was about 12.4 then. This area of the river is highly dependant on rain and thus the water level can fluctuate considerably in a small amount of time. Like you mention, there was a 14″ difference in just one week! Also of note, which I am just adding to my post, is the fact that if you want to use two vehicles for shuttle purposes, it would avoid having to paddle back up against the shoal. Hope you guys enjoy the paddle!

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