Opposite in nature than the spring-fed Wakulla River is the swamp-fed Sopchoppy River, about 35 miles southwest of Tallahassee. Fed by small creeks emerging from the watery jungle of the Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area and other wet areas of the Apalachicola National Forest, the Sopchoppy's color varies from yellow-gold to red-black to coffee-colored, depending on rainfall, water depth and sunlight. Think of the river's headwater swamps as giant tea pots brewing a concoction of fallen leaves, cypress needles, bark and wood and you get the picture. The water is clean from a pollution standpoint, however, since it emerges from wholly undeveloped lands.
Upper Sopchoppy River water levels fluctuate wildly depending on rainfall. Fortunately, you can check the USGS Sopchoppy gauge online. If water levels read between 8.5 feet and 11 feet, then you are in for a treat if you want to paddle between the Oak Park Cemetery Bridge and the Mount Beasor Church Bridge, about five miles. The first three miles of this section is along the high, unspoiled banks of the Apalachicola National Forest. Water flow can be swift in places, racing around glorious white sandbars and some of the most artistic-looking exposed cypress roots and knees imaginable. If you're fortunate, you'll spot a deer along shore or swimming the river. There are occasional snags and tight bends to navigate, so at least a moderate skill level is recommended.
If water levels are below 8.5 feet, then you'll be doing a lot of dragging and pulling your boats over sandbars and snags. If too high, the river can be swift and dangerous. Also, the two launch sites are steep and sandy, so caution is advised, especially for those with mobility issues. The Florida National Scenic Trail runs along part of this section, so if hiking is preferred, you will not be disappointed.
If water levels are too low in this upper stretch, then try the five-mile run from Mount Beasor Church Bridge to the Sopchoppy City Park. I've done this section twice over the summer and found it to be quiet, scenic and slow-moving, great for beginners. More houses and cabins dot the shores, but there is still an almost intact canopy. The Wilderness Way occasionally leads trips in this section. For a more coastal feel, paddle the river near Ochlockonee River State Park.
So, if you're in the mood for something different and unique, try the swamp-fed Sopchoppy River.
By the way, I will be showing photos of the Sopchoppy and other area rivers as part of events marking the release of my newest book, Wild Florida Waters: Exploring the Sunshine State by Kayak and Canoe. I was at the Wilderness Way on September 11th at 4, and will be at Native Nurseries on September 17th at 2, and My Favorite Books on October 1st from 11-2. Hope to see you in person!