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Reported: May 2012

Blackwater River... Paddling in Florida's Panhandle

Originating in Alabama, the Blackwater River is contained within the Blackwater River State Forest. With no development or farming on its banks, the river maintains its pristine state - the water is more tan than black, the staining is light and the water is clean and clear. Trees hug the shore over much of the river, while in sections high bluffs create a "Grand Canyon" effect. There are many sandbars for stretching, picnicking, or camping. (Detailed map and photos below.)



View Larger Map
Distance: 31 mile paddling trail, 56 miles total
Location: Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Counties (Blackwater River State Forest)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Tidal: No
Launch points: Kennedy Bridge, Peadon Bridge, Cotton Bridge, Bryant Bridge, Johnson's Float Launch, Deaton Bridge (Blackwater River State Park). Public boat ramp near the park entrance. (See map, left)
Kayak/Canoe Rentals: Milton (links, above right)
Nearby points of interest: Fort Walton Beach

The current is swift and paddling upstream is a workout. Downstream the current carries you quite quickly so watch for logs and other obstacles. The average depth is two and a half feet, but in heavy rains the river can rise quickly and be dangerous - check conditions and be careful. Several side creeks are so clear they appear to be springs but are not. The fine white sand on the sandbars is quartz sand which also defines the beaches on the Gulf coast.

Near Blackwater River State Park watch for many paddlers, tubers and swimmers, especially in the summer. There are no more access points after Deaton Bridge within the Park, and the river then becomes un-navigable after a short distance.

The forest along the riverbank includes pine, red cedar, water oak, and Atlantic white cedars. Wildlife includes deer, bobcat, freshwater fish, turtles, and birds. There is little vegetation in the water, we saw few fish.

Paddling at Blackwater River
(tap or hover over photo for larger view)
Blackwater River State Park upstream
While the official trail end is at Deaton Bridge, we launched from the nearby public boat ramp. Heading north on Deaton Bridge Road go a short distance past the State Park entrance and watch for the sign to the ramp. Proceed about a mile along the access road to the ramp/launch. Note: Just before the park entrance is a "Blackwater River Canoe Trail" sign and parking - skip that, to launch is a long haul and from the overgrown condition we would say not frequently used if at all.
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Deaton Bridge Launch
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Public boat ramp Road to the ramp, about one mile Going upstream, wooded area.
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Many sandbars to stop and stretch,
picnic, or camp. Tubing is popular.
Camping along the riverbank, on a bluff. Bluff "canyon" effect. Weakly stained water is clear, river bottom visible.
Bryant Branch Launch upstream
The launch is easy on and off. Initially, the river goes through the forest with few pull-offs.
Later, it opens up with more sandbars to stretch, picnic, or camp.
Our trip was about 3.5 miles upstream and return.
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Launch at Bryant Bridge Bryant Bridge Swimming is also popular here River through forested areas Rest and snack on a sandbar
Blackwater River State Park
  Activities at Blackwater River State Park include swimming and tubing, fishing, picnicking, a playground, camping, nature trails, and paddling.
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Entrance to beach area at park Path from parking lot to boardwalk Boardwalk to pavilions and beach Beach at the state park

More information on paddling the Blackwater River (opens in a new window):

- Florida Office of Greenways and Trails - Blackwater River Paddling Trail (pdf)
- Florida State Parks - Blackwater River State Park

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