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Reported: Nov. 2015

Steinhatchee River... Paddling at Florida's Big Bend

The Steinhatchee River flows 34 miles in Florida's Big Bend from Mallory Swamp south of Mayo to the Gulf of Mexico at Steinhatchee, with a Designated Paddling Trail running from Steinhatchee Falls to Steinhatchee. Notable features are Steinhatchee Falls, and the fact that the river runs underground for about a mile (the River Rise is located near the US19 bridge). Our expectations for this expedition were not high, but we were pleasantly surprised at the amount and variety of paddling and are planning another visit! (Detailed map and photos below)



View Larger Map
Distance: 8.5 miles from Steinhatchee Falls to Steinhatchee boat ramps; 34 miles total
Location: Taylor, Dixie and Lafayette Counties (Steinhatchee)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate downstream from River Rise; moderate to difficult upstream from river rise
Tidal: Yes, as it nears the Gulf
Launch points: Steinhatchee Falls, Steinhatchee Boat Ramp and Jena Boat Ramp are noted on the paddling trail, we list other launch points below (See map, left)
Kayak/Canoe Rentals: Steinhatchee (link, above right)

There is no commercial development along the Steinhatchee and it's one of the healthiest rivers in Florida. The river is deep and although spring-fed (we saw several), is tannic due to the dense vegetation along the shore. The springs keep water levels fairly constant, but in extreme conditions we were told of Steinhatchee Falls being too dry to launch, or so high the water approached the picnic benches!

On the paddling trail the prettiest section is downstream from Steinhatchee Falls for about 1.5 miles, including a shoals. Further downstream, it gets wider and deeper with motorboats and homes lining the shoreline. After leaving the park, there are no facilities or stopping points.

Upstream from Steinhatchee Falls and off the designated trail is Shaw's Landing - there is no shuttle here, so bring your own vessel and transportation. Paddling upstream is about 1.5 miles to River Rise and downstream about 1.1 miles to Steinhatchee Falls. Depending on water levels, the drop at the falls can be 1-3 feet and can be paddled (though we did not).

Above US19 before the river goes underground, the river is more difficult with shoals and other obstacles. It parallels SR51 toward Mayo and a number of River Access Points are located along the road, watch for the signs (the last sign we saw was for access point 18).

This is a remote area with small towns, mostly popular for fishing (and scalloping during the July-Sept. season). We stayed in Steinhatchee (the "Scallop Capital of Florida") where there are no big box stores or hotel chains, but we found Steinhatchee River Inn to be comfortable and the staff friendly and helpful. River Haven Marina in Steinhatchee rents kayaks and were most accommodating.

Wildlife may include manatees, alligators, river otter, beaver, deer, and wading birds - not to mention great fishing.

Paddling at Steinhatchee

We divided our observations into three sections:

River Rise to Steinhatchee Falls
(tap or hover over photo for larger view)
Shaw's Landing
Shaw's Landing is accessed off SR51 just south of US19 - turn on Stephens Landing Road, bear right at the fork and look for the sign. We paddled upstream to River Rise (where the river re-emerges from underground), and then downstream to Steinhatchee Falls.
The river was mostly wide with few obstacles, an easy paddle.
Upstream to River Rise
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Shaw's Landing A spring
bubbling
Upstream from
the landing
A spring feeding the river
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Along the river River Rise
We didn't see any bubbling so like other river rises couldn't identify exactly where the river comes from underground
Downstream to Steinhatchee Falls
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Leaving the landing, downstream Along the river A couple of equestrians River narrows
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River widens out again Approaching
the Falls
Above the Falls seen from kayak view. We stayed back as we didn't want to accidentally get swept over - it's kayakable, but not sure we could paddle back and didn't feel like hauling the kayaks on land.
Steinhatchee Falls to Steinhatchee
(tap or hover over photo for larger view)
Steinhatchee Falls Landing
The park at Steinhatchee Falls has parking, picnicking, restrooms, hiking trails plus a boat ramp/launch and of course great views of the Falls. Look for the sign off SR51.
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Entrance to the park Parking The Falls - paddle down
the chute on the left
Boat ramp/launch
Paddling from Steinhatchee Falls Landing to Steinhatchee
We used the River Haven Marina outfitter to shuttle us to Steinhatchee Falls and then paddled back to Steinhatchee. The prettiest section was the first 1.5 miles and we enjoyed riding over the shoals, after that the river got wider and deeper with homes and motorboats.
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At the ramp Ramp from the river Falls from the river Downstream from landing A fun ride!
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The rock formations and limestone ledges were eye-catching -
and very unlike most other areas of Florida
Along the river
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A spring Downstream, homes start appearing at about 1.5 miles At about 4 miles, the tidal influence kicks in. Deeper, larger motorboats. Arriving at Ladd's Landing
Ladd's Landing
An unmarked landing popular with locals, and a good place to self-launch in town (located next to Steinhatchee Landing Resort on First Avenue NE). The River Haven outfitter was able to accommodate us by leaving our car and trailer here rather than at the marina.
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Launch at Ladd's Landing River from Ladd's Landing Access on First  Avenue NE
Steinhatchee and Jena Boat Ramps
We ended our paddle at Ladd's Landing as we didn't want to deal with
the busier river traffic  in town but here are the main boat ramps.
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River from the
SR51 bridge
Steinhatchee Boat Ramp Jena Boat Ramp
Steinhatchee
The "Scallop Capital of Florida," Steinhatchee is an old-time Florida fishing village.
A great place to escape for boating, fishing and paddling.
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River Haven Marina and Motel covers all needs - kayak and canoe rentals, bike rentals, repairs, convenience store, marina, motel. And, the best advice and service (thanks, Tim and Shari). Marina and launch platform at River Haven Marina and Motel Steinhatchee
River Inn
. We're not into camping so this all-suites motel was perfect and at a moderate cost (ask for Julie).
Steinhatchee River from main
boat ramp
A sunset view
Upstream from US 19
(tap or hover over photo for larger view)
We visited the access points upstream from where the river goes underground. This section has more obstacles plus shoals and could be a challenge. Access point 15.9 appeared to be the best option and we'll plan to try it some time in the future if we're in the area.
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Look for the signs along SR51 at the Access Points Through the woods to Access Point 15.9 Parking at Access Point 15.9 Launch at 15.9 River at 15.9
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Access Point 13.7
(launchable, but only to go upstream)
Access Point 14.7
(old railroad bridge, shoals)
Access Point 15.4
(at the fork,
keep left)
Access Point 18
(steep with nowhere to launch, access for fishing)
River in this area is narrower and twisting with obstacles and shoals

More information on paddling at Steinhatchee River (opens in a new window):

- Florida Department of Environmental Protection - Steinhatchee River Designated Paddling Trail (.pdf)

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Steinhatchee River

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River Haven Marina


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