The eighty five mile section of “Florida’s Hidden Coast” between Cedar Key in the south and the Aucilla River in the north is a magical playground for the sea kayaker. Its charm lies in its remoteness, its peacefulness, its wildlife, the intimacy of its creeks, and the subtle beauty of its seascapes. The shallow sea borders a marshy, creek-laden area, which then gives way to a tree line, further inshore.This is a “low energy” coastline, and the ocean swell, tidal races, and surf of many sea-kayaking areas will not, in our seven winters’ experience here, be found on this coast. However, this coast presents its own challenges. The water can be less than a foot deep when miles offshore, making paddling difficult or impossible. Even moderate breezes can quickly raise a short steep chop, sufficient to capsize the inexperienced. Shelter from strong winds is scarce. The featureless band of marshland makes accurate navigation both vital and challenging, particularly when searching for creek entrances. The direction and rate of tidal currents will not be found on charts or in the NOAA Coastal Pilot book for the area. The abundance of alligators can occasionally be intimidating to visitors, especially near Suwannee. The level of experience and skills necessary to kayak safely on this coast should not be underestimated.
The Big Bend Saltwater Paddling Trail traverses this coast, and there is a series of wild campsites associated with the trail. The trail, the campsites, and the excellent water-resistant book which describes them, are products of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. (FWC). The trail may currently only be paddled from north to south, and only for the period between September 1st and June 30th. A free permit is required. Campsites must be booked between 6 months and two weeks in advance, and only the entire trail, or three prescribed sub-sections, may be booked. Details of how to obtain the book and permit are in the Appendix to this book at page 41. The trail and book are great assets for sea kayakers.
In contrast, the purpose of this book is to supply information to visiting sea kayakers who may wish to explore the coast and creeks of the Hidden Coast on day trips, rather than paddling the camping trail. Day-paddling trips usually involve traveling to and from the launch site, and loading and unloading the kayaks, so, with limited time, the trips have been kept to a maximum length of sixteen miles. The average trip length is nine miles. The start and finish points of each trip are the same, thereby avoiding shuttles. The routes have also been selected so that each has an interesting destination, such as an island or beach, on which to rest or eat lunch. The destinations can only be accessed by water. The same destination is sometimes reached from two different launch points, so as to familiarize the visitor with the various access points to the Gulf. We have paddled many other day trips on this coast, but we have selected the sixteen best for this publication. We describe each trip as we experienced it, mistakes included, rather than presuming to prescribe how and when others should travel. We describe our equipment, our navigation methods and decisions, but make no claim for their excellence.