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Every kind of trail activity is represented in the listing of designated NRTs. Besides hiking and bicycling, the system includes water trails, motorized routes, snow tracks, greenways, and equestrian paths. The NRT program showcases the diversity of trails across America, from our cities and suburbs to the deserts, waterways, and high mountains.
The water trail begins below the dam in the town of Chattahoochee and follows the Apalachicola River 107 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2014.
See the Apalachicola River Paddling Trail System, which was designated as a National Recreation Trail in 2008
From Florida Office of Greenways and Trails - Photos by Doug Alderson
The Apalachicola River Blueway connects with another National Recreation Trail, the Apalachicola River Paddling Trail System, in the lower estuary portion of the river. This 100-mile matrix of scenic waterways was developed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and designated a National Recreation Trail in 2008.
Kayakers paddling the Apalachicola River
Exploring the remote wetland creeks or expansive vistas of the open bays allows the observant, quiet visitor a wonderful opportunity for spotting of a variety of birds and wildlife including alligators, bald eagles, and osprey. A lucky few may catch a glimpse of a Florida black bear.
Wildlife viewing is excellent throughout the year and masses of splendid wildflowers bloom in the spring and fall. This area includes several sites on the Great Florida Birding Trail and is accessible from the Big Bend Scenic Byway.
The Apalachicola River is undammed and largely wild, flowing through the heart of one of the nation’s six hot spots of biodiversity. Large tracts of public and protected lands feature high bluffs, abundant wildlife, rare animals and plants making this river among the most unique in Florida. The watershed is a primary spawning and nursery habitat for fish and other aquatics and is a critical migratory bird route.
Alum Bluff at sunset
The river basin’s varied habitats, from rare steephead ravines with the only native Torreya taxifolia found anywhere to bottomland hardwood forests, give it the highest species density of amphibians and reptiles on the continent, north of Mexico. The natural beauty of this undeveloped region is further enhanced by the small riverside communities serving up "Old Florida" hospitality flavored with rich history and colorful culture.
The historic Apalachicola River has always been an important waterway providing transport and enhancing commerce since the first Floridians arrived 12-14,000 years ago. During the 1830s and 1840s large numbers of steamboats shipped cotton from inland plantations to Apalachicola for export until the blockade of Apalachicola Bay by Union forces during the Civil War effectively stopped steamboat travel.
After the war, lumber became the dominant cargo. Sawmills sprang up along the river, and millions of board feet of longleaf pine and cypress passed through the port of Apalachicola. Stumps of huge trees that were cut during logging operations can still be seen along the river banks.
camping on the sandbars at Estifinulga
The famous local oyster industry began in the later part of the 19th century and until recently the productive bay was generating 90% of the state’s commercial oyster harvest.
The Apalachicola River Blueway website provides information about access points, points of interest, and other amenities found along the river that can contribute to a successful waterway experience for paddlers and boaters. The river can have a fast current and high winds may be encountered near the Gulf of Mexico, so it is not recommended for beginning paddlers. Mile markers along the shores, decreasing from 106 at the dam in Chattahoochee to 0 in Apalachicola, provide helpful navigational guides.
eagle drying its wings Along the Apalachicola River
Barge traffic and dredging are a thing of the past, but buoys and large sand mounds are still visible. During low to moderate water levels, these numerous sandbars offer ideal rest stops and primitive campsites until the sandbars disappear on the lower portion of the river as it widens into an increasingly swampy floodplain. Numerous side streams are worthy of exploration. The River Styx, Kennedy Creek, Owl and Devon Creeks in the Apalachicola National Forest meander beneath a shady canopy of cypress and tupelo trees.
Another recommended side trip is to explore the Chipola River Dead Lakes area. This is a wide swampy area of stunning primeval beauty with both dead and living cypress trees originally formed by creation of a naturally occurring levee. While there is good fishing along the entire Apalachicola River, the best areas are the upper river, where the largemouth bass, catfish, striped bass, and bream catch is excellent.
The lower river estuary, which is influenced by Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, supports a substantial seafood harvest, including oysters, shrimp and numerous tasty saltwater fish species. The Apalachicola River basin is well-known for production of a distinctive tupelo honey and beehives on platforms and floats may be glimpsed along the shady banks of the river.
If paddling down the quiet creeks and bayous lined with blooming tupelo, titi, and black gum in mid-April or May, one may hear a loud steady hum of honey bees. The tasty tupelo honey produced within the Apalachicola watershed is the only place where this honey is produced commercially and provides an historic and important component of the local economy.
For more information:
Apalachicola River Blueway Maps to plan paddling trips: http://apalachicolariverkeeper.org/apalachicola-river-blueway/
Many more resources, including a virtual tour of the river, are available at: http://apalachicolablueway.com/