Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Paddling Access at Wakulla Beach / St. Marks NWR

Never a ship sails out of the bay
But carries my heart as a stowaway.
~Roselle Mercier Montgomery

When I first started this blog, I intended it to be a source of information for other paddlers regarding boat ramps, water conditions, shoreline conditions, and anything else I thought would be of use. In a very short time I realized that since I generally paddle the same waters, unless I changed the nature of the blog, it wouldn't get many updates. So it sort of morphed into a photo blog, even when I wrote about new destinations.

It's still way too cold to paddle here for this Florida wimp, so yesterday I decided to investigate an access point to the Gulf that I had heard about but never seen. Getting back to the blog roots, let me tell you all about it, in case you are in the area.

It's a small beach at the end of Wakulla Beach Road. If you are going west on Hwy 98, it is the first marked dirt road to the left after you cross the bridge over the Wakulla River. I can't help much if you are coming east on 98--except to say that if you get to the river, you passed it...

The road is flat, graded, and sandy. We have had a lot of rain lately and there was standing water along the sides of Hwy 59 and areas of 98, but Wakulla Beach Rd. was dry. You will drive on it for about 3.5 miles, give or take. There are a few houses in the beginning. It may say something about the area that most of them are behind very high cast iron fences and gates. After about 2 miles, you will enter St. Marks NWR land. I drove very slowly through that part since it seemed so likely that a deer--or better yet a bear--might show up. I don't think this road gets much traffic, particularly near the end. No deer or bears showed up today, though.

It dead-ends at the little beach. The tide was all the way out when I was there, so I'm not sure how big the beach is at high tide. It was a beautiful spot. Here's the beach:

Walking down to the water and looking to the right shows you this:

while the view to the left is this:

I walked all the way to the back of the cleared area, with the hope of getting the beach along with the road, which is on the left here, into the photo, but couldn't quite fit it all (even using a wide-angle lens...). And since I had not planned this photo when I parked, this looks like an ad for Nissan.

There are sandy trails blocked to vehicles along the shoreline, similar to those near the lighthouse at the refuge park. I also found this trail, also with posts to block vehicles, that led into the flat area in a direction away from the Gulf:

I didn't follow it. This is an extremely isolated area and I didn't want to get too far from the car. In fact, while I would love to paddle from here, I would not do so alone. I did spend a fair amount of time near the water, though, since the road is visible from there. It was one of the most peaceful spots I have visited for a while. There was a light breeze blowing the water and so little wavelets were breaking on the sand. There were some shorebirds. There were no man-made sounds. I was very glad to be there.

These two young ibis were wandering around near the beach and in fact didn't seem to mind my presence much.

While I would not recommend this to women paddling alone (there is a trash can there, on top of which was a large empty bottle of vodka. Don't you want to be alone in this spot when some guys who just knocked that off show up?), if you have at least one partner, you might want to check this out. Or if you are in the area and want to visit a peaceful place on the Gulf, which I am guessing is unoccupied 98% of the time, take a drive down Wakulla Beach Road.

I left there and decided to go to the NWR park since I nearly pass it on the way home. Because of our recent rains, there was more water in the various pools than last time I was there, though not nearly as much as there used to be. These egrets were lined up in the pool near the lighthouse:

The largest of those looked a bit cold, with the wind ruffling its feathers.

There were some teal ducks that I wanted to show you....but this was the only view I got of them. They were kind of busy.

This great blue heron was looking out over one of the small pools near the lighthouse.

These brown crow-like birds (should have asked Steve for an ID before I wrote this!) are always hanging out near the lighthouse parking lot.


I walked the trail around the large central pool. As I was approaching the boat ramp, I saw a very welcome sight! A tricolored heron!

This one was very actively fishing in the shallow water along the edge. More feather-ruffling when the wind was behind it.

As I was driving out to go home, I saw a guy standing by the side of the road with a camera. I slowed down to see what he was photographing; I ended up out of my car so I could get a picture of it, too. I would have said it was too cold a day for gators to be out in the wind.

What? You'd like to get a little closer? Okay.

A bit farther down the road, near another of the little pools, I saw a lone pelican swimming around.

More cold weather and more rain is on the way. I'll be back when I get out again. Stand by.


Emory said...


I have been reading your blog for a few months now and was inspired enough to by a canoe to get out and take pictures. Keep up the good work as always I love your photos.

Peggy said...

WOW, thanks! That's very flattering. I see you are having some fun out there with the birds (and others), too! I added your blog to my short list of links. Glad you got your boat back...


OldHorsetailSnake said...

You didn't need any of your kayaks to make a beautiful post. You're so versatile!

SophieMae said...

I almost went to the refuge today, but 3 days in sunny Tampa Bay spoiled me. I just couldn't muster enough gumption to get out in this cold dreariness. The brown birds are female Boat-tailed Grackles. They're always looking for a handout.

I don't often find Wakulla Beach deserted. Then again, I'm usually there on a weekend. When you said 'little beach', I had to chuckle. Your pics show the most dry land I've ever seen there.

Noel said...

Wakulla beach is one of my favorite paddle spots.

If you go straight out from the beach the water is very shallow a long way out. About a foot deep at many low tides. I once spent a few hours chasing a 12 inch hammer head around the shallows, which on that day were crystal clear. The bottom in front of the beach is sand and sea grass all the way out to the high spot that sometimes looks like an island.

If you head to the west you can either follow a deep channel over and around to Shell point (west then south) or you can turn north into Dickerson bay.

In Dickerson bay if you head to the west side there are dredged canals along side an old rail road build up. If you head down the center you can pass through the tidal mashes and enter a crystal clear spring fed creek.

If the tide is low you can see all the oyster beds that almost fill the entrance to Dikerson Bay. But it will be much further to get into the bay (the channel starts on the west side of the bay, look for crab traps and their floats). If the tide is high you can (at the risk of scratching or even damaging your boat YMMV) cross all the bars and cut a lot of distance out. I am brave in my rotomolded plastic boats. But I never plan to take my klepper into the bay.

The creek is really pretty, but I would not take a really long boat back there it could get interesting.

In a moderate to strong south east wind there is often no low tide in the bay and it can get choppy.

Peggy said...

Lots of good info there, Noel, thanks! I doubt it will come up for me to paddle from there, but others will hopefully find your notes about it.

Not sure if you will get back here to read this, but I wonder if you have ever paddled from Keaton Beach south of Perry? That's my next beach access to investigate. I've been there but never with an eye to paddling from the beach. That's about the same distance for me to drive as Wakulla Beach, but it is more public.

Noel said...

I have sailed some in that area. But not paddled. Sorry no real info about it.

If I were going to go there I might start by looking at how far it is down to the Steinhatchee.

Somewhere close to Keaton beach is sponge point which is one of the campsites on the Big bend kayak trail.

Going north there is Spring Warrior Creek.

There is a nice little restaurant there near the beach last time I was there.

There is keaton beach marina ((850) 578-2897)

And btw I love the pictures. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, I thought that was a brown headed cat bird...maybe not.

hawghands said...

HI Peggy, I lived in Tall. briefly. One of the biggest gators I ever saw was while walking on the levees near the duck refuge. It was very cold adn in Jan. I thought he was dead @ first, but he moved a little. He looked a little gaunt. I guess hibernating. He had his own zone and I would look for him everytime I went out there. I didn't have a kayak @ the time, but I wouldn't have wanted to meet him in a narrow canal. Thanks for the great pics.

Ruth said...

Hmmm...it doesn't look very cold to me! That alligator would get my attention. Great photos.

clairesgarden said...

that beach looks fabulous, but I do agree with you on the 'take a friend', I've paddled a few times on my own and had 'hassle' from the shoreline a few times.

Crayons said...

Hi Peggy,
What a good life you lead. These photos are just stunning. You must have a very good camera. I just moved to Wisconsin from the shores of the Long Island Sound. I really really miss seeing shore birds. Thank you so much for these!

Scott Fillmer said...

Very nice images, thanks for sharing them. I posted an image of my own from the same area and plugged your post here on my journal blog, thanks.

Read Family said...

We are leaving from St. Petersburg on Sunday and heading for the St. Marks River area in our sailboat. We have not been to the area and I googled it to see what I could find. Your blog came up first. We are excited to get there after looking at your pics.

Regarding depth issues as you mention, we will be 3 miles off shore and in 15 feet of water.
- Mark Read http://GoReads.com