One of the items on our list to do before we moved away from Florida was to paddle the Juniper Run in Ocala National Forest. Chris and I did paddle that run in 2009 and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s within the Juniper Prairie Wilderness so it doesn’t take much for you to feel as if you are in a very remote location. It rivals the feeling of being in areas of Big Cypress National Preserve or paddling the Turner River in Big Cypress/Everglades. The next time we’re in SW Florida I think we need to revisit the Turner River again.
When we began planning out our limited time on our own in Florida before our Disney trip, Chris brought up the idea to do the Juniper Run again. I loved the idea but was also nervous about taking Forest due to its remoteness. I mean, the same thoughts go through my head while we’re out hiking with him but at least when we’re hiking somewhere, usually we’re within an area that has cut-offs and short cuts to road access or other ‘outs’ in case something happened. Being on the Juniper Run meant truly having to continue paddling downstream to the take out if something happened.
The other thing was, could he even go? The website didn’t really state an age restriction but Chris called to verify and there was some potential issues at first due to his weight and their life jacket sizing for kids. We weighed him and he was with a couple of pounds and we called back and they thought he would be ok with their jackets. Our other option was to bring our own jacket for him. The only thing we could do was hope for the best and if we got turned away, we got turned away.
Luckily it all worked out. We got canoe the rented and our life jackets and made our way down to the canoe launch. Something else to keep in mind while paddling this trail is you cannot bring anything that isn’t reuseable. They do check. So, repackage your items into reuseable containers and don’t even think about disposable plastic bottles. You are entering a wilderness area and they want to keep it as pristine as possible. That said, we did encounter a couple of pieces of trash along the way and scooped out some trash if we were able to.
I took the bow of the canoe and Chris manned the stern while Forest sat in the middle. We let him dip his hands in on occasion but for the most part we aimed to keep his hands out of the water because of potential pinch-point issues when we wandered too close to a log or other obstruction.
Chris paddled off and on primarily letting current of the stream push us along. Being out there was incredibly relaxing and I was so thankful we were out there in the wild as a family. Forest got antsy a few times but he was still trying to catch up on sleep from our travel a few days prior, and late nights and early mornings since then. Honestly, it was a rough 11 days for him sleep-wise with the time change and our busy schedules. After lunch he did end up falling asleep in the middle of the canoe. We hadn’t really put sunscreen on because it was such a shady area and of course he fell asleep on the latter section of the run where the canopy opened up and the sun really let itself in! I attempted to cover him up with his hat and hoped for no major sunburns.
For lunch we had stopped at Publix to pick up sub sandwiches. If you haven’t had a Publix sandwich you are missing out! They are better than a Subway sandwich and hold a lot of Florida memories for me! Just smelling one brought back many field events from my job in Florida as well as swamp tromping for orchids. I’d wanted a chicken tender sub but it was too early for the tenders to have been prepared when we stopped by the store so I had to make do with a turkey sandwich. So good!
At one point along the paddle thunder boomed in the near-distance. We could see the sky darkening a bit and hoped for the best but there wasn’t much we could do being out there other than to huddle under a tree for a bit. Thankfully the thunderstorm moved away from us and we were spared any rain.
Forest woke up as we were in the middle of being caught on a rock in the middle of a small rapids. The boat hung up on the left side of the rock with the current pushing the back of the boat around. For a few tenuous seconds I thought we might flip over but we managed to rotate around and ride the rapids backwards. After we straightened the canoe back out, the experience made me think that we’d done the same thing the first time we’d run the creek. I tried to go back and see if I wrote about the experience but couldn’t find anything in my pre-Wordpress archives that really detailed the trip back then.
When the creek opened up into a more marsh-like setting we started seeing alligators and turtles along the banks. Forest was less groggy by then and able to enjoy the paddling adventure once again. I’d wished we could have gotten out to swim–away from the alligators of course–but that’s another rule of this run, no swimming!
And then, like that, we were back at the take-out location on Highway 19. It was a glorious morning and early afternoon along the creek and it all ended so quickly! I think if we lived in the area I’d be going several times a year. If you are out exploring the state or live in Florida, make this a priority on your list of adventures!