A Park Date on the Chipola River

It was like exploring a place that you have seen in a dream, where everything is just where you expect it and yet everything is a surprise.

Growing up in Tallahassee, tubing always meant the Ichetucknee River. There were other rivers, certainly, but those were for fishing and canoeing. Years later,  after spending considerable time and money locked into a water park’s “Lazy River” with my five children (and a few hundred more), I pulled out the map. A four hour round road trip to Itchetucknee State Park. For two hours on the water. With up to 3,000 people. I remembered a quiet river, with rarely more than twenty people. This was not the river trip I was looking for.

Fortunately, another mom in our Homeschool Park Group found it. So, we set a date for tubing the Chipola River with Bear Paw Adventures in Marianna.

Just off Bear Paw Lane in Marianna, we found a clean, well-ordered Mom & Pop style business. The owner told us that they started it in the 80’s with 7 canoes. There were some small items for sale: T-shirts, caps, phone cases, candy, waters, sodas, and other sundry items. 

Model floats lined the wall for those spatially challenged people like me. I secretly felt unsure about how long my youngest would last 3 to 4 hours on the water – even with a life vest- not to mention her mother. After debating the merits of different float styles, we settled on a mix of old 

school black innertubes, a few two-seater rafts, my massive 3 person WOW MAX, 2 canoes and a cooler raft.We were given precise instructions about exiting soon after floating under the I-10 overpass. After signing the usual liability releases, we were handed parking passes, paddles and receipts to show the shuttle driver.

The shuttle driver took us to the entry point – at the side of a bridge a few miles from I-10. The porter quickly got our barges into the water, several of which we promptly lashed together with plastic orange twine.  Most of us missed the fat osprey diving behind us for a fish, but watched him park atop a tree and wait for the ramp to clear. 

 

The surprises were few, but wonderful.

 

The water the spring was beautifully clear, knee-deep shallow, and paved with shells.

The landscape was pristine. I saw no fishing hooks or gear. And, with the exception of 1 plastic bag, I saw no garbage during our three-and-a-half hour trip. At all. Anywhere. Apparently, people take the Jackson County fine for having styrofoam and glass quite seriously.

The river, though much darker, was equally clean. In many places it was about our 6 foot plus boys’ heads. The current was swifter in the river, but not too quick to maneuver easily. Thanks to the direction of former Governor Scott, it was also amazingly free of snags considering the damage done by Hurricane Michael. There were a few, but shouting across the river and working around them was all part of the fun.

There was a beautifulsandy beach to stop at. There we met Bear, the patiently playful Labrador, and his kind people. There was also a convenient tree edging a deep hole, just right for splashing in.

The three-person raft was easy to paddle. A nice plus for a novice. There was plenty of room for cooler, child and a high school football player…

The quiet of the river unexpectedly swallowed up most of the noise. We only heard the hum of I-10 at the very end. It was peaceful for adults, restful for soaked kids. This is a trip we will do over and over again with friends and out-of-towners.

Things to know:

  • Bear Paw Adventures has a hard lower age limit of 3y.o.
  • No refunds, so check the weather!
  • If they’re not out, you can purchase a camera/cell phone bag like this one.
  • Glass and styrofoam = $350 fee if authorities spot you.
  • Bring a trash bag.
  • No pets.
  • Lifejackets for all in kayaks & canoes.
  • Water shoes are encouraged.
  • Expect 10-15 minutes of paperwork @ arrival. They will need to see each driver’s license and their tag number.
  • There is both a clean port-a-potty and a single stall bathroom.
  • Bear Paw Adventures will NOT hold car keys for renters. But this will hold a key fob as well as regular metal keys.
  • They will inflate your innertubes & shuttle for a fee.
  • They will shuttle your kayak/canoe for a fee.
  • They accept Visa, Mastercard and AME.
  • 850-482-4948
  • There is EXQUISITE ice cream 8 minutes away, with generous scoops of both classic and *quite* original flavors, outdoor seating and a splash pad around the corner with huge covered pavilions. 

For those Floridians amongst my readers, I would encourage you to visit the Chipola. It just might be the river trip you remember from childhood.

Blessings,

Joy

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