Econfina Creek: a truly spectacular and unique creek.
Long chutes, beautiful springs, and giant tadpoles are just a few of the things this creek has to offer.
SKILL LEVEL: Above Walsingham: advanced beginners to intermediate / strenuous, depending on the water level. Walsingham to Econfina Livery: advanced beginners / strenuous. Downstream from the Econfina Livery: beginners and families.
SCENERY: Wilderness and several really nice springs. This is a creek you'll want to paddle again and again.
LOCATION: North of Panama City, Florida.
ONLINE GAUGE: Yes, check it out here. Be careful if the water is high.
Almost the entire length of Econfina Creek is free of development. Much of the creek and its drainage area are protected by the Northwest Florida Water Management District. The creek offers several crystal clear springs and limestone rocks.
The upper stretch of the Econfina features narrow channels with miles of high limestone banks, fast current, small drops, and lots of turns. There are long stretches where the creek is about 15 feet wide with 10-15 foot high banks. This is a one-of-a-kind Florida trip. For experienced paddlers this is lots of fun. The rewards of this section do come at a cost, though, because you should be prepared for a strenuous trip with a dozen or more pullovers, limbo logs, and more, depending on the water level. Strainers are a serious concern when you have strong currents.
The creek slows down a few miles upstream of Walsingham, and the stream bed turns to sand rather than limestone. The trip from Walsingham to Hwy 20 is not technical, but you should be prepared for log jams and limbos here, as well.
The first of the signature springs is about four miles downstream from Walsingham. Look for the spring run on your left (as you paddle downstream). If you aren't careful, you will miss the spring run and the really nice Blue Springs.* This is also one of the spots to see giant tadpoles. There are several more nice springs before Hwy 20, but they are easy to spot. Williford Springs, Sylvan Springs, and Pitt Spring are all on the right and are worth paddling up to see. You will also find boardwalks, picnic areas, and summer crowds surrounding the springs. *See the Launch Site map below for details on springs, too.
The Ganier Springs group is the premier scenic attraction of the creek, and it is only about a half a mile below Hwy 20, Three are multiple springs here, but our favorite comes pouring out of a rock wall. If you are hot in the summer, you can actually swim in place against the force of the water. There are no more big springs downstream, but the paddling is gentle and the scenery is nice.
While there is something for everyone on Econfina Creek, not everyone should paddle all of the creek. The 11.3 mile trip from Scotts Bridge Rd to Walsingham Landing is tough and is best left for paddlers with a little more experience. Even though the current is nice and fast at typical water levels, you should still allow a minimum of 7-8 hours for your trip because of all of the obstacles that you may encounter. It seems like there are always plenty of pullovers and limbo logs, no matter what the water level. Having said that, there is definitely a reason this trip is one of our favorites that we do every year.
If you launch at Scotts Bridge Rd, you want to pay particular attention to the water level. There is a visual gauge under the bridge. The lower it is, the safer the trip. Advanced beginners would probably do best with water levels below 3.0 feet. (The online downstream gauge generally, but not always, reads about 4.0 to 4.5 feet higher.) A reading of 1.5 to 1.8 feet at Scott's Bridge is nice because you have a "log flume" effect for part of the trip and still have a zippy current. There is a smaller channel that is exposed at water levels below 2.0 feet or so. We have also been on the trip when the gauge reading was a good bit below 1.0 (the gauge was out of the water). Solo canoes have an advantage when water is sparse. Water levels between 3.0 and 5.0 feet should probably be left to intermediate-level paddlers and above. The higher the water level, the stronger the current you should expect. When the water level starts getting above 5.0 feet, you have to worry about dodging tree limbs in some sections downstream. It might be best to go another day.
One other warning on the Scotts Bridge to Walsingham trip -- the shuttle. You will pass through a giant subdivision (that never was) on the trip. GPSs and Google Maps have no idea how to get through the maze. Following them is a nice way to explore the scenery and find gated roads. You can find the directions that we actually use in the Map and Launch Site section below.
Advanced beginners can handle the 7.1 mile trip from Walsingham to Hwy 20, as long as they are up for potential pullovers and limbo logs. One recent trip on this section at relatively low water levels had us doing about a dozen pullovers -- some easy; some not so easy. Some of our gang in the area do try to keep the river cleared out, though. If you do this trip, be sure to go up the spring runs you see along the way. Our map below has info on the springs, too, if you launch it.
All of the trips below Hwy 20 are family friendly, but we avoid the Hwy 20 to Hwy 388 section in the summer months because of crowds. Another option is the short out-and-back trip heading downstream from Hwy 20 to check out the Ganier Springs group. In addition to being quite beautiful, you will often find giant tadpoles at Ganier Springs, too.
One warning if you do the short 5-mile trip taking out at Hwy 2301: you should carry a map or GPS because the takeout is not on the main channel. I might have missed this takeout if not for a friend who knew the way.
River Miles reflect the approximate distances from the previous launch site.
LAUNCH SITE MAP (See next section for clickable directions)
This is my favorite kayak paddle. I like carrying a spare.
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Launch the map for locations of springs on the river.
LAUNCH SITE DETAILS & DIRECTIONS
Scotts Bridge Rd
Launch: Southeast side of bridge. Short, steep carry to water.
Parking: Limited roadside parking. Dirt. Isolated -- limited traffic.
Notes: Don't trust your GPS or Google for the shuttle to Walsingham. Click here for the route that we use.
Launch: Follow Walsingham Bridge Rd about 1000 feet past bridge to launch site. 50-foot carry on short walking ramp. Potentially a very ackward entry and exit depending on water level.
Parking: Limited parking for 5 or so cars. More off-road spots nearby. Dirt. Isolated.
Facilities: Pit toilet. Picnic tables.
Econfina Canoe Livery
Launch: 200-foot carry.
Parking: Plenty of parking. Visible.
Notes: Reservations needed in off season. Very crowded on summer weekends.
Launch: Entry to launch area about 700 feet east of Hwy 20 bridge. Large gravel parking area, but launch is down long, one-lane, one-way road. Long 250-foot boardwalk. Floating dock.
Parking: Large gravel parking area. Visible.
Facilities: Pit toilet.
Launch: Northwest corner of bridge. Easy 100-foot carry down, gradual eroded ramp.
Parking: 10+ cars. Dirt. Visible.
Notes: Very busy during warm months, especially on weekends. Good to avoid.