New River: a relaxing paddle with some of the gnarliest cypress trees you'll ever see.
Tate's Hell State Forest has a numerous primitive campsites lining the river, making it a great destination for an overnight trip.
SKILL LEVEL: Beginner to Advanced Beginner. Dodging cypress knees on the highest stretch might give some new paddlers trouble.
SCENERY: Totally free of development.
LOCATION: In Tate's Hell State Forest near Sumatra, Florida.
ONLINE GAUGE: No gauge. Low water may be an issue, especially in summer. Check gauge on nearby Sopchoppy River for a rough idea.
The New River loses its path in the reportedly impassable Mud Swamp before finding its way again right above FR 22. For the next few miles the river follows a pool and squeeze pattern. There are large, wide areas in the river followed by narrow passageways with lots of cypress trees. Below Campsite 1 (Sumatra), the river seems to settle down and stick with a traditional river channel. These first several miles, however, offer up some very interesting looking cypress trees.
The river itself is dark, and it takes on a reddish tint in the shallows. It is not always easy to spot obstacles in the water, and there are some too spot. We have found the river to generally be well-maintained and did not need our loppers or saws, but pullovers are always a possibility.
This is another great river to get away from the crowds.
If you are traveling to Tate's Hell State Forest, you should come armed with a map and / or your GPS. The roads are not all marked, and it is easy to get turned around. Here is the Forest Service's map of the campgrounds. You might also look into the free cell phone GPS app Avenza Maps and downloading free maps for the area.
In addition to getting lost in "Hell," you should take care not to get stuck there, too. The roads are all dirt, and some spots puddle after rains. We were advised to let them dry out a bit, if possible.
If you like Cypress trees, you definitely want to check out the section right below FR 22. At higher water levels, the current in this section may be a bit tricky. A day trip starting at FR 22 does raise an issue because there is no bridge at this spot anymore. The FR 22 launch is on the west side of the river, and the takeout 9.8 miles downstream at Campsite 17 is on the east side of the river, which leads to a looping shuttle on dirt roads. We thought it was worth the drive, but we arranged things so we could leave with all the boats and passengers from the takeout. Taking out at Campsite 3, several miles downstream might be a possibility, but we have not scouted this.
The river gradient is very low below Campsite 17, so you should expect to be paddling rather than floating.
The map below has coordinates for several campsites, but we have not scouted them. There are several more gentle miles of flat water paddling below Gully Branch. Be warned that the takeouts at many of the sites are reported to be very steep.
River Miles reflect the approximate distances from the previous launch site.
LAUNCH SITE MAP (See next section for clickable directions)
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LAUNCH SITE DETAILS & DIRECTIONS
Forest Rd (FR) 22
Launch: End of the road. 100-foot carry down root-filled slope. Easy entry.
Parking: Plenty of roadside parking. The road dead ends here at the river. Isolated.