By Rick O’Conner, Sea Grant Extension, Escambia County
Are you looking to get away from it all? Looking for a quiet place with natural areas all around? Then you might enjoy paddling the Perdido River Paddle Trail.
Serving as the state line, the Perdido River runs 65 miles from U.S. Highway 31, near the community of Perdido Alabama, to the head of Perdido Bay. The Perdido is a tannic river, having a lower pH and looking much like iced tea – what many call a “blackwater” river. This is due to the slow-moving waters collecting tannins released from decaying leaves that have fallen into the water. The upper portions have a gravel and sand bottom giving way to more of a sandy bottom in the middle sections, becoming more muddy and swampy with few beaches at the lower end.
Most of the hardwood and pine forest habitat that borders much of the river is privately owned for timber or hunting and is left in a natural state. For most of the paddle trail, you will see little sign of humans, just the sounds of the wind blowing through the pines, and the ripples of water circling in the eddies – a great getaway place. Turtles basking on logs and a large variety of birds are a few living creatures you will see, other than your paddle team.
The Perdido Paddle Trail is a multistate effort that includes state agencies from both Alabama and Florida as well as NGOs, such as the Nature Conservancy. The paddle trail does not begin at the head of the river, it is too shallow and narrow there, rather it begins on the Alabama side 23 miles south of the river’s beginnings. The Alabama portion of the trail begins at Gravel Landing. Gravel Landing can be accessed from Baldwin County Road 112 at Staple Fork Road. There is a large wooden sign stating that both Gravel and Staple Fork Landings can be accessed from this road. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, using funds from Alabama’s Forever Wild program, built small wooden shelters that paddlers can use for overnight stays. The shelters must be reserved for a small fee and the link for this is listed at the bottom of this article. The Alabama Section of the paddle trail extends 19 miles from Gravel Landing to Blue Lake Landing. There are four shelters and several sandy beaches along this section of the river.
Just above the Blue Lake Landing on the Florida side of the river, is Fillingim Landing – the beginning of the Florida portion of the trail. There are five landings, and one public canoe livery on the lower 23 miles of the paddle trail; all are on the Florida side of the river. Four of the landings are owned and managed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District. Each has a portable toilet and one, Otto Hill, has primitive camping. To use the primitive camp you must reserve it with the Water Management District. If you prefer to begin your paddle on the Florida side, you can access these landings by traveling Escambia County Highway 97. There are signs near each landing to help you navigate to their location. The fifth landing is a county-owned one at U.S. Highway 90 – Wilson Robinson Landing. This landing has portable toilets and a large parking area.
Below Wilson Robinson Landing, the river slows and the hardwoods and pines are replaced by areas of cypress, you are entering a more swamp environment. There is one public landing on the Alabama side that can be accessed from the community of Seminole Alabama. The Nature Conservancy owns the Florida side. There are plans to build two shelters here for paddlers. This portion of the river has osprey and jumping mullet. You will begin to see more development along the Alabama side but there are numerous creeks and backwater areas that you can explore all day. The current here is much slower and you could paddle back to Wilson Robinson if you wanted to make a day trip in this area.
Once you reach Chambers Point, you are at the head of Perdido Bay. There are no landings here, so Wilson Robinson is the last place to pull out if you do not want to paddle across the bay. For those who do, the next stop is about 10 miles away. Due south of Chambers Point on the Florida side, is Herron Bayou. This is a county landing and has a portable toilet. It is about an eight-mile paddle across open water. The paddler should check wind and tides before making this trip. Further south at the Lillian Bridge (U.S. Highway 98) there are two potential stops. If you are with the Department of Defense, you can stop and camp at the Blue Angel Recreation Area. If not, there is a KOA campground on the opposite of the bay on the Alabama side south of the bay.
The trip from the Lillian Bridge to Perdido Key is another 10 miles. Here you can head east towards Galvez Landing. Galvez is a county-owned landing with a portable toilet and is next to a restaurant. It is about five miles from Innerarity Point. From Galvez Landing, it is only another mile to Big Lagoon State Park. Here you can camp and it is also the beginning of the Florida Bluewater Paddle Trail, which will take you to St. Augustine.
If you do not have a canoe or kayak, there are a couple of canoe rental businesses that service the Perdido River. You can find them online.
For more information on the Alabama side of the Perdido Paddle Trail – visit https://www.alabamacanoetrails.com/perdido.
For more information on the Florida side visit https://www.nwfwater.com/Lands/Recreation/Area/Perdido-River.
Or you can contact the Escambia County Extension Office (850) 475-5230