Think Gulf Coast beaches are your only waterfront respite? Think again. Take a quick drive east for a trip back in time, and experience the unspoiled Florida wilderness along the waters of Peace River.
There’s a time machine that meanders through Southwest Floridaabout an hour from the white sand beaches of Siesta, Lido and Longboat keys. Spanish conquistadors called it Rio de la Paz, or River of Peace. The Seminole Indians referred to it as Talakchopcohatchee, or River of Long Peas — courtesy of the wild peas that grew upon its banks. Throughout Florida’s history, Peace River has supported the indigenous people and settlers who found solace in and among its presence.
As a second-generation Florida native and avid nature lover, my goal was to do the same with a day spent paddling a stretch of Peace River. My family happily came along for the journey.
Our daylong canoe trip started where many do — at the end. Although there is access at any of the public boat ramps or parks along the river — from Polk County southwest for 106 miles to Charlotte — the historical rancher town of Arcadia is a quick jaunt from Sarasota and Manatee counties. Canoe Outpost-Peace River was our chosen spot to park our cars and rent canoes. The riverside outfitter celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and is the perfect spot to garner gear and information needed for a successful trip.
Knowing what shark-teeth treasure awaited our discovery, we were armed with shovels, buckets, colanders and sifters. After we signed a few papers, outpost staff hauled us and our canoes upriver to the drop-in point for the Oak Hill run, considered a short, half-day run.
As quickly as our canoes were offloaded and put in the river, we loaded them up with our belongings, including life vests, sunscreen, coolers — even the golden retriever. Off we went.
We spent less than 10 minutes paddling before we found a great spot to beach our canoes and start panning for treasure. A destination spot for novice and expert fossil hunters, the river itself is a history lesson about how the Sunshine State was once wholly submerged and traversed by prehistoric creatures, including sharks.
After 30 minutes of sifting, our bucket bottoms were lined with shark teeth. We had happy kids and were ready to journey onto the next spot. The Oak Hill run is estimated to be about 1.5 to two hours of paddling. Avoiding a return to reality, we took our time on our trip. We often stopped along the way for riverfront snacks and gravel bottom sifting, and we decided to linger on one stretch that offered the kids rides on a mini rapid. It would shoot them 50 feet down the river, and then they would put their feet down, walk back to the start and do it again and again.
Come late afternoon, knowing we still had more river to cover, we decided to put the time in paddling and take in all the nature that abounds along the banks. It became clear that it’s not necessary to be in search of archeological treasures to relish the unspoiled beauty Peace River offers.
We had started our journey around 10 a.m. and pulled off the river at the outpost close to 5 p.m.
With rested souls, buckets of shark teeth, tired kids and slight sunburns, we slowly walked back to our cars, collectively planning our next trip back in time.
See the following pages for more pictures and tips to plan a trip of your own.