We were up around 6:00 A.M. and began gathering and organizing our gear.
We yelled, "Yeah! This is the day."
The sun was out and it looked like it was going to be a great day. The breeze was almost nonexistent.
We had breakfast and as we ate, we watched four deer wander through our yard and across the street.
We put our canoes in at the Marina and loaded up. The water was up over the Marina walls and within inches of the road. Actually it made it easier to load our gear in our canoes.
We had spoken with two Park employees and were told that the "Brown Trail" to Craven’s Hammock had just opened and we would have no problem following it since all the markers were in plain sight.
We also had been told that the current at the main "Sill" spillway was extremely strong and we should avoid it at all costs. (We found this to be false)
We left the Marina at 9:00 A.M. On their advice, we took the Brown Trail. They were right! There was no problem whatsoever following the trail. We had only one small goof where we lost sight of a marker about three quarters of the way to the sill. But after five minutes of searching, we found it and were on our way again.
The markers are easy to see as the rule. They are 2X2 wood stakes driven into the bottom and the top foot is painted white so they are very visible. They are spaced reasonably close together in dense forested trails and not as close in the more open waters.
We arrived at the sill at about 12:00. The water was so high it was spilling over in dozens of places. As we turned North, we found ourselves bucking a strong current and a 15 – 20 MPH head wind blowing south, directly down the canal. (The canal runs due North and south at this point.)
After about thirty minutes of exhausting work against the wind and current, we pulled out on the sill for lunch and a welcome stretch break. There are zero places to pull out for a break, (except for the sill) all the way to Craven’s Hammock so take advantage of it while you can.
We ate lunch between three gators. One, North of us about 100 feet and two South of us about 100 feet. After eating and stretching, I decided to film the gators.
They stayed put until I got within 50 feet or so and then got uneasy and hit the water. I did get a few good shots however.
The sill had lily pads and grass all along its edges. Normally one would try and avoid going through these as it slows you down. However, the wind and current were so bad, we found it was easier to stick to within a few feet of the sill. About 3/4 mile later we found the sign on the right pointing to Craven’s Hammock.
Looking at my watch, I noted it was about 1:30 when we entered the swamp for our destination.
At first, there is a long narrow lake (about a half mile) after that it is a long and twisting very narrow trail, sometimes no wider than your canoe.
Occasionally you will pass through a large pond of nothing but lily pads (gator havens) a couple as large as a football field, then more narrows, more ponds, more narrows and so on.
The trail is well marked, if one pays attention and always keeps the next marker in sight, you’ll never have a problem. I would not want to be back in there with no markers to follow.
On our way to the Hammock, we saw more than fifty gators but most of them were no more than six to eight feet long.
As for the big gators, they are as afraid of you as you are them. They will give you plenty of room and will never bother you. We did find several of the ten to twelve footers willing to stay still and pose for us….. but most would silently slip into the water as we approached.
The ONLY reason I would be frightened of these big guys is, if I had a dog with me in my canoe. I call to your attention that there are strict park laws that explicitly prohibit taking a dog with you inside the park.
Gators will go to great lengths…. and travel miles over land if they smell a dog. It is their favorite food.
As much as I love my dog and would dearly love to have him with me on my canoe trips, if I suspected there would be huge gators where I would be canoeing, I would never take him along. Not just for his safety, but for mine as well.