Peace River Canoe Camping Trip

Written by Ryan S.

Click here to learn more about the Peace River

The DoFloridaRight crew made our way from Zolfo Springs the Canoe Outpost at Gardner, a 19.2 mile paddle spread out over two days. Making the trip in late April afforded us some very low water which did make for good fishing and easy fossil hunting, but slowed us down to a crawl any time we weren’t actively paddling. We were able to find nice big sandy banks for setting up camp with relative ease, although the good ones are few and far between.  The bugs were negligible, but we were prepared for the worst just in case the deer flies, mosquitoes, and no-see-ums decided to grace us with their presence. We paddled about 5 hours on the first day and 4 hours on the second, with the first of the two having many more breaks. 


The trip started at 10am in Arcadia, about a 90 minute drive from Bonita Springs. The Peace River Canoe Outpost headquarters is in Arcadia, so we met there to sign the necessary paperwork. We had reservations a month out. There were what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of canoes, but there were also what seemed like hundreds and hundreds of people all making their way on to the narrow river. Luckily, we worked our way north to Gardner while most of the other large groups stayed in Arcadia, and then a bus took us and our gear north to Zolfo Springs to our launch spot at Pioneer Park.

Now 30 miles away from the headquarters, the hundreds of people awaiting a canoe were irrelevant. The distance filtered out all but one other group of about 7 canoes, whom we never even saw after the first hour of the trip.

Paddling started out slowly right around noon. The high sun made things warm immediately, so naturally we reached for the coolers…not that we wouldn’t have anyway. As the refreshments started taking over, the breaks became more frequent and increased in duration. It wasn’t until around 3:30 that we made an attempt to check our progress on the crude map and horribly inaccurate cell phone GPS. Around that time, it became evident that we either need to put the pedal to the metal for an hour or we’d leave ourselves a very long paddle in the morning. We opted for a sobering power hour paddle, which rather fortuitously led us to a beautiful sandy beach a little more than halfway to our final destination. Clearly we were guided there by a Calusa spirit that liked to party.

Setting up camp and gathering firewood were the first priorities upon arrival to our sandy river bank. Our location saw a stray cow wander through from time to time, as evidenced by a home plate sized cow patty near the fire pit, though we didn’t hear any cowbells while we were there. An abundance of wood was gathered, the tents were set up, coolers were emptied while drinks were refilled, and the arduous task of sitting along the river bank fishing, drinking, and snacking on hotdogs and sausages began. A team of Dutch scientists (*probably) proved unequivocally that meats taste better in direct proportion to how far it has traveled in a canoe that day, so those hotdogs and sausages tasted at least 10 times better, and even the questionably sourced turkey burgers were more than palatable. The steak, bacon, and chorizo was all spared for the morning, as nobody felt like nor had the cognitive capacity to give them due diligence until at least logging a few hours of sleep.

The night carried on very much the same as it began; food, refreshments, and sandy chairs dominated the scene. Somehow, we managed to push until the wee hours of the night without attracting any unwanted visitors in the form of rodents, reptiles, insects, or lawmen. A few small gators did make their way around the river bend, but surely we bothered them a lot more than they bothered us.  

I find it difficult to sleep when it’s sunny outside and I’m in a tent, half due to the light and the other half sheer giddy anticipation. I was up at first light playing with the camera, stoking the fire, and losing small bass to a bent hook. The rest of the camp awoke gradually, and the quintessential breakfast foods were recovered from the nearly empty coolers. Bacon, eggs, chorizo, peppers, and steak were prepared. It wasn’t long, however, until tragedy struck. A cast iron skillet full of eggs, chorizo, and perfectly cooked vegetables fell off the cooking tripod and into the sand, officially ending breakfast. Luckily, the steak, bacon, and a few other breakfast foods were already happily in our bellies, so utter catastrophe was averted—only barely.

Knowing that we had a lot of padding left to do, camp was packed up by 11am and we were on our way back to Gardner to meet our vehicles. We will had 8 or 9 miles left to go, but considering we each ate and drank our body weight during the previous 18 hours, our gear was considerably lighter. Furthermore, the beverage supply was drastically reduced which kept us humming along and slightly more than a leisurely pace.

The 2nd leg of the river, in my opinion, was more appealing than the first. Scrubby and grassy banks gave way to majestic cypress and Spanish moss drenched live oak trees, eroded limestone faces lined the banks in some parts, and the foliage seemed just a bit fuller and greener. We stopped to try our hand at some fossil hunting, which started out slow until we realize just what we were looking for—small black point objects that look a lot like, well, the teeth of modern sharks. We ended up finding about dozen or more ranging from just about a millimeter to about an inch. Had we travelled with the proper equipment (sifters and shovels, available for purchase at Peace River Canoe Outpost), we likely would have found more and possibly some larger ones, but we were more excited than your average 5 year old to find what we did. In fact, it took quite a bit of prodding to get the group back into the canoes and paddling forward.

With the major events behind us, the last couple of miles of the paddle were relatively uneventful. Full of nostalgia, we rounded the last couple of bends and talked about when and where the next trip would be, how we should have taken a day off from work and made it a 3 day trip, and how we were sad to see the trip come to an end. As we reached the Canoe Outpost @ Gardner, the official end of the trip, a drop of water from my paddle splashed up and landed next to my eye and dripped down my cheek. I wasn’t crying, OK? Because that would be lame.

The 2nd major catastrophic event occurred shortly after packing up the gear in the truck. Ever since we had planned the trip, the goal was to stop by Peace River Seafood; a small Old Florida fish shack farther up river toward Punta Gorda. Brimming with excitement, we looked up the hours to make sure that they were still open, but unfortunately they had closed at 8. On the day before. It turns out that Peace River Seafood isn’t open at all on Sunday. It outraged me at the time, but looking back, I think it only makes the place more badass.  We settled for Harpoon Harry’s at the Fisherman’s Village in Punta Gorda, which truly was settling, but at least the view was good. 

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