Florida’s longest river, Apalachicola River, meanders more than 100 miles through Northwest Florida and empties in to the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola. The lower 30 miles of the river is surrounded by extensive swamps and wetlands, except at the coast.
The watershed contains nationally significant forests, with some of the highest biological diversity east of the Mississippi River, rivaling that of the Great Smoky Mountains. The endangered tree species Florida Torreya is endemic to the region; it clings to forested slopes and bluffs in Torreya State Park along the east bank of the river. The basin of the Apalachicola River is also noted for its tupelo honey, a high-quality mono-floral honey, which is produced wherever the tupelo trees bloom in the southeastern United States.
Some parks to discover natural habitats along the river include Apalachicola National Forest, Torreya State Park, The Nature Conservancy Apalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve, Tate’s Hell State Forest, and Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area, and Apalachicola River Water Management Area.
The Choctawhatchee River is Florida’s third largest river system in terms of water volume discharged. It flows approximately 96 miles from the Alabama state line into Choctawhatchee Bay with tree lined shores.
Its major tributaries in Florida are Holmes, Wrights, Sandy, Pine Log, Seven Run, and Bruce creeks. The river boasts 13 springs and numerous spring fed tributaries, according to a Northwest Florida Water Management District’s springs inventory. Favorites are Washington Blue and Potter Springs, both located off Route 79 north of Ebro.
The endangered Okaloosa darter is found in several tributaries, as are the bony-plated Gulf sturgeon, Alligator gar and several other rare snails, reptiles, and amphibians. Habitats range from freshwater springs and steephead streams to tidal marshes and seagrass beds. They also encompass relic dunes, xeric hammocks, coastal scrub, and pine flatwood forests.
The Chipola River, the largest tributary of the Apalachicola, boasts 63 fresh water springs, the largest number of any rivershed in Northwest Florida. Its only first-magnitude spring, Jackson Blue Spring, produces almost 86 million gallons a day. The Chipola River’s major tributaries, Rocky, Dry and Spring creeks, are all runs formed from first- and second-magnitude spring groups. Several springs rise directly into the river and ponds, such as Merritt’s Mill Pond, increasing flow and providing unique habitat.
The Ochlockonee River
The Ochlockonee originates in southwest Georgia and flows 206 miles before emptying into Ochlockonee Bay, and then into Apalachee Bay, in Florida. It forms the eastern boundaries of Gadsden, Liberty, and Franklin Counties, passing through the Red Hills, Talquin State Forest, Lake Talquin State Park, and the Apalachicola National Forest.
The Ochlockonee River corridor is home to many threatened fish, wildlife, and plant species. It is a State of Florida designated Outstanding Florida Water and has been identified by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a Strategic Habitat Conservation Area. Rare animals that can be found along the Ochlockonee include Red-Cockaded Woodpecker, Least Tern, and the Apalachicola Dusky Salamander, as well as several rare freshwater mussels.
The Florida Maybell tree can be found only along the Ochlockonee and Chipola Rivers. Fishing for bass, perch, bream, and catfish can be excellent on the Ochlockonee River, and a state-designated canoe trail can be found both upstream and downstream of Lake Talquin.
Holmes Creek is a state-designated canoe trail and may be accessed by several public boat landings. It flows through areas with high sandy banks and beautiful hardwood swamps until its confluence with the Choctawhatchee River. It provides among the most diverse habitats and richest variety of fish and mollusks in the Choctawhatchee River basin. Its lower reach swells with azure springs, increasing average flow and providing distinctive stream havens for fish, reptiles, and mollusks. Holmes Creek is also richer in freshwater snail species than any other river in the Florida Panhandle. Three as yet unnamed species of snails were found to be endemic, or confined, to the creek, Choctawhatchee, and Chipola river drainages. Dozens of springs, seeps, and sand boils are worth exploring. The largest is Cypress Spring, which is a second magnitude spring . Beckton Spring is also notable for its pristine habitat.
Econfina (e-con-FINE-ah) Creek originates in southern Jackson County and flows without any structures or interruptions some 26 miles through Washington County to the Deer Point Lake reservoir in Bay County. Econfina Creek offers the steepest gradient of any designated canoe trail in the state. Canoeists pass waterfalls, rock outcrops, log jams, riverbed springs, and plentiful bird life as they approach State Road 20, where the Gainer Springs Complex enters from numerous vents, filling a deep clear pool surrounded by palms, cypress, and mixed hardwoods. A 14-mile extension of the Florida National Scenic Trail traverses remnant old growth native longleaf pine and wiregrass communities, which still exist on District land near State Road 20 and at Hobb’s Pasture near Deer Point Lake Reservoir. The natural, rolling sandhills entice equestrians to ride a half-dozen blazed trails among pristine lakes, lush wildflowers, varied wildlife, and ever changing panoramas.