Holmes, Washington, and surrounding Counties have long been known for having natural resources that attract nature enthusiasts. Here is a look at what makes Holmes Creek and the Choctawhatchee Blueway especially popular ecotourism destinations.
Located in Vernon, Holmes Creek is fed by dozens of springs, and is a favorite for snorkeling and diving. Cypress Springs (about 3 miles north of Vernon) is the largest, a second-magnitude spring. The park around the spring, however, is now in private hands and closed to the public. Nearby Beckton Springs and Magnolia Springs also feed the creek and are popular swimming and snorkeling sites. The abundant wildlife includes turtles, alligators, fish and birds such as blue heron, ibis, egrets, and woodpeckers.
Be sure to bring a mask and snorkel if paddling scenic Holmes Creek. This remote Panhandle stream is fed by crystalline springs, so the water’s clarity is often semi-transparent. Low-hanging branches and twisting bends add some challenge as the waterway makes its way past high sandy banks and lush swamplands. Several old-growth cypress and gum trees can be seen along the shore. Wildflowers in the spring and brilliant fall colors in October and November add to the beauty of this pristine waterway.
The Paddling Experience
This 34-mile scenic paddling trail begins at Burnt Sock Landing and has numerous access sites to create a trip length of your choosing. It is suitable for beginning to intermediate paddlers, and water levels are generally consistent. Holmes Creek has been extended to merge with the Choctawhatchee River with a take out at Cedar Tree Landing, the first available public access downstream on the Choctawhatchee. A major summer congregation area for the federally protected Gulf sturgeon is just below where Holmes Creek joins the Choctawhatchee River. These huge fish may be seen leaping dramatically from the water and if encountered, move near the river’s edge to avoid potential impact.
• Start of the Trail, Burnt Sock Landing Burnt Sock Landing: Burnt Sock Landing is located on the south side of Johnson Road, approximately 1.5 miles east of Hwy 79. The Johnson Road/Hwy 79 intersection is approximately 3.7 miles north of Vernon and 6.3 miles south of Interstate 10.
• Mile 2.0, Cotton Landing: Cotton Landing is located on CR. 277. Cypress Springs is a popular swimming area located just downstream from Cotton Landing. Keep in mind the shoreline is private property. Directions: From Vernon, travel 3.3 miles north on CR 277. Follow limerock road for 1 mile to launch.
• Mile 3.0, Culpepper Landing: From Vernon, travel 2 miles north on CR 277. Turn left onto Culpepper Lane. Follow paved road 0.4 miles to ramp.
• Mile 5.5, Vernon City Park: From Vernon, travel north on SR 79 to bridge and small park on the east side of the road.
• Mile 9.5, Fanning Branch Boat Ramp: Take SR 79 south from Vernon 3 miles to Two Creeks Boulevard, an unpaved road. Turn right and travel a quarter mile to Keenkutter Road and take a right. In less than a quarter mile take a sharp left and follow a short distance to launch.
• Mile 10.5, Brunson Landing: Take CR 278 west 3 miles from Vernon; turn left on Dorch Circle and follow for 100 yards. As the paved road curves to the right, continue straight on narrow, unpaved road 0.7 mile to ramp.
• Mile 11.5, Hightower Springs Landing: Take SR 79 south from Vernon 4 miles to Hightower Springs Road. Go north 0.5 miles on improved unpaved road to landing.
• Mile 15.0, Spurling Landing: From Vernon, travel about 7 miles west on SR 79 and turn right onto Clemmons Road. Stay on Clemmons Road for 2.5 miles to landing.
• Mile 21.5, Live Oak Landing: From Vernon, travel south 7.3 miles on SR 79 to junction of SR 284 (Miller’s Ferry Road). Turn right (west) and drive about 1.3 miles to Hammack Road. Turn right on Hammack Road and go 1 mile to Live Oak Landing Road. Turn left on Live Oak Landing Road and drive about 0.5 mile to public boat ramp.
• Mile 27.5, Shell Landing: From Vernon, travel south 7.2 miles on SR 79 to junction of Miller’s Ferry Rd. Turn right and drive 3.8 miles, turn left on Shell Landing Rd (becomes SR 284A), drive 2.9 miles
• Mile 28, Potter Spring Road Landing: From Vernon, travel south on SR 79 10.9 miles. Turn right on Potter Springs Rd.
• Mile 34, End of the Trail, Cedar Tree Landing: From Vernon, travel south on SR 79 16.9 miles, turn right on Cedar Tree Lane.
Originating in southern Alabama and meandering south through northwest Florida in Holmes, Walton, and Washington counties, the Choctawhatchee Blueway flows close to 140 miles southward, to eventually empty into the Choctawhatchee Bay.
The Choctawhatchee River is 170 miles long, beginning in Alabama with about 88 miles in Florida. The Florida Blueway designated portion of this river is roughly a 64-mile stretch between SR 2 near the Alabama border to Cowford Landing on Hwy 20. The Choctawhatchee flood plain provides habitat for an array of native wildlife, with several endangered plant and animal species, including the federally threatened Gulf Sturgeon. There have been rumors of the believed-to-be-extinct ivory-billed woodpecker hidden among the primordial wetlands.
The Paddling Experience
Paddlers must check weather forecasts and water levels carefully before starting on a Choctawhatchee adventure. The river’s flow will fluctuate with seasonal rainfall, and sudden rises may result from heavy rains. The river is mostly undeveloped and camping options are limited the first 25 miles or so to exposed sand bars that may not be available if water levels are high. The best levels for paddling (and camping) are less than 10 feet at the USGS Water Gage near Pittman. The river is generally suitable for paddling during drought conditions but may not be navigable for power boats on the upper section. Paddlers must be comfortable with primitive camping and filter or treat water as there are few potable sources. There is little to no development along the river and amenities are very limited-a bonus for those looking for immersion in wilderness. Many of the access points are very isolated so consider arranging shuttling and secure parking with a local outfitter. Leave vehicles overnight at your own risk. It is possible to paddle the river to its mouth at the Choctawhatchee Bay, however this section can become confusing to navigate. Use detailed maps or hire a guide.
• Start of the trail, East Pittman Creek Landing, east side of river: Located just south of the Hwy 2 bridge on the east side of the river. Access is located in a park on a small bluff overlooking the Choctawhatchee River.
• Mile 2.6, Curry Ferry Ramp, east side of the river: Turnoff from Hwy 179 onto the south entrance of Curry Ferry Rd marked with boat ramp sign, 0.9 miles to ramp.
• Mile 6.7, Baker Landing Ramp (aka Warehouse Landing): 1.5 miles from turnoff on Hwy 179A, on Baker Landing Lane.
• Mile 12.0, Cerrogordo Landing, west side of the river: From CR 179A, turn east on Buck Rogers Road (CR 162) and follow to the river.
• Mile 18.4, Ward Landing, east side of river: From Hwy 179, turn south on Boat Ramp Rd, go 0.6 miles to first dirt road to the right, turn west.
• Mile 19.2, Boat Ramp Road, east side of river: Follow boat ramp sign on Hwy 179, turn south on Boat Ramp Rd and follow to the end.
• Mile 21, US 90, (Caryville Landing): East side of the Hwy 90 bridge.
• Mile 32, Berrian Lake Landing, west side of river: Turn off CR 181C onto Berrian Lake Rd.
• Mile 33.5, Cedar Log Landing (old), west side of river: Turn off Hwy 181 onto Cedar Log Lake Rd. Keep left when the road forks at the river.
• Mile 34, Cedar Log Landing (new), west side of river: Turn off Hwy 181 onto Cedar Log Lake Rd. Keep right when the road forks at the river.
• Mile 35, Billy Lee Landing (Douglas Ferry Landing), east side of river: Directions: From CR 284 (River Rd.) turn west on Douglas Ferry Rd, follow road to boat ramp.
• Mile 39, Morrison Springs, west side of river: From Interstate 10, take Exit 96 onto Highway 81 South. Go about 6 miles. Turn left onto Highway 181-A. Drive for 1.5 miles, turn right onto Morrison Springs Road, and follow the road to its end.
• Mile 43.5, Commanders (River) Landing, west side of river: Directions: Approximately 2.3 miles from the Hwy 81, turnoff on a well-marked gravel road
• Mile 49, Jenkins Landing, east side of river: From SR 79, turn west onto CR 284 (Millers Ferry Rd), turn west onto Choctaw Rd. and follow to the ramp