The Northwest Florida panhandle provides seemingly endless paddling opportunities for kayakers and canoeists looking for adventure. One such destination, located about two hours east of Pensacola near the town of Vernon, is Holmes Creek, a state designated canoe trail. Holmes Creek has numerous launch locations, crystal clear springs to explore and an easy current perfect for beginning paddlers.
The creek itself is a sand-bottom creek whose tea-colored waters flow southward from Alabama to join with the Choctawhatchee River. Currents are slow, usually about 1-2 mph, unless after a heavy rain. It can sometimes take a couple of weeks for the flood waters to recede. Be sure to check water levels before heading out. A link to the USGS Streamflow Data for Holmes Creek can be found here.
A variety of plants, animals, birds and aquatic wildlife thrives along the creek including several species of freshwater snails found only in the Holmes Creek spring system. Holmes Creek is a favorite among local fishermen who frequently catch bass, bream, redbreast and shellcracker. Bird watchers will enjoy viewing the frequently seen ibis, cranes, egret and hawks that call Holmes Creek home. A watchful eye may even catch a glimpse of an alligator or river otters along the way.
The Springs of Holmes Creek
Holmes Creek travels through a variety of habitats including mixed hardwoods, cypress-tupelo swamps, sand hills and wetlands. Nestled among these areas are a a number of natural seeps and karst springs of varying magnitude that flow into the creek. Cypress Springs and Beckton Springs, both magnitude 2 springs, are among the most notable and stunning of the springs that feed the creek. Brunson Landing Spring and Hightower Spring are smaller but well worth a look.
Cypress Spring, the largest of the springs along Holmes Creek, can be accessed by boat just downstream from Cotton Landing. This large pristine pool features a central vent about twenty-six feet deep which cave divers have explored to a distance of seventy-five feet. Adjacent to Cypress Springs is a culvert that diverts the Piney Woods Spring runoff for aesthetic purposes.
Farther downstream about two miles north of the town of Vernon is somewhat smaller Beckton Springs, a popular swimming hole among locals. Both Cypress and Beckton Springs are accessible only by boat- the surrounding lands are privately owned. The result is less crowded springs for those willing to paddle to them.
Holmes Creek Put-In Locations
The best place to launch a kayak or canoe that will get paddlers to the best springs quickly is three miles north of the city of Vernon at Cotton Landing or two miles north at Culpepper Landing, both on C.R. 277 . Take out at Vernon wayside park in town on S.R. 79. Alternatively, paddlers can put in at the Vernon wayside park for an easy paddle upstream to visit the springs.
For longer or shorter float trips there are a number of take-out locations along Holmes Creek that allow paddlers to plan a trip of almost any length. A detailed map and a partial list of launch locations can be found at: “Florida Greenways & Trails.”