Explore wilderness close to home at Lafayette Passage
July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills
published in Tallahassee Democrat, 4/9/15
I have to be one of the luckiest people ever! I paddle somewhere most every day. As a guide and instructor for the Florida Kayak School, I travel around the region and share my love of the outdoors and being on the water with like-minded people.
Though I would be hard-pressed to select my “favorite” paddle spot, I keep coming back to the 7.8 mile round-trip Lafayette Passage Paddling Trail. Many think that you have to drive miles away to have a “wilderness experience,” but the Lafayette Passage Paddling Trail is located close by in east Tallahassee.
The well-marked paddle trail has two put-ins. The most commonly used is at the Lafayette-Heritage Park in the Piney-Z neighborhood. The paddle trail can also be accessed from the aptly named Road to the Lake in Chaires.
From the Lafayette-Heritage Park put-in, the paddle begins with the one-mile expanse of Piney-Z Lake. Once called Prairie Lake, this is one of the best wildlife viewing areas in the region. There is a wonderful, year-round bounty of alligators and a wide variety of birds here. Just to paddle the Piney-Z Lake portion of the paddle trail is a joy that will renew the spirit. Also, the north side of Piney-Z Lake is home to one of the state’s premier paleo archaeological sites.
At the east end of the Piney-Z Lake, there is an earthen dam that separates Piney-Z Lake from the Lower Lafayette Lake. At this dam you can carry your kayak/canoe across the 25-foot, clearly marked pathway, to the Lower Lafayette Lake. Following the trail signs there are two branches of the trail (North Loop and South Loop) and three connector spur trails that allow the paddler to shorten the round-trip loop if desired or add time exploring this beautiful place.
The heavily wooded Lower Lafayette Lake is Tallahassee’s answer to the Okefenokee Swamp. Deep among cypress trees you have no sense that you are only minutes away from urban Tallahassee. The sounds of osprey, woodpeckers, heron, egrets, and wood ducks fill the air. Seasonally, the lake is home to bald eagles. Shy alligators can be seen sliding silently into the water to avoid you.
It is a joy of mine to take long-time local paddlers to this nearby paddling place. I suggest that those interested in a full day trip paddle the length of the trail (putting in at either end of the trail) and have a picnic at the opposite end. Make sure to carry plenty of water and snacks. You might want to include in your paddling kit some bug spray in warmer weather. The Lower Lafayette Lake is a popular duck hunting spot (for good reason), so it is important to schedule your trip around duck hunting season.
There are numerous online sites that highlight the history and diverse ecological depth of the flora and fauna of this area:
Visit the City of Tallahassee website for a video guide to this paddling trail. http://www.talgov.com/parks/parks-parks-lafayette.aspx
For more information call the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department at 891-3866.
Tommy Thompson, a long-time outdoor enthusiast, is coastal kayak instructor and owner of the Florida Kayak School. He leads guided kayak tours and teaches kayaking skills throughout the region.