The best place to find fossils along the Peace River is in DeSoto and Hardee counties along Highway 17. Starting in Zolfo Springs, you can work your way south— downstream to Arcadia (Peace River Canoe Trail Map). The best way to access the river is by canoe or kayak. Either you’ll have to use two cars—one where you put in the canoe and one at the take out—or you’ll have to paddle upstream and float down. Another option is to rent a canoe. The Canoe Outpost in Arcadia will bring you by bus to Brownville or Gardener, and you can float downstream to your car.
The water level is usually low from October to June. The river bottom is composed of sand and gravel. The gravel contains well-preserved teeth and bones. Along most of the river, the water is shallow enough to wade in. You can also use a mask and snorkel to spot areas of gravel on the bottom. After digging some dirt from the bottom or from the river’s edge, use screens to sift through the sand leaving the gravel and any fossils behind. Bones are smooth or have a pitted surface and a sponge-like texture inside. Teeth have a smooth, shiny surface. Decaying vegetation in the river creates tannic acid making the water a brown, tea-like color. Most fossils are stained dark brown or black from absorbing the tannic acid.
Be prepared to encounter wildlife. If you’re afraid of alligators, snakes, or spiders, this probably isn’t the trip for you. As you are wading or snorkeling, be ready for an occasional water snake to swim around your legs. While drifting in the canoe under the trees, you may experience spiders falling into the boat. Most alligators will leave the area quickly when they hear humans approach. However, if you startle an alligator or approach too closely to its nest, it can become dangerous.