In the heart of North Florida’s vast forests lie hundreds of crystalline springs that feed several outstanding rivers and waterways. Paddle some of these scenic rivers!
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Paddle Through Ocala National Forest
Come paddle the natural wonders of Florida. Immerse yourself in the magic of this subtropical wonderland. Steeped in history and legend, these clear-flowing springs will draw you back time and time again.
This trip is geared to the entry-level sea kayaker, but it’s fun for all levels. Our kayaks transport us gently along springs and rivers in the heart of Ocala National Forest. Swim, snorkel, and play in pure rejuvenating water bursting from the aquifer.
The leaders make every reasonable effort to meet the goals outlined in the itinerary. Please keep in mind that weather or other conditions beyond our control may cause us to modify the itinerary in order to ensure the safety and well being of the group.
We begin at a place that has inspired all who have set foot or dreamed of riches. Prehistoric traces of the early inhabitants are still being found. Authors and orange growers found this place bounded by Lake George, St Johns, and the Ocklawaha River ideal.
Each day, we venture onto a new and unique waterway! Swim, snorkel, and play in the crystal-clear springs. Glide gently along the tannic water deep in the forest interior. Abundant wildlife greets us around each bend and with every stroke of the paddle. This is the best way to see the “real Florida.”
Day 1 — We meet at noon at the Orlando International Airport. From there, our private van will transport us the 2.5 hours to our cabins at Silver River State Park. We will stop at a local diner for lunch in route (not included in the trip price), settle into the lodge, a little basic kayaking review, go over the week’s itinerary, then enjoy our first dinner together.
Day 2 — Kayak basic training, then Silver Springs and the Silver River. Bring your camera; this is where you can get extremely close to heaps of wildlife. A paddle trip on the Silver River in the Ocala National Forest features some of Florida’s most beautiful scenery and diverse wildlife. This short river with translucent blue headsprings has been described as magnificent and magical. In 1873, Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, said it best with “There is nothing on earth comparable to it.”
The headwaters start at Silver Springs, the world’s largest natural artesian spring, which produces nearly 550 million gallons of water each day. Because of the substantial flow, the paddle upstream can be strenuous but well worth the effort. Seven miles downriver, the crystal clear Silver meets the tea-colored Oklawaha River.
Spending the day on Silver River will reveal why the Silver Springs attraction bills itself as “Nature’s Theme Park”. Beside the subtropical landscape, the river is famous for its abundant wildlife. Anhingas, ducks, egrets, herons, ibis’, hawks, limpkins and kingfishers are some of the many birds that inhabit the area.
The fish species are well represented by bluegill, sunfish, bass and prehistoric-looking longnose gar. If you have never seen one, gars are cylindrical fish up to four feet in length with long snouts and very sharp teeth. Reptiles are a-plenty too. Turtles and alligators can easily be spotted sunning themselves while lizards and snakes present more of a challenge.
One animal that you wouldn’t expect to find in Central Florida is the Rhesus monkey. Several troops of these monkeys live wild along the length of the river. Legend has it the monkeys are descendants of escapees from Tarzan films shot at Silver Springs; however the Silver Springs web site (www.silversprings.com) lists the source as a concessionaire who operated the Jungle Cruise boat ride during the 1930s. The monkeys were placed on an island in the river and they simply swam off and disappeared into the neighboring forest.
Day 3 — Oklawaha River- Manatees, alligators, wild monkeys, otters, and black bears.
Day 4 — Juniper Springs- Gin-clear water snaking its way through the Juniper Springs National Wilderness area.
Day 5 — The Withlacoochee River flows out of the Green Swamp in west central Florida. The river twists and bends through the sandhill area as it moves northwest. Hardwood forests with an understory of cabbage palm and saw palmetto border the river. Further downstream, the hills disappear as you paddle through lush swampland with cypress, gum and maple adorned with air plants. The overhanging limbs form a lacy canopy.
Much of the river flows through the Withlacoochee State Forest, but there are scattered residential areas along the river. The variety of habitats offer opportunities for nature study. Wildlife is abundant along the river. Deer, turkeys, otters and alligators are common. Wood ducks, wood storks, white ibis and Anhinga can also be seen. We will have dinner out at a local Fish camp, then take a moonlight pontoon boat ride (bring your wine glass) upstream on the Withlacoochee River.
Day 6 — Alexander Springs – Another example of clear spring water twisting and turning its way to Lake George and the St. Johns river.
Day 7 — Morning hike or swim, depart for the airport by 11 a.m.
Our lodging will consist of wilderness luxury. The lodge consists of brand new Cracker-style cabins with wraparound porches. There are full amenities, which include air conditioning, full bathrooms, kitchens, a large living area, dinning area, fireplaces and a porch with lots of swings. Rooms are double occupancy.
The leaders will prepare all meals. However, everyone is expected to help clean up. Meals included in the trip fee begin with dinner on the first day and end with breakfast on the last day. Meals served on the trip will honor and reflect the local cuisine. A typical dinner would consist of shrimp and crawfish etouffee, white rice, garlic bread, fresh salad, and something chocolate for dessert. People with special diets should contact the leader to make arrangements.
This is an excellent trip for someone wishing to learn sea kayaking basics. There will be time to take pictures and enjoy this subtropical paradise. Seasoned paddlers should find fun in these winding forest rivers. I ask that all participants be at least eighteen years old and in good physical condition. We will be paddling in protected areas with plenty of time to pull over for breaks, hikes, and wildlife viewing. Most days we will be on the water between 5-6 hours.