Paddle boarding Florida’s ‘Spring Runs’

3 weeks ago 58

“That sounds similar a babe gator. Did you perceive it?” We stopped paddling and listened. Leaves rustled, determination was the splash of a turtle sliding into water, and past “pew, pew,” the dainty telephone of a babe alligator sounding similar a video crippled laser. We saw the hatchling’s parent hauled retired connected muddy ground. She watched america pass. Giving owed deference we moved away, softly thrilled by the encounter.

We were standup paddle boarding connected Silver Glen Run, successful Central Florida, an hr and 15 minutes’ thrust northbound of Orlando. Here, h2o from the underlying aquifer, flowing to the aboveground done caves and stone tunnels, creates “spring runs,” short, wide creeks and rivers that travel into a larger stream oregon lake.


The caput  of a tiny  alligator pops up   from the water, shaded by the leaves of immoderate   ample  aquatic plants.
A babe alligator enjoys the h2o successful the Silver River, shaded by the leaves of spatterdock. Credit...Todd Anderson for The New York Times

In Florida, navigable waterways are held successful nationalist trust, adjacent if the surrounding onshore is privately owned. Clear h2o and navigation rights are invitations to research these riparian pathways, and paddle boards, which harvester portability and a quiescent approach, are the cleanable vessels for dilatory question connected them, a mode to bask wildlife — otters, cormorants, garfish and snapping turtles.

While the waterways are public, entree to them is via vessel launches connected backstage oregon state-owned land. Some authorities parks, specified arsenic Weeki Wachee Springs, person constricted launching slots, successful bid to power the fig of visitors and support the habitat, that request to beryllium booked successful beforehand online. Others, similar Silver Glen Spring, are fashionable and person constricted parking, which should beryllium booked successful advance to warrant entry. Staying successful waterfront accommodations is different mode to guarantee access. Paddling upstream and drifting backmost to your parking spot removes the request for a shuttle thrust backmost to your vehicle.

Myles, my boyfriend, and I person explored Florida’s springs implicit galore years. This twelvemonth his 19-year-old daughter, Lili, had escaped clip betwixt studies and internships, truthful we brought her to our favorites. We had our inflatable boards, which are lightweight, casual to motorboat and battalion down to check-in size for flights. In a circular route, starting and ending astatine Orlando, implicit the people of a week we stayed successful 3 places and paddled connected six outpouring runs. Our travel took spot successful the spring, but highest paddle-boarding play runs done October, though it’s imaginable to bash year-round.


The inactive waters of the Silver River bespeak the surrounding vegetation, including juvenile thenar trees. Credit...Todd Anderson for The New York Times

We started our week with 2 nights successful the municipality of Homosassa, astatine the Chassahowitzka Hotel, a bed-and-breakfast with shared bathrooms that suits families oregon friends staying arsenic a group. It provided the convenience of offering breakfast, portion letting america navigator meal connected the grill outdoors, and being adjacent capable to the Chassahowitzka River that we could transportation our boards to and from the launch. At a adjacent campground you tin rent kayaks and paddle boards. Just upstream , connected the northbound broadside of the Chassahowitzka River, is Seven Sisters Spring.

We soon joined a gaggle of radical who had tethered their kayaks and boards to trees portion they splashed and dived. One antheral swam done a passageway successful the stone with my GoPro. On the video you tin spot aerial pockets similar liquid mercury pressed against the passageway roof, and wood framed by the opening arsenic helium reaches the surface.

Swimming done submerged tunnels carries the hazard of getting trapped underwater, and I was excessively timid to try. After getting tips and a objection from a section swimmer, Lili swam into a abbreviated tunnel. She disappeared beneath the stone for 4 seconds, and past emerged a fewer yards distant to a precocious 5 from her impromptu coach.

To paddle connected the Weeki Wachee River, we drove fractional an hr southbound to Rogers Park, wherever we could parkland and motorboat our boards without beforehand booking. Here we saw our archetypal manatee, its process frayed by an brushwood with a vessel propeller. Yet it had survived, with wounds healed into scar tissue. We watched it grazing, steering to debar drifting supra it. Kim Kulch, our big astatine the Chassahowitzka Hotel, told us, “if manatees get spooked, they’ll flip their tails, and they are powerful. Once, idiosyncratic who had been retired paddling told maine they’d been tipped implicit by a manatee, but it was wonderful.”


On immoderate sections of the Rainbow River paddle boarders person to stock the h2o with flotillas of tubers. Credit...Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Heading northbound the adjacent day, we stopped to walk an day connected the Rainbow River, which begins astatine Rainbow Springs and flows for 5.7 miles until it merges with the Withlacoochee River astatine the metropolis of Dunnellon. We parked astatine KP Hole Park, 1.5 miles downstream from Rainbow Springs where, if you person your ain paddle craft, you tin motorboat successful the day and instrumentality successful the evening, avoiding flotillas of tubers.

This stream is heavy carpeted with strap-leaf sagittaria, its linear leafage blades interspersed with achromatic flowers that unfastened underwater. Looking down from our boards the presumption was rippling green, punctuated by passing food and cormorants chasing them.

A small further on, we saw fluid bodies diving and resurfacing: a brace of otters catching fish. Unbothered by our beingness they ate their fish, and past vanished up a creek into the forest.

On our instrumentality downstream from Rainbow Springs State Park, we pulled implicit for a aquatics astir fractional a mile upstream from KP Hole Park, our starting point. A cormorant surfaced adjacent to me. I ducked underwater and got a close-up presumption of the vertebrate swimming with metallic bubbles slipping disconnected its feathers.


In Florida, navigable waterways similar Silver Glen Run are held successful nationalist trust, adjacent if surrounding onshore is privately owned. Credit...Todd Anderson for The New York Times

Our adjacent halt was a location connected stilts we’d rented connected Vrbo for 3 nights adjacent the junction of 2 rivers, a 10-minute thrust from the municipality of Fort White. Walking crossed the tract we enactment our boards into the Santa Fe, a black-water stream tinted by tannins from decaying vegetation. After 350 yards we turned into the Ichetucknee River, wherever the h2o nether our boards shifted to turquoise. We paddled upstream, past houses acceptable backmost from the stream with raised woody walkways implicit waterlogged crushed and bald cypress histrion knees starring to their riverside docks.

Two boys were snorkeling, bringing up handfuls of tiny achromatic shells and sifting done them. The antheral with them said they were looking for fossilized shark teeth. Sandy clay connected the riverbed and banks erodes to merchandise an abundance of fossils. The Florida Museum successful Gainesville has much than 11,000 from the Ichetucknee River.

Defeated by beardown existent wherever the Ichetucknee flows done a culvert nether Highway 27, we fto ourselves interval downstream. Nearing the junction with the Santa Fe River we could perceive music; a assemblage of boats was anchored on the wood edge. People gave america affable waves and we were offered beer.

The adjacent time we drove 10 minutes to Ichetucknee Springs State Parks southbound entrance, and started our paddle from Dampiers Landing, a canoe and conduit launch. We went upstream, the other absorption of tubers floating down to South Takeout, the past exit wrong the park.

Above the tubing conception the Ichetucknee widens and its existent steadily increases. Around Grassy Hole Spring, wherever the stream threads done islands of vegetation, we saw scattered canoes, each with a set of snorkelers. I accidentally nudged 1 who had been zigzagging crossed the river. My apology was overridden by his exclamation, “I didn’t drawback it!” He explained that the radical was catching turtles for the yearly survey carried retired by the Santa Fe River Turtle Project.

Close to 2 miles aft starting, we passed the outflow from Blue Hole Spring, the largest outpouring successful the radical that feeds the Ichetucknee, and paddling became little strenuous. We reached North End launch, wherever the stream begins with h2o from its headspring. It was an casual drift backmost to our rented house, lingering implicit views of gar, popping done the culvert nether Highway 27 and loitering to ticker a grazing manatee.

The adjacent day, connected our mode to Ocala National Forest wherever we would beryllium staying for 2 nights, we stopped astatine Silver River. After days spent connected spring-fed rivers, I thought that my consciousness of wonderment would person tally dry. But wide aquatic panoramas bordered by reddish cardinal flowers and bluish spikes of pickerel weed flowers were a heady combination.

Someone passing successful the other absorption described wherever to spot a radical of manatees. In the lee of a submerged histrion were 3 adults and a calf resting connected the bottom. One of the big manatees dilatory surfaced to respire and we listened to its exhalation.

Reaching an land swinging with monkeys — rhesus macaques deliberately released successful the 1930s — I heard acquainted voices. In the bosom of the Ocala National Forest, determination is simply a compartment built by the Civilian Conservation Corps called Sweetwater Cabin. Because of its popularity, you person to participate a lottery months successful beforehand to get a licence to rent it. My friends Cassy and Marco won and we’d planned our travel to overlap with the week they would beryllium astatine the compartment and arranged to conscionable astatine Silver River.

Because of deficiency of coordination, Cassy and Marco had booked kayak rentals with Silver River Kayak Rentals an hr earlier our motorboat slot astatine Silver Springs State Park. They deliberately dawdled connected their travel and we caught up with them connected Silver River. Marco excelled astatine snake spotting, pointing retired h2o moccasins camouflaged among histrion roots connected the water’s edge. We got retired astatine Ray Wayside Park, astir six miles downstream from the Silver Springs State Park’s canoe motorboat and were taken backmost to our cars by shuttle service, booked with our motorboat slots.


The dilatory and quiescent gait of paddle boarding affords opportunities to spot wildlife on the stream banks, similar this barred owl. Credit...Todd Anderson for The New York Times

As dusk fell, we sat adjacent to Sweetwater Spring with cocktails and listened to a barred owl, which Cassy and Marco said had been determination each evening. At Sweetwater cabin, with its plain décor and without TV oregon Wi-Fi, quality is amusement and ornamentation; watching food successful the agleam turquoise spring, seeing a stripy Eastern coral snake crossing the path, listening to the songs of unseen birds.

After a greeting astatine Silver Glen Spring, we returned to the compartment and utilized its metallic canoes to research Juniper Creek, a outpouring tally that flows from Juniper Spring to Lake George. Sweetwater Spring has a abbreviated and shallow run, conscionable capable to pb a canoe into Juniper Creek. It would person been hard to navigate the histrion branches that transverse the creek connected paddle boards.

Cassy and Marco thought determination was a hiking way adjacent the compartment arsenic they heard radical talking and passing by. Out connected Juniper Creek, they realized it was paddlers they had been hearing. Meeting different radical portion retired connected the h2o is arsenic overmuch a portion of the acquisition of Florida’s outpouring fed rivers arsenic seeing wildlife.

In Silver Glen Run I saw cages of eelgrass planted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to reconstruct aquatic vegetation aft Hurricane Irma. Next clip I’m determination it mightiness person dispersed extracurricular of its protective enclosures. If you’re connected these rivers successful fall, leaves connected the bald cypress trees volition beryllium a tawny opposition to the bluish outpouring water. With each sojourn to Florida’s spring-fed rivers, determination is thing caller to see.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our play Travel Dispatch newsletter to get adept tips connected traveling smarter and inspiration for your adjacent vacation. Dreaming up a aboriginal getaway oregon conscionable armchair traveling? Check retired our 52 Places to Go successful 2023.

Read Entire Article