I just can’t tell you how happy I am that fall weather is here! For most Floridians’ this is the reason we tolerate 8 months of 100% humidity and near 100-degree days. One of my favorite places to go play this time of year is Dunellon Florida. With two outstanding paddling rivers in town and several within an hours drive, a week’s worth of paddling can be had in an action packed weekend.
Skip the state park campground near town and make reservations at the Rainbow Rivers Club (352.489.9983) For many years the club was a private “members only” lodge, however: recently they have opened their doors to the general public. Big cabins with two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, big back porch, clubhouse, pool, and surrounded on three sides by river. There are great views every way you look and no neighbors. Check in early and head out up highway 41 to KP Hole County Park. Pay the three bucks to park your car and launch your boat. Then paddle upstream to the springhead and Rainbow River State Park. There is a take out ramp on river left. A walk around the park will give you a chance to stretch your legs, a better opportunity to see Florida’s third largest spring, and an opportunity to observe several man-made waterfalls.
Coming downstream pass your put in point and paddle the six miles to the confluence of the Withlacoochee River. On the river you can expect crystal clear water, lots of sunning turtles, waving fields of eelgrass, and beautiful cypress trees draped with mysterious Spanish moss. You will want to take out at the boat Ramp/city Park at the highway 41 bridge.
Saturday morning put in on the Withlacoochee River at Highway 200. This 13.5-mile paddle should take you 5-6 hours. This section of river offers lots of swamp, small lakes, heaps of wildlife, and a great opportunity to experience a rare slice of wild Florida. You can count on seeing big gators, river otters, large wading birds, and game fish hiding under most fallen trees. There are numerous places to stop for a picnic lunch. Your take out will be the same boat ramp as yesterday at the highway 41 bridge. When you go back to fetch your car at Highway 200, stop in at Stumpknockers restaurant riverside. It’s a great place for drinks, meeting river folks, and excellent catfish. It’s also the place to catch a sunset cruise with Captain Mike Tracy on the Withlacoochee. Captain Mike knows the river better than most and loves sharing his passion with others. Be prepared, the river takes on a whole new look after dark.
Now don’t get all distressed because it’s now the last day of playing before you go back to work. Get excited because you’re going to need all your energy for the eight mile upstream paddle on Florida’s largest spring! Drive east on highway 40 to the bridge over the Ocklawaha River and what was going to be the cross Florida barge canal. There is a county park on the right just prior to the bridge. Paddle the canal until the end and make a sharp right into the massive current. Once you catch your breath and the burning pain of unused muscles coming back to life becomes tolerable, look around. You’re not dreaming, this really is where you are, and you’re probably one of the few people on this stretch of outstanding river. This is the first place I ever saw large gators swimming directly under my canoe. It’s also one of the only places you’re going to see wild monkeys swinging around the trees in the entire state. There are only a few places along the river to get out, however, the ones that do have excellent rope swings.
If you want to skip on the paddling one day head out to the Withlacoochee bike trail. Most folks get shuttled to the trailhead at Nobleton and peddle to the terminus in downtown Dunnellon. Since the cold weather is settling in, give Birds’ Underwater Dive Center to see if the manatee have arrived. If so take the short drive to Crystal River and experience the awesome sight of snorkeling with the manatee.
Remember to leave a float plan, wear your life jacket, and take the kids.
OUTFITTERS, SERVICES, and REFERENCES
- Adventures in Florida: Private tours on the Rainbow, Withlacoochee, and Silver Rivers.
- Rainbow Rivers Club: Lodging and clubhouse.
- Captain Mikes Tours: Pontoon boat tours on the Rainbow River, Withlacoochee River, and Lake Rousseau.
- Birds’ Underwater Dive Center: Manatee snorkel tours, kayak rentals, and dive instruction.