Florida's AWESOME Riversand more Click on pictures for bigger ones
We have explored every navigable river and most major lakes in Florida (and a few beyond). If you plan to explore these areas, be sure to buy DeLorme's Florida Atlas & Gazetteer available at most Florida bookstores.
We have compiled lots of information about these places: where to stay, dock, eat, ski, etc. If I get enough requests, I'll start adding more info.
Houseboat rental listings can be found at houseboat.com. and houseboat.net.
Suwannee River - 70 Miles of navigable river starting at the Gulf of Mexico. Rent a houseboat from Miller's Houseboats (800 458-2628 or 352 542-7349).
Check out this listing of important Suwanee and Santa Fe River points of interest. At normal levels, there are very few shallow spots and snags. However, NEVER travel upstream of Troy Springs unless you are willing to deal with ROCKS just under the surface.
Before going, always check the river levels at the Suwannee River Water Management District page. For example, Wilcox station is often 4 or 5', which is a comfortable level for us. When the river is low, Wilcox might be at 2' which means that the sand bars are very easy to hit and the upstream rocks become exposed.
Tie your ski boats to the back and tow 'em along.
Don't forget some deluxe refreshments and light snacks.
There are dozens of spring heads, some deep enough for diving. This is Fanning Springs, near US19. Unfortunately, now that the state owns the surrounding land, you have have to pay just to drive into the spring head area, even if you're not using the dock or visiting the park. Manatees have been known to visit on rare occasions.
Here's Troy springs. It's 80' deep and a popular dive spot.
: upstream from Troy springs is very dangerous to navigate - there are many rocks!
. A few sandy shallow spots attract lots of boaters. The coordinates of some areas are on the listing of important Suwanee and Santa Fe River points of interest.
. Here's Little River Springs. Note the cave diving equipment on the left.
More Suwannee Info:
More pictures of the Suwannee on Benny's Suwannee trip!
Listing of important Suwanee and Santa Fe River points of interest
Suwannee River Water Management District
St. John's River - This river starts in the everglades and runs north to the mouth at Jacksonville. There are two major spring heads that are must-see: Blue Springs and Silver Glen Springs, which is a major party area. Rent houseboats at Hontoon Landing (904 734-2474)
Click on this picture of Silver Glen Springs during July 4, 1998. This is only a portion of the gigantic spring run. The spring head is on the lower left and flows south then turns East. Check out all the houseboats. A public day-only park is on the lower left side and private property on the upper right. Police usually hang out at the mouth to keep an eye on all the party-goers.
Navigability: channels are marked from the mouth to past I-4, making it accessible to most pleasure boats. Some local knowledge is needed upstream from there.
Ocklawaha River and Harris Chain of Lakes - The Ocklawaha starts at the Harris Chain and goes through several big changes in character before emptying out in the St. John's River. It was slated to be dredged into a big canal like the Kissimmee River to become part of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal, which was stopped in the 70's by smart environmentalists.
The first section is the only part to be sculpted as part of the canal project, making it great for skiing (if you're willing to dodge the numerous gators).
The next section is open and OK for skiing AND it's untouched by engineering hands. Sometimes there's some fog..
The third section becomes narrow, dark and spooky. Cypress knees stick up enough to be bumped by your prop. The fourth section begins with the intersection of the Silver River. The Silver River starts at a HUGE spring head where the Silver Springs attraction is (Leesburg).
This section is very curvy with strong currents. We call it Mr. Toad's Wild Ride - look at this hairpin turn and think about doing it at 30 MPH. Watch out for fallen logs!
. The fifth section empties into Rodman Reservoir, also known as Lake Ocklawaha. There are some great camping spots here.
At first, it's obvious where the river is until you get to the part that has been flooded by (guess what) a dam built as part of the canal project.
During the winter they drain the lake and the dead trees and stumps become a navigator's most feared challenge.
Winter Haven Chain of Lakes - a chain of 13 lakes with only one waterfront motel (Lake Roy Motel 813 324-6320). Some great bars and restaurants plus free ski shows at Cypress Gardens!
If you own a Mastercraft, be sure to attend the annual reunion in October. It's held at Cypress Gardens.
Kissimmee River and Lake Okechobee - Starts in central Florida near many of the major attractions (Disney, Universal, etc.). It was a windy river like the Ocklawaha, but the Corps of Engineers dug a straight canal through it in the late 60's for flood control. That also bypassed replenishment of groundwater which we depend on for drinking water. Oops. Now the Southwest Florida Water Management District is restoring small portions of the river in attempt to see if the damage can be undone. FANTASTIC for barefooting for miles until your feet burn off. Very little traffic on the river. It empties into Lake Okechobee which is a small inland ocean.
Butler Chain - Near Orlando and well hidden. There's only one public boat ramp. Some of the world's top skiers live on this chain.
Caloosahatchee - Runs across Florida from Ft. Myers to West Palm through Lake Okechobee. Mostly a canal. Fair number of large boats (and large wakes). Several locks. A tad bland. High class golf course on the way.
Chatahoochee - Navigable from Columbus GA to Chatahoochee FL. Alabama and Georgia have wonderful state parks to stop at along the way. Great for skiing and exploring.
At Lake Bagby is a wonderful park with great beaches. Check out all the fun things we bring.
Just North of Bagby are some equally gorgeous coves with nobody else around.
Just south of Lake Bagby, we encountered some locks that were closed for the day, so we pulled up to the only sandy spot we could find (everywhere else it was rocks)
. See that small spot of sand in the middle? We tied to that little tree, then hiked 1/2 mile up to the top of the dam.
We returned an hour later to find the boat on dry land!
So we slept at a 30 degree angle that night - Sparky and Benny, too. The hydroelectric dam had shut down, so the water level went down six feet. We were told that they would start generating (and letting water out) the next morning at 11 AM. This was frustrating since the locks opened at AM and we were stuck.
At AM the loudest air horn you ever heard in your life blew for three minutes. After recovering from cardiac arrest, we realized that the hydroelectric plant was starting up - the horn was to warn people of impending currents and rising waters.
After the water came up, we approached the locks, which were the biggest we've ever seen. The rise is EIGHTY feet.
We pulled up to the far end doors and looked up to see water apparently spilling over the top - this was spooky.
We made it through safely.
Everglades Wilderness Waterway - a 99 Mile path through the everglades includes an encounter with...
the NIGHTMARE, a dark and scary optional 5 mile portion that only has water at peak high tide. Don't get caught in the middle after high tide; that's why they call it the Nightmare.
Much of the waterway is shallow, so leave your deep-V at home. There are places to camp - call the Everglades National Park for details.
Rainbow River (Dunellon)
A park at Rainbow Springs, headwaters for the the georgeous Rainbow river, is the best place to see the river from land. It's about 4 miles of crystal clear 72 degree water, then it empties into the Withlacoochee River. It is best for bare-bones tubing (only you and your bathing suit - nothing else). You can also fish, sightsee, and canoe. There are lots of places to stay and rent tubes such as the Rainbow Lodge (pictures of the river are on this page).
Before you go, be aware that it is VERY crowded on weekends and holidays. This makes for fun tubing but painful parking. You must get there early and expect heavy law enforcement. Due to this popularity and a ban-everything-so-its-easy-to-enforce attitude, it is ILLEGAL to:
It's sad that the current rules against littering and unruly behavior can't be enforced. It works elsewhere, but apparently they can't do it here. It is also shallow and rocky in some places - watch your prop!
Lake Cumberland (Kentucky!)
More square miles of fun and beautiful water than can be covered in one trip! Rent a houseboat or two or three or four...
Here we pull three kneeboarders off the front of a houseboat.
That wasn't enough . How about a dual flying barefoot start from the houseboat deck...
Still not good enough. Let's do a flying barefoot start from the roof of the houseboat...
Still not high enough. Let's try this 60' waterfall. Ok, skip the skiing, just jump.
Paul settles for driving the boat under the waterfall to cool off. Yes, the boat has a
good bilge pump.
Locks of the St. Lawrence Seaway
The control room.
There are underground tunnels that run the length of each side of the lock and crawlways that cross underneath. There are also huge underground rooms that house massive hydraulic and mechanical equipment.
The water intake is for filling the lock.
Many thanks to the engineering staff for allowing us to take these pictures.
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