[singlepic id=22 w= h= float=center]
OCALA NATIONAL FOREST, FL — For the quiet unspoiled beauty of the Ocklawaha River, one of the state’s most wild and scenic waterways, perhaps you can thank Richard Nixon.
“The Ocklawaha has a lot of history that is unique to the river,” says Ryan Toler of Discovery Kayak Tours. “The section we paddle has been set aside as the Ocklawaha River Preserve. It’s an area of the river that was never altered during the Cross Florida Barge Canal days and it still has that real Florida jungle-like feel.” The canal project got its start during the Great Depression and progressed in fits and starts until opposition by Marjorie Harris Carr lead to Nixon’s suspension of the project in 1971. The canal was officially deauthorized in 1991 and turned the Marjorie Harriss Carr Cross Florida Greenway.
The Silver River may be more popular as a kayak destination but the Ocklawaha can be equally scenic especially during periods of low rainfall in the Winter and Spring. “It’s amazing when you get out there and its almost as clear as the Silver River,” Toler says.
Toler’s guided tours begin at Ray Wayside Park in Ocala and paddle 10 miles downstream to Gore’s Landing near Fort McCoy. The group tours proceed at a leisurely pace, stopping three times for refreshments and to stretch. It’s a comfortable but lengthy trip, usually taking about five hours to complete.
“Every time I head out it’s a different experience,” Toler says. “There are days you go out and might see 40 baby alligators that are a week old all sitting on the same log. Those things stick in your mind. There are days when you’re out and there’s flocks of white ibis by the hundreds and they’ll just follow you down the river. We were out one day and we came across an old gentlemen on a makeshift boat that we stopped to talk to. He was out going to write a book on his journey down the St. John’s and Ockalwaha, and he was literally living off the river in his makeshift boat. He had been on the water for three months already.”
Enjoy this Article?
Click to like Florida Kayaker on Facebook and enjoy more Florida kayaking discoveries.
Toler reminds kayakers to be prepared when putting out into the Ockalwaha. Weather can change unexpectedly in five hours and there aren’t places to to abandon the trip along the way. In the event of a lightning storm you’re stuck without good options. “It’s super important to watch the weather ahead of time. We make sure we’ve got a five to six hour window of good weather. If it’s looking iffy, we postpone the trip.”
Ocklawaha Kayak Tour Information:
Discovery Kayak Tours in Ocala offers tours in a dozen locations including a 10-mile guided tour from Ray Wayside Park (near the junction of the Silver River) to Gores Landing near Fort McCoy. The trip includes at least three stops and takes about five an a half hours. The cost including a kayak rental is $65 per person. Overnight rentals are also available for those who want to camp along the river. Discovery also offers tours on the Silver River, where it is the concessionaire for the new state park. For information, call (352) 789-4959.