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Florida’s Oklawaha River

Take a lazy cruise through exotic scenery, where monkeys swing and eagles soar.

Little-Known Fact: Did you know the Lower Oklawaha River’s current is slow enough to allow upstream paddling?

Beyond the bikinis and hotels, there’s a Florida most people know little about. Forget the rental car because the only way to get around and appreciate this magical place, otherwise known as the Oklawaha River, is in a canoe.

The Oklawaha hugs the outside edge of the Ocala National Forest in northcentral Florida. Its quiet, slow-moving waters snake through cypress forests and a few medium-size lakes before emptying into the St. John’s River north of Lake George, Florida’s second-largest freshwater lake. If you start at Moss Bluff and follow the river’s looping course north, east, and then south to Lake George, it could take you anywhere from a few days to a week, depending on how much of a rush you’re in. But be forewarned, the relaxed pace of the Oklawaha is contagious.

Don’t get so lazy that you forego a two-hour side trip west up the Silver River just a few miles from the put-in. The Silver’s crystal-clear water shimmers all the way to its sandy white bottom, in contrast to the Oklawaha’s tea-colored brew. Four miles upstream, where the river bubbles from vigorous artesian springs, is a resort where glass-bottomed boats far outnumber canoes.

But back on the Oklawaha, solitude is the rule. During one February trip I saw only two other canoes until I reached Lake George.

As you approach the trip’s end the river throws you a couple of challenges: a portage and wind. There’s a short portage around Rodman Dam, where the course narrows before emptying into Little Lake George. The route then follows the St. John’s River to Lake George. The wind shows its might here, so hug the shore rather than head into open water.

A good place to duck out of the wind and end your trip is Salt Springs Run, which ends at state-owned Salt Springs Campground. It’s also a pleasant spot to reflect on the fact that some of Florida’s wildest spring-break parties happen nowhere near this beach.

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