A Slow Ride up the Withlacoochee River

 

 

Cypress trees on the Withlacoochee River

Getting Away from it all in Florida

Clearwater Beach to St Pete Beach on the Central Gulf Coast of Florida is a great place to spend time and is our home base.  This blog post, however, is about a nice little day trip away from our area which is very easy to take. We set our sights on a river cruise and hit the road on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Calm waters of the Withlacoochee River

The Withlacoochee River

The Withlacoochee River is a slice of Florida that takes you back to simpler times. The name Withlacoochee means little-big river. Because the river changes size drastically during rainy years, that is an apt name. The Withlacoochee starts in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve which is Northeast of Tampa. The river flows Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico on a 141-mile course. The land is flat so the river flows rather slowly, a deceptive appearance considering how much water it can move. The river flows through areas that are lightly inhabited and often used for raising horses and cattle. If that sounds like a laid back place, it is.

Banks of Withlacoochee River

Covered Pontoon Boat Ride on the Withlacoochee River

Our Withlacoochee River ride started near Dunnellon, Florida at the dock next to a restaurant called Stumpknockers. We caught our ride with Capt Mike’s Lazy River Cruises, which, by the way, requires a reservation so that Capt Mike knows your coming. Our group and the others along only totaled eight people so it was a nice light load on the pontoon boat. It’s covered with a nice roof so it’s a good ride even on sunny days. Capt Mike knew the river very well and told us all kinds of interesting facts about the area.

Cypress reaching roots into Withlacoohee River

A Lazy River through Florida Swamps

After the tour, I looked down on the area on a map to see that our ride flowed through an area that had zero habitation to the north and very little to the south. The river takes care of that little detail by rising and falling dramatically, especially during very heavy rainfall years. Apparently 2004 caused the river to rise ten feet and grow to over a mile wide. On either side of the river grew a forest of cypress, mixed with a few other volunteers like palm trees, oaks, and pine. The cypress trees ruled the area, however, because of their ability to live in wet, swamp-like conditions. The river banks rose just few feet before a broad and seemingly endless flatland began. We could see between the cypress trunks for a very long way until finally, the volume of tree trunks cut off the view. I imagined trekking through that wilderness with its herds of deer, wide variety of birds, and other wildlife. Unfortunately, that list also included mosquitoes and biting flies, which made the safe position aboard the boat a welcome place from which to view the swamp. The sights were amazing and something few people get to see thanks to the challenging conditions present when on foot in such areas.

Flood marks on cypress trunks
Floodwater marks on cypress trunks

Wildlife and Wild Views

On our trip we received a lucky break when we pulled in close to something called a hummingbird moth. I didn’t know that kind of moth existed and might have seen it before without realizing since it looked and flew exactly like a real hummingbird. We spotted deer among the cypress trees, fish in the water, dragonflies, red shouldered hawks, swallowtail kites, wading herons, and baby alligators. The boat moved slowly, the river flowed in a clam, steady flow, and the forest blocked off the sounds of the world. It made for a very pleasant trip.

Deck on the Withlacoochee

Easy Day Trip Perfect for a Vacation

This boat tour sets out from a spot where Route 200 crosses over the Withlacoochee River. It is approximately two hours north of either Clearwater Beach or Disneyworld in Kissimmee, Florida. That’s a big day trip but if you are looking for something to soothe your soul during an otherwise hectic vacation, this is definitely the ticket.

Road sign in the Withlacoochee River

Other posts you might enjoy:

Sharing Natural Paradise of Three Rooker Bar

Discovering Egmont Key

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Sun reflected off the Withlacoochee River in Florida

Video of our ride down the Withlacoochie River.

 

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