The Withlacoochee could be called the perfect paddling river. It starts off narrow and shallow, but 30 miles downstream, the river opens up, just like your mind when you have been on the water for a couple of days.
The steady, 2-mph current will pull you along effortlessly. The Withlacoochee has been described as a "one-paddle river" because all you really need to do is steer now and then to keep away from the occasional sandbar or submerged log.
Each twist and turn holds surprises. From its origin in the Green Swamp of eastern Polk County, the Withlacoochee meanders 156 miles to its outfall at the Gulf of Mexico near Yankeetown.
About 83 miles are navigable, and it is suitable for the beginner. It is one of only a few rivers in the Northern Hemisphere that flows north.
In its upper reaches, the river is stained dark from the tannic acid leaching from the surrounding cypress swamps. Yet miles downstream, the water runs crystal clear in spots because of deep springs underneath.
Not long after you slip into the river at the Withlacoochee RV Park and Canoe Rental, just north of Dade City, you will see little evidence of man. Ibises prowl the banks here in great numbers. And if you are lucky, perhaps you'll catch a glimpse of a wood stork.
If it's a sunny day, you'll find alligators warming themselves on the banks. There will be a few anglers too, working the weed line for panfish and bass.
There are several put-in and take-out points from Lacoochee to State Road 48. The Florida Department of Natural Resources publishes a brochure on the river, which is part of the Florida Recreational Trails System. For a downloadable copy, go to dep.state.fl.us/gwt/guide/paddle.htm.
There is plenty of camping along the river, but remember to carry out what you carry in. Respect private property. Take only photographs. Leave only ripples.
Terry Tomalin can be reached at [email protected]