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Secluded Eden

The Chassahowitzka River Campground may be one of Citrus County's most secluded parks, but it has plenty to offer for those interested in camping, canoeing, boating and bird watching.

The river remains mostly undeveloped, lined on each side by towering hardwood cypress and many other varieties of native trees. There are homes on the river, but they are scarce. You are more likely to see a crab, fish, turtles or alligators before you see another person on the river most days, particularly weekdays.

The Chassahowitzka River has 22 freshwater springs to explore, and many of the larger ones are near the campground, which is a few hundred yards beyond the headwaters. The large spring just upriver of the boat dock gushes out about 3 million gallons per day.

The campground is also the gateway to a much larger wildlife area, the 30,000 acre Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is accessible only by boat and is the site of the Whooping Crane Recovery Project. At a secret location, the rare whooping cranes finish their 1,250 mile southern migration to spend the winter.

The river is shallow; most of the time the water is about 2 feet deep. A motorboat with a shallow draft will work fine, but boaters should keep a close eye on the bottom.

A canoe is a great way way to explore the river and enjoy its rugged and unspoiled beauty. You can either bring your own or rent one at the campground. Canoes can be rented for $15 for a full day (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or $10 for a half day. The campground also rents johnboats, but no motors, though you are welcome to bring your own to put on the boats. A drivers license and vehicle tag number are required for a canoe or a boat rental.

If you rent a canoe, there is another larger wildlife area to explore. The Nature Coast Canoe Trail has its southern terminus near the mouth of the river and the Gulf of Mexico. It winds northward for 20 miles through the salt marshes northward past Homosassa and Ozello, toward the Crystal River.

Chassahowitzka gets its name from the Indian phrase "land of the hanging pumpkins," referring to small wild pumpkins that grew along the shores. The Indians mixed the pumpkins with fish for a wild stew.

Partly due to its remote location, on the Citrus-Hernando county line off a desolate stretch of U.S. 19, the Chassahowitzka River doesn't get the heavy flow of visitors that many other parks receive. For many years, it was a "locals only" park, but since it became part of the Citrus County Parks and Recreation Department, the park has been improved and its use has continued to grow.

Still, Chassahowitzka offers a great day trip for adventurers who want to test their outdoor skills on a remote river, full of intriguing side creeks and bayous.

Chassahowitzka River Campground and Recreational Area is at 8600 W Miss Maggie Dr. in Chassahowitzka. Campground has RV sites with full hookups and primitive camping, along with a store, bathhouse, laundry and boat ramp. From U.S. 19, turn west onto Miss Maggie Drive (County Road 480) and follow it 1.8 miles to the campground. Call (352) 382-2200.

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