Disclosure: Our kayak tour of the Chassahowitzka River was hosted by Discover Crystal River tourism board. As always, all opinions are my own.
Florida is one of those states where EVERYONE can name at least one place they know, have visited or want to visit. Often those visits include a mouse or a beach and occasionally an alligator. Since we have so much time to explore Florida, we are trying to find places to visit that may not be the first on every tourist list. We want to find the hidden gems that native Floridians know about and keep to themselves. We found that kayaking the Chassahowitzka River on our recent trip to Crystal River, Florida.
Evan and I pulled up to Hunter Springs Kayaks knowing that we were going on a guided tour of the Chassahowitzka River but not sure what to expect. Once we arrived, we suited up in wetsuits (since 72 degree F water seems warm at first but saps your body temperature pretty quickly) and hopped in our shuttle bus to the Chassahowitzka, or The Chas as many call it.
We were lucky enough to have Dave, the owner of Hunter Springs Kayaks, as our guide. Dave grew up in the area and you could tell. As we pulled up to the boat launch, Dave got our canoes ready while Evan and I had a look around. We were definitely off the beaten path. Locals were fishing from the dock and launching kayaks and other boats. One fisherman even had a canoe retrofitted with a trolling motor!
We launched our two kayaks and we were on our way. The first stop was Seven Sisters Spring. These freshwater springs emerge into the Chassahowitzka through caverns below the surface. The bright turquoise of the water tells you that a spring is present. If you have the lung capacity, you can free dive down into the cavern and swim through. Evan and I weren’t *quite* that adpet but we loved diving down to see the fish zipping along the fresh water currents. After playing in the springs and testing our diving skills (or lack thereof on my part), we decided to go back to a spot where we had spotted manatees when we first launched.
Manatees are often seen on the Chassohowitzka but it isn’t really a manatee swimming destination. Today, though, you would never know that. We tied up our kayaks and hopped into the water. Almost immediately, two manatees swam over to say hi. One large brown male manatee seemed to fall in love with Evan. We continued swimming and soon we were surrounded with 6 or 7 more manatees.
Words can not explain what a magical swim we had. Until you have been in the water with manatees, it is hard to imagine an interaction with a wild animal quite like this. Manatees often approach swimmers with curiosity. What are these creatures with bubble eyes and a breathing tube (can you imagine what WE look like to THEM)? For a 9 foot, 1000+ pound creature to approach you in a wild situation with genuine curiosity and not one bit of aggression…it is a one of a kind feeling and both Evan and I loved it!
While we could have stayed with the manatees all day, there was more wild Florida to see! We jumped back in the kayaks and headed away from the springs. As we paddled, we saw trees full of turkey vultures, cormorants, anhingas, egrets and cranes. We turned down a side branch of the river to head to another spring. As we paddled, the trees came together above us. It was like going back in time. It seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere in a place that time had forgotten instead of less than an hour from Crystal River. At the spring, Evan had another dip before we headed back to the boat launch.
There is no better way to see and experience the Chassahowitzka than by kayak. Kayaks allow you to take your time and really take in your surroundings. Without the noise of motors, you can see the wildlife of The Chas up close and personal. Dave was a great tour guide and, as a father, was wonderful with Evan. He convinced Evan to see and do things he would have been too skittish to do otherwise. When we return to Crystal River (you notice I did not say “if”), we will be doing this exact tour again.
Kayak Eco Tour of the Chassahowitzka
(352) 228-4715 or Book Online through their website