River miles from Hwy 40 to
SR 316 is a true wilderness paradise!
The Ocklawaha is The number one
paddling river in Florida,
For its easy paddle, pristine beauty and wildlife.
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of the upper river from Hwy 40 to SR. 316.
On the maps, the Ocklawaha appears to
begin small, lazily coming north out of Lake Griffin. However, it actually begins
North East of the Green Swamp and runs through a chain of various lakes and streams, such
at Lake Harris, Dora, Eustis and Apopka and travels all the way to the St. Johns river.
When the Silver River (from Silver Springs) and the Ocklawaha join, the current
suddenly changes from lazy slow moving to a fast moving river. No wonder since Silver
Springs output dumps over 550 million gallons a day into the river.
At the joining of the two rivers, the Ocklawaha appears to move at about 5 to 6 MPH and the water is very clear. There is no fishing to the right, (upstream to Silver Springs) However, to the left fishing on the Ocklawaha is permitted. I'm told it usually is very good. After you have gone north a mile or so the river widens slightly and current seems to slow a bit. Regarding power boats on the river, from the put-in at Hwy 40, you will see them for only about two miles. After that you will not see any until Gore's Landing where you might see a fisherman or two. The blow downs on this 20 miles are many and such that it makes it nearly impossible for motorized craft to travel beyond the two miles. You will begin to see motor craft a mile or two above the Ocklawaha Outpost (SR 316 Bridge) In between these points, you have the river and forest all to yourself. Regarding blow downs, you will find many. However, all are easy to get around in a canoe or kayak. I only found one that was tight -- but I was able to get around it with little trouble.
The banks of this river are
heavily forested on both sides. In many places the trees form a beautiful canopy over the
river. There probably are at least several dozen (or more) species of trees.
Most I didn't recognize but I noticed Hickory, Live Oak (on the higher areas) Water Oak,
(lower) Maple, Red Maple, Sweet Gum and Black Gum, Tupelo, what might
have been a flowering Loblolly Bay, and of course Cypress everywhere. There are lots
of lily pads though the water moves at such a fast pace they do not clog the river at any
point. These seem to be a favorite hiding place for the 'gators. Usually there will be a
large patch of these on the inside (backside ) of a bend and occasionally on a very
short straight stretch -- of which there are very few. On this
subject, this river is one constant curve. The best way to describe this river would
be "It resembles the trail a snake might leave in soft sand."
You can expect to see lots of wildlife -- Bear, (if you are lucky) possibly a wild pig, otters, and lots of 'gators. I was told there's a troop of monkeys (possibly escaped from Silver Springs) living around Gore's Landing but I didn't see them. Important! -- You will see lots of wildlife -- only (1) IF-- you are paddling quiet as the wind - not even a sound of your paddle. (2) You are not preceded by a noisy group. (3) If -- there is a group ahead of you, you should give them at least an hour or so head start so the 'gators and other wildlife have had a chance to resettle and climb back out on the banks, etc. Obviously, the absolute best is to paddle solo in the middle of the week so there are not many people on the river -- and as early in the morning as possible. Note -- my put-in time was late since I prefer to take things more easy since I'm still a youngster of 72. But even at that late start, I saw plenty. (I was paddling solo - on a Wednesday) - You can expect to see probably 50 or more 'gators in the 20 miles. Most will be in the 3 - 5 foot range. However, you will see a few in the 8-9 foot range. Waterfowl are also plentiful. You will see many Limpkins -- a native of Florida only, and many Great Blue Herons, and small white ones that appear to be Common Egrets but could also be immature Blues since they are also white and they look almost alike. There are Osprey, White Ibis, King Fishers, lots of Cardinals, Wood Ducks, Mallards, Pileated Woodpeckers, Flickers, common crow, several types of hawks, (You hear their distinctive call in the woods often ) , and though you can't see them, you are constantly serenaded by large owls, day and night. Though I have heard them during daylight many times before, I was surprised to hear so many in the daylight hours on this trip. If you are a bird person, you will have a ball. There is a bonanza of all kinds of little guys just waiting for you. I saw a dozen or so birds that I could not identify. One tiny little guy being only a couple inches long but somewhat resembling an American Goldfinch. It was vigorously searching leaves of a branch for bugs at the water's edge.
I put in at the Ray Park
(Sometimes referred to as Bluff Bridge Park I'm told) and ramp at Highway 40 and the
river. It is a launch and picnic area only. No overnight camping allowed. There are
two large boat ramps, tie-up docks, restrooms and lots of parking. Nice picnic tables all
around the park.
The entrance fee is $2.00. The marina basin is a small, round cove like area. A narrow canal runs from the basin roughly 300 yards out to the Silver River - Ocklawaha junction. Since I was leaving my vehicle overnight, I paid for an extra day and leisurely began unloading my gear from my van around 8:45 AM. I was on the water around 10:00. The sky was overcast and threatening rain. The water in the canal from the basin to the river is calm and has no current. On my way out -- I saw several nice bass I thought to be around three or four lbs. and maybe a dozen or so smaller ones. When I got into the main river I began to move at a very good clip. I no sooner had entered the river when I saw several boats with fishermen. I asked each how the fishing was since I had brought my fishing tackle after reading how good the fishing was supposed to be. All were using bait and none had any fish. Later, I again passed people fishing from the bank - and again I asked how they were doing -- only to get a negative answer. A front had just moved through so I suspect that had something to do with the fish not feeding. Several times this day I got light showers. I would quickly cover my cameras and duck under overhanging trees. Usually they only lasted 15 to 20 minutes and would clear up again.
About noon I was startled when I rounded a right bend and found myself within 20 feet of huge 'gator - probably 8 - 9 foot. We both were startled -- and I was in tight to the shore and between him and the water. There was no way I could get my camcorder up and running in time so I grabbed a fast couple shots with the still camera. The lens was 35mm so its common it makes things look smaller and farther away than they really are. Fortunately for me -- and the 'gator, since I was in his way to get to the water, he decided to stay put and not run for it . I'm sure that he had seen many canoes, also, he was almost as big as me so I'm sure he was not afraid of me. After I passed him I tried to turn around and get a camcorder shot, he didn't like that and hit the water before I could get off a shot. Roughly 100 feet downstream there was another one only he was about 5-6 feet. He apparently heard the me and as I approached his hiding place - he hit the water like a jet ski.
Grandpa stayed put and let me pass. Sure glad he did.
Here's another 8 footer (?) who slid into the water as I approached -- but did not submerge right away. Think he wanted to get a good look at me first. All you can see is his head and back. He was big. Had on a wide angle lens -(both shots) great for river shots -- terrible for wildlife shots.
Most would hit the water the minute they saw me, however, some would keep still hoping they were not seen. I'm sure there were many that I passed and didn't see hidden back in the lily pads.
About 1 PM I stopped on a small sandy
beach on the right to have a lunch. It looked like it might make a good campsite if
needed. Room for maybe 3-4 tents and had a fire ring from previous campers.
Around 2 PM I passed a high bluff on the right.
About 45 minutes below the high bluff, there's another campsite on the right. Nice small sandy beach, room for 6-8 tents -- and a fire ring.
4:45 I came to fork in the river. The right fork water was moving much faster than the left. At first I was confused as to if that was the main river since it was flowing so fast. I later discovered it was Cedar Creek. As I ventured close to examine it, I saw there was no need since there was huge blow-down that was totally blocking that fork. There was no way anyone could have gotten through. Especially at the speed the water was traveling, (probably 7-8 MPH) putting it lightly, one would have risked experiencing a sweeper in the bat of an eye and at that speed they could not have backed out. (Though the water didn't appear to be too deep) Hopefully someone will open that before you make this trip.
A short ways down on the right again, was about a 5 foot bluff with a good flat area up top that appeared it had been used often by campers. Since the evening was coming on and I was not sure how much farther I had to go to my pull-out, I did not stop.
At 5:30 I arrived at a small sandy
beach on the left -- with what looked like a large campground up top. There was no sign
and I had no idea what it was, but I wanted to document it with my camcorder for future
information -- so I pulled in and asked the campground host -- Glad I did. It
turned out to be the place I was supposed to put down for the night. It was
Gore's Landing. This is a very large open campground with lots of campsites
that included fire rings, a grill and concrete picnic tables, and the fee was only
$5.00 The trees were mostly all Live Oak and most were draped with lots of Spanish
moss, huge and beautiful. Lots of room. Most of the trees also had a type of mossy air
plant over almost 70% of their branches. It was quite
(If you know the name of it let me know)
I unloaded and set up my tent in the site closest to the water (about 125 feet), Tried my cell phone to check in with the wife but it would not work. Later found why. There are zero towers in that area. Had supper and talked with the Campground host, Bill, for awhile. During our conversation he mentioned how clever the coons were at night getting into everything. (I said to myself -- uh-huh!) I have had plenty of experience with those pesky little critters when they are hungry. They will get into everything and even destroy things they smell food in. (including a brand new tent one time) I used my bow line and hung my food bucket in the tree before going to bed. Left nothing out they could get into. Yet, they woke me up several times in the night getting into the heavy garbage cans around the camp. These guys are smart. Don't leave ANYTHING out they can get into. I should mention the campground does NOT have showers, though they do have very clean restroom facilities. Being hot and sticky after all day in a canoe, I was looking forward to a shower so I did the next best thing. I bathed under his faucet in the yard. It was a bit cold but it felt wonderful to be clean again. There is also the possibility of going for a swim if that strikes your fancy.
You will find while on the river, you will have almost zero mosquitoes. However, during the hotter months, when you beach your canoe and get out, you will have plenty. If you are well prepared with a good quality repellant, you will not have a problem. However, if you don't, they will run you nuts. I recommend to all, do not buy any repellant with less than 70% "Deet" - the one I have used for almost 20 years is Muscol -- it is 100% Deet. When I put that on -- they leave me alone. There is one WARNING I want to pass on.
If you have VERY young children traveling with you, DO NOT put 100% Deet on them. Most small children will be allergic to that high percentage. I have heard some VERY sad tales about Mothers who didn't know any better. But if you want to get rid of those pesky little *&$@*!$%^& -- use as high as concentration of Deet as you can buy and you will be able to enjoy your evening. 100% is the most successful. For adults!
Up @ 7:30 AM -- packed up and on the water by 9:30
Exactly one hour below Gore's Landing, came to a small cypress tree on the left side, with Orange dots on it. Behind it was a nice campsite. Stopped to check it out. It was quite large, enough for 6-8 tents, had a fire ring, and nice path back in.
Exactly Thirty minutes below that site was another one also on the left. It also was large enough for 6-8 tents.
About noon I saw my first otter, before I could get my camera up he was gone. Later I came around the bend and surprised some Ducks-- instead of flying, (like I had seen them do several times already) since I was so close, they quickly scuttled out into the woods. They were small so I suspect these were Teals, or possibly Wood Ducks. I had seen two female Mallards earlier. They flew several times and always a distance ahead of me.
Later came to a cut off to the right and
could see a large pontoon boat docked several hundred yards in.
Believe that to be Eaton Creek. The point is -- roughly 20 minutes below this, on the right is another good camping spot -- it is also large, flat and up high on a bluff.
At 1:00 PM saw my first person on the lower
river fishing -- in a canoe.
At about 1:30 PM I noticed the river has widened about 25% and the current was not nearly as noticeable.
It appeared to have deepened also since the bottom was no longer visible.
At 2:20 PM I arrived at the SR 316 bridge.
At 2:25 PM arrived at the Ocklawaha Outpost ramp (on the left) There is a sign on the river - - To get to the office one must walk up a small path at the top of the ramp and off to the right through the woods -- roughly a city block.
Be sure to visit their web site at http://www.members.aol.com/ocooutpost/ They rent canoes and kayaks for singles to large groups and transport all to and from. He (Larry) transported me and my gear back to my vehicle at HWY 40 and his rates were reasonable. I failed to mention earlier that I saw - a total of 3 otters. One by himself, and about an hour later a pair together. Also, probably 50 or so gar fish over 3 feet long and a couple that were around 4. I saw one large catfish that looked to be over 3 feet long. He was a big un! My guess is that if one would bring worms and fish some of those VERY deep holes I saw on many bends -- some with lots of logs - He could catch all the shell crackers and bream he could handle. Probably bass and catfish as well. I didn't fish much, I only tried top water lures and caught one small gar and a small bass. Had I allotted more time - and had worms -- I would have enjoyed fishing those holes. They sure looked inviting. Remember -- above and below Gore's Landing, you have the river all to yourself. Hooray! On the whole trip -- I did not see a single *&%!*#$ Jet ski!
I personally believe this to be one of the best paddles in Florida. It has a good strong moving current
making it an easy paddle and campsites are plentiful. This is one of the most enjoyable runs I have made in Florida. The scenery, flora and fauna are outstanding. Hwy 40 to Gore's Landing is about 12 miles. Gore's Landing to Hwy 316 Bridge is about 10 miles. You could continue on for another 53 miles to the St. Johns River should you choose to do so.
I must have seen over 50 'gators. The silence of the river is wonderful. You hear nothing but the sounds of nature. The Owls calling, the occasional screech of a hawk nearby, or the Pileated Woodpeckers (often) drumming on a large hollow tree to announce "here I am" to a potential mate. The sound is awesome and carries for miles. I found it unusual that the Squirrels I saw were smaller and sported a very dark coat. Almost a chocolate color. Most squirrels I have ever seen were gray. I was expecting to hear lots of frogs at night. Sadly, I heard none, except for a few tree frogs. Think carefully -- how many frogs have you heard in the last year? Few I'll wager. As a boy paddling and fishing, the frogs were so plentiful that they put up a resounding chorus about dusk every evening. With as many eggs as a frog lays, there should be millions of them. Where are they? What has happened to them? Something in our environment is making our frogs almost extinct. More than likely pollution. How sad!
On this river you will see lots of Florida's Red-Belly Turtles. However, they were not overly abundant. I suspect the 'gators are the reason. Which brings me to something I had forgotten. As I approached one turtle laying on a log, he decided to hit the water. He had no more that gotten wet when there was a thunderous splash right where he went in. I can only assume that a small 'gator had been laying there watching and waiting for him. He apparently had turtle for lunch.
To setup a trip on this beautiful river, contact Larry (retired Navy Master Chief) at the Ocklawaha Outpost. His website is http://members.aol.com/OCOOutpost/index.html and his phone number is 352-236-4606. He will put you in at Hwy 40 bridge. Makes three runs a day. This is an outstanding paddle. Don't miss this one.
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