(Review added 08/21/13, last update 17/24/17)
The Chassahowitzka River (pronounced chaz-uh-WITS-ka and known locally as the Chaz) is located just south of Homosassa Springs and is a tidal gem. It has been designated a Florida Outstanding Water which gives it special protection under state law. Most of the land around the Chaz is owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, Florida State Forests, or the US National Wildlife Service resulting in an almost pristine environment.
Since most of the surrounding land is either swamp or is publically owned (or both), there is a “wilderness” feel about a lot of the Chaz that we love. The Chaz is also a manatee sanctuary and especially in the winter months you’ll have a good chance of seeing one up near the headsprings. Other than manatee you will see many different water birds, eagles, otters, mullet, and blue crab.
Our favorite location to launch is from Chassahowitzka River Campground at the end of W. Miss Maggie Rd. There’s a quiet campground that’s great for tents or RVs, a large parking area, and for a small parking fee you have your choice of 2 boat ramps – one for power boats and one for canoes/kayaks. (In 2017, the fee is $5 per car or $7 for car and trailer.) They also offer kayak rentals. It’s only about 5.5 miles out to the Gulf of Mexico at Pompano, so the Chaz is influenced by the tides. If you plan a trip out beyond “The Crack” be sure to take the high and low tides into account.
After leaving the Chaz Campground launch, turn right and head upstream. Just before the river narrows into a creek you can look down into the main vent of Chassahowitzka Spring. Chaz Spring is a first magnitude spring meaning it pumps more than 100 cubic feet of water per second into the river. Because of motorboat traffic, no swimming is allowed here. But continue upstream for another 0.1 mile, passing Little Chaz Spring on river left (your right going upstream) then turn left into a small creek with several spring vents. This area is called “The Seven Sisters” and is a wonderful place to swim, picnic, do some underwater photography, and otherwise play in the crystal clear water.
Going back downstream, about 300 feet past the campground launch is Crab Creek on river right. It’s about 0.1 mile up the spring run to the spring boil with a house on the north bank. Although there is a lot of vegetation in the water, there are also many waterfowl & fish in this frequently bypassed area.
Back on the main river, continue downstream about 0.5 miles and you will see a little bay off to river left. It’s guarded by first a sand shelf then very shallow water at the entrance to Baird Creek. On a busy weekend you will probably find several party barges parked on the shelf for swimming but motor boats cannot make it past the shallow creek entrance. You can paddle about 0.3 miles up the spring run until you come to a wide lagoon with a rope swing. This is Blue Spring. Continuing on you can probably paddle another 0.1 mile until, depending upon the tide, you have to beach your kayak and walk the final 200 feet or so to “The Crack” which is a magnificent swimming hole. Running down the middle of the pool is a deep fissure that is usually full of either fish or people, depending upon how early in the morning you visit.
Back on the Chaz, headed downstream, you’ll pass a series of small islands. If you stick to the right side of the river after 0.7 miles you reach the entrance to Salt Creek. Head upstream another 0.4 miles and the creek forks. Go to the left for 0.1 miles and you will reach an unnamed spring pool. If the water is high you can continue another 200-300 feet to another unnamed spring boil. Head downstream to the fork and this time take the right fork. At 0.2 miles you will pass an unnamed spring to your right and in another 300 feet you’ll dead end in a beautiful spring pool.
Back on the Chaz at the entrance to Salt Creek, head downstream another 0.3 miles to the entrance to Potter Creek. Head up wide Potter Creek about 0.8 mile to Potter Spring and an additional 0.1 mile to Ruth Spring. Salt Creek is usually awash with water birds that scatter in front of you as you paddle lazily upstream. As you come back down Salt Creek, keep your eyes peeled on creek right for an old railroad trestle. It’s difficult to see anymore, but if you look at the land on either side and ask yourself where YOU would build a bridge across this creek, you will probably sight it – or at least be able to pick out the raised area of the old tramway.
This is where we usually stop for the day and head back upstream to the campground. We keep to the right of the islands headed back for a difference in scenery. This is the main channel of the river and there will be many power and fishing boats of all sizes, but if you keep to the side where it’s shallow you will have no problems. At 0.9 miles you will pass Baird Creek on your right and at 1.5 miles you will reach the campground boat ramps. If we still feel adventurous we may re-visit the springs upstream for another swim or take out and head for dinner. It may not seem like a lot from our description, but if you follow our path you will have covered over 7 miles on this little sight-seeing tour and there are so many things to see that it usually takes us 6-7 hours.
If you want to continue on down the river it’s approximately 5.5 miles from the Chaz Campground boat launch to Pompano on the Gulf of Mexico. Note that there is no boat launch at the river mouth, it’s an out-and-back. And be sure to get the tides and wind right or it’s a very hard paddle.
0.0 Chaz River Campground launch
0.1 Crab Creek enters from river right
0.2 Lettuce Creek enters from river right
0.5 Baird Creek enters from river left
0.8 East end of first of 3 islands – main boat channel to left
1.2 Salt Creek enters from river right just past third island
1.5 Potter Creek enters from river right
2.4 Enter Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge – keep to river left for best route
2.6 Pass Johnson Creek on river left
3.1 Pass Crawford Creek on river left
3.4 Pass Ryle Creek and Garden Island on river left
3.7 Pass Dog Island in Gator Creek on river right – small dock and picnic table
4.6 Cross Florida Saltwater Circumnavigational Paddling Trail
5.5 Pompano and the Gulf of Mexico
If you want more paddling and are prepared for salt-water adventures, there are several small keys within a 2 mile radius to explore.
Click HERE to download Chassahowitzka River Fact Sheet with mileage chart and directions to launch sites.
Click HERE to download Chassahowitzka River gpx file for your GPS unit.
Double-click to zoom in or use mouse scroll to zoom in and out. Drag to change location. Click on icons or river route for more info.
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