(Review added 09/02/13, last update 12/16)
Update 12/16: A new outfitter in Silver Springs is now offering shuttle service between Ray Wayside and Gores Landing. You can access their website HERE.
It seems the Ocklawaha River (pronounced ahk-la-WA-ha) has been the center of many controversies, including even its name. Orginally spelled oCK on most survey maps, the federal government decided in 1892 that it should be spelled oK. Other variants that can be found include: Ocklawaka, Oclawaha, Octwaha, and Okleywahaw. In 1992 the US Board on Geographic Names changed the official spelling back to Ocklawaha. We’ve always used Ock, but you will still see many signs in the area that use Ok.
Another controversy involves it origins. The historical source of the Ocklawaha was Lake Griffin and that source is still frequently cited today. However, the creation of man-made canals for agriculture and “water-front” homes has linked the entire Harris chain of lakes including Green Swamp, Lake Eustis, Lake Dora and Lake Apopka. This linkage has greatly increased both the flow and the amount of pollution entering the river accounting for the clogs of vegetation you will find along the river. The vegetation gets so bad on the river that every 3-4 years they do a “drawn-down” for several months at Rodman Reservoir, lowering the water level 7-8 feet. This kills off some of the vegetation.
Of course, the biggest controversy was the planned canal cutting across the state of Florida. First proposed by Philip II of Spain in 1567 to avoid the storm-prone Florida Straits that sank so many gold and silver ships headed to Spain from the New World, in 1933 the Canal Authority of the State of Florida was formed to purchase/condemn land for a route across the state. Much of the route would follow the St Johns, Ocklawaha, and Withlacoochee Rivers, but portions would have to be dug to connect the three. Construction on the Florida Ship Canal (narrow and deep) was started in 1935 under FDR as a WEP project. Built primarily with shovels, axes, and mules, remnants of the ship canal can still be seen by hikers along the Florida Trail between the Pruitt and Land Bridge Trailheads. The ship canal was abandoned in 1936 when the US Congress cut off funding.
In 1942, Congress authorized the Cross Florida Barge Canal (wider but shallower) as a national defense project and state and federal land acquisition was resumed. In 1964 the US Army Corps of Engineers started construction. Not a make-work project, few communities along the route of the canal benefitted from this massive government project and as work progressed more and more people and businesses were won over to the damage being caused to the fragile Florida environment without any corresponding benefit. Marjorie Harris Carr and Florida Defenders of the Environment led the battle to increase public awareness based on scientific facts and played a large role in creating the environmental movement in the US. In 1969 several groups filed suit in U.S. District Court on environmental grounds seeking an injuction to halt work on the canal. This injuction was granted in 1971 and the same year President Nixon signed an authorization suspending further work on the canal. But it would be 20 more long years before deauthorization was complete and lawsuits still continue, particularly surrounding the elimination of the Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam so the Ocklawaha can again run freely into the St Johns River. For the whole fascinating story read “Ditch of Dreams” by David Tegeder and Steven Noll from University Press of Florida.
For modern-day boaters, the upside of all this is that the vast majority of the land on either side of the river from Lake Griffin north to the St Johns River is in public ownership and protected from development. The private dwellings are mostly out of sight from the river and all you will see for the most part are a few landings and docks from river-based businesses and public boat ramps. For miles of its run – particularly from the junction with the Silver River to CR 316 and from below Rodman Dam to the St Johns River – you can image yourself on the river as seen by Marjorie Kinnen Rawlings, the early Spanish explorers, and even the Timucuan Indians.
The Ocklawaha is an old river, spreading and braided with a mile-wide valley. On some sections 5 river miles may result in 8-9 paddling miles – more if you take a wrong turn or stop to investigate one of the many braids or side creeks. Despite the development, the Ocklawaha is home to more than 100 species of fish, 200 varieties of birds, and 300 different mammals.
The Ocklawaha River can be divided into 4 sections based on how the stretches have been manipulated for the ship and barge canals.
Lake Griffin to Silver River Confluence
This section was channelized for the Cross Florida Barge Canal and is broken into two pieces at Moss Bluff by a dam. From Lake Griffin to about 7 miles south of the confluence of the Silver River the section is open to the sun and offers little in the way of wildlife other than some stream-side wildflowers in season. You will be paddling in a fairly wide, straight channel with (sometimes tree-covered) high berms on either side. There are public boat ramps on both the north and south sides of Moss Bluff Dam and it’s a short portage around the dam. North of Moss Bluff large machinery can occasionally be seen behind the berms – part of the river restoration process by the St Johns River Water Management District. Be sure to pick a cool day(s) to do this section. You will find power boats on this section but they are generally very courteous.
Silver River Confluence to CR 316
This section is probably the one most frequently paddled. It is serviced by four county boat ramps and an outfitter at the north end who also offers camping. (Click HERE for outfitters website.) With a nice county park at Gores Landing with semi-primitive camping (no hookups but water, picnic tables and a restroom) around the mid-point this section makes for a great week-end overnight as well as day trips. This is a stretch where you can imagine what the Ocklawaha looked like before humans intervened with massive engineering projects. You will see cooters, sliders, alligators, water birds, ducks during the winter and spring and some forest birds. In the spring and summer the edges are full of wildflowers and during the fall the hardwood forests are alive with color. Due to the many downed trees this section rarely sees more than the occasional shallow draft fishing boat.
CR 316 to Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam
In this section the river basin widens out and in many stretches becomes clogged with vegetation. If it were not for the power boats constantly cutting swathes through the surface plants it might not be negotiable at all. You’ll see more power boats here as well as it is a well-known fishing area. You can take a short side trip to the decommissioned Eureka Lock and get a good idea of the size of the engineering project required to “tame” the river. Every 3-4 years they have to do a “draw-down” of Rodman Reservoir in an attempt to control the vegetation. During these periods some of the small springs can be seen and many “islands” appear on the northern stretch. For the last 2.5 miles your paddle is in Rodman Reservoir (or Lake Ocklawaha) proper. Here the ghostly remains of dead tree tops appear both above and just below the water surface, left over from the creation of the reservoir. You have to keep a sharp lookout to prevent running up on them, especially if it’s windy, but at a slow pace they make for an interesting slalom course. The area along the dam berm is frequently clogged with vegetation. Easier landing might be found along the hiking trail (part of the Florida National Scenic Trail) just to the west. To resume your river trip, climb the north embankment, cross the paved road, descend the south embankment, then go east on the dirt road for approx 0.4 miles to the hand launch area below the dam.
Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam to St Johns River
This section is once again the old Ocklawaha River – a narrow twisting waterway with lots of birds. Between the hand launch at Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam and State Rd 19 there are a couple of USDA Forest Service campsites, accessible by vehicle and boat. After Lower Davenport Landing the river becomes swampy and campsites are almost impossible to find. A good boat ramp is available at Johnson Field Landing, just east of the SR 19 bridge. Once you reach the St Johns River you can paddle north (turn left at the junction) about 1.5 miles to the boat ramp at Welaka. (Note: This is a loooong vehicle shuttle up through Palatka and back down, taking about 1 hour each way.) We suggest that you do what we usually do and turn south on the St Johns (turn right at the junction) and paddle about 0.2 miles to Bear Creek. Then follow Bear Creek back to near the SR 19 bridge. The current in Bear Creek is very slight making Bear Creek a fairly easy upstream paddle. This route gives you a nice loop of a little less than 10 miles without having to shuttle your vehicles or retrace most of your paddle.
NOTE: Due to the dams, the flow in the Ocklawaha is sluggish which makes for fairly easy out-and-back paddles if you don’t want to mess with a shuttle. But it also means that the river, especially between CR 316 and Rodman Dam, has a tendency to fill up with vegetation. Since river mileage is generally measured down the center of a river, mileage specified on an Ocklawaha river map from Point A to Point B may have no relationship to the actual miles you will have to paddle to wind through the vegetation and it can change from year to year. The mileage indicated below is an average of the ACTUAL miles paddled that we recorded with a GPS over multiple trips between 2010 and 2016 and is broken up into fairly easy day trips. Use this mileage chart as a good estimate for your trip, but realize that your mileage may vary about 10-20%.
(Remember, “river left” is the left side of the river headed downstream.)
Moss Bluff North Ramp to Ray Wayside County Park
0.0 Moss Bluff North Ramp
0.1 Pass under CR 464C bridge
2.4 Non-motorized bridge on Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area
6.2 End of canalization where former riverbed joins from river left
8.8 Dead River joins from river left
10.9 Sharps Ferry, pass under County Road 314 bridge
13.2 Junction with Silver River, river left (Paddle upstream on the Silver to get to Ray Wayside)
13.5 Junction with Rays Wayside canal, river right
13.7 Rays Wayside Park
Rays Wayside to Gores Landing County Park
0.0 Ray Wayside (On canal just off the Silver River)
0.2 Junction with Silver River
0.5 Junction with Ocklawaha River
0.7 Pass under State Rd 40
1.3 Good lunch break area, river right
2.7 Grahamsville Landing, river right
3.8 Turkey Landing, river right
4.3 Conner Landing, river right
4.6 Trail at river, river right
4.9 Caldwell Landing and spring, river right
6.5 Strouds Creek, south end, river left
7.8 Durisoe Landing, river right
8.2 Osceola Landing, river left
9.0 Dead River, south end, river right
9.8 Strouds Creek, north end, river left
10.6 Gores Landing County Park, river left. Camping, potable water, restrooms, fee.
Gores Landing to Eureka West Boat Ramp
0.0 Gores Landing County Park, river left. Camping, potable water, restrooms, fee.
1.0 Dead River, north end, river right
2.3 Fish Creek, south end, river left
3.2 Fish Creek, north end, river left
3.5 Cedar Creek, river right
5.9 Eaton Creek, right right
7.2 Piney Island Landing, river right, nice rest break area
9.0 Eureka East boat ramp, river right, south side of CR 316
9.2 Pass under CR 316
9.4 Ocklawaha Outpost launch, river left
9.6 Eureka West boat ramp, river left
Eureka West Boat Ramp to Orange Springs Boat Ramp
0.0 Eureka West boat ramp, river left
0.5 Junction canal from defunct Eureka Lock, river right
3.5 Landing, river right, possible break area
4.7 Wells Landing, river right, possible break area
5.3 Canal, river right, leading 0.2 miles to Cannon Springs
6.4 Tobacco Patch Landing, river right
7.1 Big Rack Rd Spring, river right
7.2 Riversites Spring, river right
7.5 Blue Store launch, river right (Note: The Blue Store launch is rather primitive, may be hard to find, and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended)
8.2 Hasty Greene Spring, river right
8.6 Indian Bluff Spring, river right
12.8 Hog Valley ramp, river right (Note: The Hog Valley boat ramp is rather primitive, hard to find, and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended)
13.2 Orange Springs boat ramp, river left
Orange Springs Boat Ramp to Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam
0.0 Orange Springs boat ramp, river left
0.4 Hog Valley ramp, river right ( (Note: The Hog Valley boat ramp is rather primitive, hard to find, and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended.
0.8 Round bight of land, river right
3.5 Cedar Landing, river right
4.4 Enter Rodman Reservoir (Lake Ocklawaha) proper. Lots of dead tree tops to navigate.
6.9 Reach dam.
Kirkpatrick (Rodman) Dam to Johnson Field Landing Boat Ramp (SR 19)
0.0 Kirkpatrick Landing West, west side of Dam
1.6 Junction with Kirkpatrick Dam spillway channel
1.9 Take right channel at fork
4.2 Davenport Landing, river left
4.5 Lower Davenport Landing, river left
5.6 Take right channel at fork
5.9 Pass under State Rd 19, channel to Johnson Field Landing, river right.
6.2 Johnson Field Landing boat ramp
Johnson Field Landing Boat Ramp (SR 19) to St Johns River
0.0 Johnson Field Landing boat ramp
0.7 Junction with Bear Creek, river right
1.2 Junction stream, river left
2.3 Junction stream, river left
3.4 Junction Bear Creek, river right
4.1 Junction stream, river left
5.0 Junction with St Johns River.
St Johns River to Johnson Field Landing Boat Ramp (SR 19) via Bear Creek
0.0 Junction St Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers
—– Head south – upstream – on St Johns River
0.2 Junction with Bear Creek, on your right
1.9 Junction with Ocklawaha River, keep left to stay on Bear Creek
3.5 Junction stream, keep to right
4.0 Junction with first of 3 streams, keep to right at all 3
4.3 Junction with Ocklawaha River, keep left
4.5 Junction channel to Johnson Field Landing, turn left
4.8 Johnson Field Landing boat ramp.
Click HERE to download Ocklawaha RIver Fact Sheet with mileage chart and directions to launch sites.
Click HERE to download Ocklawaha 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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