Because of Hurricane Irma, we decided to move our annual 10,000 Islands trip to another part of Florida. I chose the Ocklawaha River because it's been on my radar for some time now. There is a lot of fascinating history surrounding this river. In the early 1800s, it was proposed to build a shipping canal across Florida. Later in the 1930s, the US government starting looking at options to do this. The plan was to start the canal at Yankeetown on the west coast and have it join the St. Johns River and go up to the Jacksonville area. There was obviously a lot of push back on the project from environmentalists. The Ocklawaha River would have been one of the main rivers dredged for the project. Luckily, the idea was abandoned in the 1971 and officially cancelled in 1991. Many dams, bridges, and other structures had been built already, but the remained on the land was given to the state to use as recreational land. Read more about it here.
We drove up to the Ocklawaha Canoe Outpost near Fort McCoy, FL and car camped there for two nights. The first full day of our trip, we went on a 7 mile hike along the Florida Trail in Ocala National Forest from Store 88 north to Lake Delancey. Along the way we saw red-cockaded woodpeckers which are fairly rare.
Alec, myself, and Auz on the Florida Trail
The next day, we packed up our gear and got shuttled to Silver Springs State Park. We quickly loaded up the canoes and headed down the Silver River. We saw tons of birds: green herons, ibises, great blue herons, night-crowned herons, tri-color herons, wood ducks and many more. Because the manatees were trying to avoid the cold water in the winter, we saw them in the clear blue spring water as well!
Auz and I on the Silver River
Silver Springs was a privately owned park from 1852-2013, when it became a Florida State Park. It was featured in many of the original Tarzan movies and was the filming location of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The park had many different owners over the years. In the 1930s, the owner wanted to create a Jungle Cruise and purchased a troop of Rhesus monkeys. He placed them on an island in the middle of the river and shortly after discovered that they are excellent swimmers and he watched them swim away. They thrived in the wilds of Florida and today, it is estimate that there are about 200 of them living along the Silver River. We were fortunate enough to see them!
Wild Rhesus Monkeys
That night we camped along a pretty area of grass on the river, where we forgot to photograph the campsite. Oops! The next day, we headed out around 10 AM. Hurricane Irma has knocked down many trees into the river which made for some interesting paddling maneuvers.
Our original plan was to camp for two nights on the river since the total trip was 26-28 miles. Unfortunately, after we stopped for lunch at Gores Landing on Day 2, we failed to find another suitable campsite. Around 4 pm we found ourselves back at the canoe outpost, where we opted to car camp for another night. I would highly recommend paddling the Ocklawaha River. We did see crews out there trying to clear the downed trees and it should be mostly cleaned up by next year. There is typically an option for a side trip along the Dead River, but we were told it was currently impassible.
Bald Eagle in a front yard on our way home