The Chassahowitzka River, pronounced ‘Chaz-wits-kuh’ and which means “hanging pumpkin,” is one of the state’s Outstanding Florida Waterways and as such has been given special protections to maintain its quality. Located about 8 miles south of Homosassa Springs, this unique river is also home to the 31,000 acre Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. The river is a marriage of springs and tidal influx from the Gulf of Mexico just 6 miles south of the head springs.
The river itself is not very long, approximately 3 miles in length, however the combination of exploring the many side creeks and springs makes an average trip on the Chass anywhere from 6 to 12 miles round-trip. For paddlers who are really looking for a challenge, segment #7 (Nature Coast) of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail begins near the mouth of the river between the Dog Island rest area and Pompano Key.
Wildlife on the Chassahowitzka River
Wildlife on the river is as rich as it is diverse and the area is a hot-spot for local sports fisherman. Dolphin can sometimes be seen hunting fish year-round along the inlets of the salt marsh on the lower river and West Indian manatees can often be seen along the river and springs during the colder winter months. The area is home to alligator, bald eagle, Florida black bear, white-tailed deer, osprey and river otter among others.
The area is an important estuarine nursery for shellfish and other aquatic life and the health of the springs and river factors heavily into the survival of many species. Much of the surrounding land is managed by state and federal agencies in an effort to provide continuing protection and support within the region.
Exploring the Springs of the Chassahowitzka River
There is only one boat ramp providing access along the river and it is located at the Chassahowitzka River Campground at 8600 W. Miss Maggie Drive in Homosassa Springs. Paddlers can park and launch here for a small fee ranging from $3 to $4 depending on whether a trailer is used.
About 50 feet east of the boat launch, directly in the main channel is the 1st magnitude Chassihowitzka Spring. Swimming in this location is prohibited due to boat traffic in the channel but there are plenty of other springs to explore starting with the next set of springs located through a man-made channel about 75 feet to the east and then up a short spring run to an unnamed spring known locally as the “Solution Holes.” Here, about 7 or 8 interconnected spring vents glow an almost fluorescent blue in the sunlight.
From the solution holes paddlers can drift back to the main channel and continue 200 yards past the boat launch to the entrance of Crab Creek where they will find Crab Creek Spring (three spring vents) surrounded by the grounds of two privately-owned homes. Take care not to trespass on the surrounding property when visiting this spring.
Half a mile south of Crab Creek is a small island and the entrance to Baird Creek. This is easily a half-mile paddle through a narrow, shallow and twisting creek to Blue Springs. Proceeding past Blue Springs, paddlers may have to abandon their vessels and wade the remaining 100-150 feet to a crevasse about 30 feet in length known as “The Crack,” aka, “Miss Maggie’s Crack.”
Once back on the river paddlers can then proceed 1/3 mile south to a large island. Larger motorized vessels use the left side of the island as a navigational channel. To the narrower right side of the island is the entrance to Salt Creek, a confusing network of creeks that leads to Salt Creek Spring as long as paddlers stay on the right path or use a gps to aid in navigation. Locals look for an upside down U-shaped tree as an indication of the correct path.
The last stop on this spring extravaganza is Potter Creek located about 1/4 mile past a set of old railroad tressle posts. Paddle 3/4 of a mile up Potter’s Creek to reach Ruth Springs. Take special note that all of these locations may be occupied by alligators so do use caution. It should also be noted that manatees are protected: do not chase, harass or feed them as this carries stiff fines and penalties. Visit this article for more on manatees. From this point paddlers may continue on to the National Wildlife Refuge or paddle back upstream to the campground.