Trip Number: 13434A
Staff: Patrick Nichols
- Paddle with manatees in their native settings
- Visit Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park manatees and native wildlife
- Mermaids at Weeki Wachee State Park
- Kayaks and all equipment
- Cabin camping and local cuisine
- Tour of the best springs and rivers of the Nature Coast
Please note that the leader has changed from what was originally published. If you
have questions, please
The Nature Coast is a unique area in west-central Florida that is blessed with
many coastal spring-fed rivers, frequented by the Florida (West Indian) Manatee.
They fill these warm spring-fed coastal rivers during the cooler part of the
year. We will paddle these rivers and enjoy the wonderful natural setting with
these sea cows.
Photo: Ben Berauer
Day 1: We will meet at our cabin accommodations at 3 p.m.
After introductions, we will learn about the Nature Coast and its springs and
rivers so everyone will be ready for our upcoming paddling adventures. We will
discuss the manatee and protocols to follow when encountering this large and
friendly sea cow. We will also have a short talk on kayaking basics and paddling
etiquette on these rivers. Our first meal is dinner.
Day 2: The Homosassa River is a haven for the East Indian
Manatee, as well as the home of the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. We
will visit the park and its attractions as well as paddle the upper river to
the park and springs. The park includes a native Florida zoo with most native
birds and animals on display, including the manatee. There we will be able to
learn about the manatee -- both hearing about it from a park curator and seeing
it in its native habitat.
Day 3: After breakfast we will cross the road and paddle the
Chassahowitzka. This river flows from a first-order magnitude spring out to
the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. This 31,000+ acre refuge was created
in 1943 as a winter preserve for migratory waterfowl. Small springs flow from
the swampy woods and make this river unique. Many say they enjoy paddling the
side springs as much or more than the river. In addition to plenty of bird watching
opportunities, a keen-eyed kayaker can spot manatee, dolphins, otters, alligators,
raccoons, and possibly even deer, bobcat, or a Florida black bear. It is not
uncommon to see bald eagles and hawks on the river, in addition to ducks, ibis,
pelicans, herons, egrets, king fishers, osprey, wood stork, anhinga (snake birds),
Day 4: Today we will paddle one of the premier rivers for
manatees, the Crystal River. This river is highly commercialized by manatee
tours, but after a talk on "ethical manatee encounters," we will take
the high road with our trip and spend our up-close and personal time finding
and photographing these gentle giants.
Photo: Ben Berauer
Day 5: The Rainbow River is one of the best pristine spring
runs in all of Florida and the world. The river is one of the clearest and most
beautiful runs for swimming, snorkeling and hunting for shark’s teeth
and other ancient artifacts that are found in its white sandy bottom. Oh, and
yes we may see manatees there, too. This paddle will give us a small change
of pace where getting in the water will be the thing to do.
Day 6: We will start the day paddling the famous Weeki Wachee
Spring. This is an easy paddle and we will go with the flow. Weeki Wachee is
a first-magnitude spring, discharging over 64 million gallons of crystal-clear
water a day. Along the river an observant paddler may see many types of animals,
including manatees, otters, and numerous birds. As an additional highlight we
will spend time at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park for some water fun, and
see the famous Mermaids perform.
Day 7: After breakfast and a morning hike for a dip in a secluded
spring hole, we will have our last lunch and pack up for the return home.
Our trip starts at our home base for the week, our cabins in the village of
Chassahowitzka. Here we will be at the head of one of our rivers, and situated
centrally for our week's forays. This location is only about an 1.5-hour drive
from the Tampa International airport. Participants are responsible for their
own transportation, and are encouraged to share rentals from the airport, which
will serve as your transportation during the week.
Accommodations and Food
We will be staying in cottages in the village of Chassahowitzka, a sleepy community
that provides us direct access to the Chassahowitzka River and its springs.
Many simply refer to it as the "Chass." This village may be small
and sleepy, but the Chassahowitzka Lodge has food and cold drinks, and there
is a supermarket just at the main highway not more than 1.5 miles from our cottages.
Cottages provide a full kitchen, bath, hot water, AC, and the basic comforts.
Participants will share these cottages, with couples getting the larger bedrooms
and individuals sharing rooms with two beds.
Your leaders will prepare all meals with your help. Commissary duties will
be shared, and all will be expected to share with preparation and cleanup. Meals
included begin at dinner on the first day, and end at lunch on the last. Meals
will include local southern fare and a couple of trips to the Chass Lodge. The
Lodge is available for evening drinks and recreation.
Photo: Ben Berauer
This trip will be easy to moderate, with most paddles going with a current
or tide. You should have previous paddling experience, and be able to keep up
with the group. Paddles are largely on rivers and creeks with placid clear waters.
No open water paddling experience is necessary. However, kayaking is a physical
activity and exercises a different set of muscles than other activities, and
participants are expected to be in at least modest shape, and able to paddle
against moderate currents and winds that may be experienced. Most days we will
spend up to 4 or 5 hours on the water, but less when we have some additional
activity planned like visiting the Mermaids of Weeki Wachee or the native zoo
state park. In cases of extreme weather alternate activities may be substituted,
and the trip plan may change due to weather, water, or other reasons. Your leader
requires participants to be at least 18 years of age unless accompanied by responsible
guardian, and then only on the leader’s approval.
Equipment and Clothing
All paddling gear is provided, and participants are responsible only for their
personal gear and supplies such as appropriate paddling attire, water bottle,
hat, polarized sunglasses, insect repellent, day pack, and personal toilet kit
and first-aid kit. March in Florida is usually warm and dry, but rain and cooler
weather is always a possibility. Bring raingear and fleece or other quick drying
clothing for warmth on cooler mornings or days. You will need both good walking
shoes and water shoes/sandals.
- Walton, Chelle Koser, Florida's Nature Coast: Crystal River, Homosassa,
Inverness, Withlacoochee State Forest & Weeki Wachie.
- Carter, W. Horace, Florida Nature Coast Tales & Truths.
- Field Guide to Florida, National Audubon Society.
- Carr, Archie, A Naturalist in Florida, A Celebration of Eden.
Photo: Ben Berauer
Manatees and man have a conflicted relationship. Everyone loves the mild mannered
and docile manatees. But at the same time we must respect that they are wild
creatures that must survive what mother nature throws at them, and also the
dangers that mankind represents, such as watercraft collisions, habitat loss,
water use, and pollution. All of these, as well as the proper etiquette for
how to approach and observe these large mammals, will be discussed. We will
also address the conservation issue of how draught, water use, and fertilizer
use are all affecting our aquifers and springsheds.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
It's not Patrick Nichols' 35 years of wilderness experience or his extensive background as an outdoor enthusiast and wilderness educator that distinguish his tours from the ordinary. It is the exquisite attention to detail: from gourmet cuisine to the intricacies of paddling on quiet waters propelled by kayak. He is an ACA instructor, has trained with Red Cross water safety and is a wilderness first responder. His calling is to use the quiet skills of his lifetime to benefit every traveler, to ensure his skills and knowledge are shared by every voyager with an open heart and a curious mind.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips