The Ocklawaha River is the principal tributary of the St. Johns River. It’s main source is Lake Griffin, part of the Harris chain of lakes in Lake County, Florida. The Ocklawaha River watershed includes parts of the Green Swamp, most of Lake County, and portions of Marion, Alachua and Putnam counties. The key tributary to the Ocklawaha is the Silver River, which originates in Silver Springs, Fl.
During the 1800’s and early 1900’s, steamboats populated the winding river, bringing folks from Palatka to Silver Springs. These boats were small and narrow in order to navigate the many twisting turns. The Hart Line was the most popular, as was Lucas Line as well. With the arrival of the railroad to Ocala, Florida the steamboat popularity declined. On many of today’s maps several of the landings where the steamboats picked up passengers are still listed.
Marjorie Harris Carr, past president of Florida Defenders of the Environment played a key role in fighting against the continuing of The Florida Barge Canal through the Ocklawaha River.
In January of 1971 a federal judge issued an injunction that stopped construction of the canal. This was immediately followed by President Richard Nixon officially halting construction due to the environmental damage it would cause. Today the Rodman Dam, now the Kirkpatrick Dam, is a reminder of the fight that continues to this day to have the dam removed. The fight to save the Ocklawaha River has inspired many artists, poets and musicians over the years to include Will McLean, Gamble Rogers, Don Grooms and Whitey Markle.
The 74 mile Ocklawaha River is a must paddle for those interested in ‘Old Florida’. It’s history is rich as are the wildlife and surrounding forests.
River Details – Silver River to Gore’s Landing:
Location: This section of the Ocklawaha River is located between Highway 40 East of Silver Springs and NE 98th St, about 5 miles south for Fort McCoy.
Launch point: The launch is located at Ray Wayside Park 9564 NE 28th Lane Silver Springs, FL 34488 NE 28th Ln, Silver Springs, FL 34488. See above map. There is a $5.00 fee per vehicle.
Take-Out point: The take-out is located at Gore’s Landing 13750 NE 98th St, Fort McCoy, FL 32134. There is a $5.00 fee per vehicle.
Average Paddle Time & Paddle Speed: This paddle can take as much as 4-5 hours to complete. We had a nice current and made a couple of stops…were off the water in 4 hours. Our average paddle speed was 3 mph.
Rest Areas: Restroom facilities at the launch, Ray Wayside Park, and in scattered sections along the river, especially at the the 4 miles mark and several beyond. Restroom facilities at Gore’s Landing which also has a $5 per site / per night camping fee.
Ocklawaha Paddle Map…
Leave civilization behind…
We arrived at Ray Wayside Park along with numerous other paddlers that were preparing to race up the Silver River and back. We waited until three tiers of the racers were out then proceeded out toward the Ocklawaha. There is a short paddle on the Silver River before it meets the Ocklwaha. Here we are bordered by Carolina Ash, Bald Cypress, Swamp Tupelo, Red Maples and the characteristic Sabal Palmettos. The combination of Bald Cypress, Swamp Tupelo and Carolina Ash created natural arches overhead as they predominantly lean in toward the river.
We enjoy a nice flow to the river and while the temperature was cool and breezy at the start it warmed nicely as we paddled on. The cloudy skies gave way to blue and it was a beautiful day to be on the river.
Diversity of Flora & Fauna…
I have paddled the Ocklawaha River numerous times over the years and this particular paddle in December was an awesome display of the diverse wildlife along the river. The shoreline was painted with splashes of violet from the numerous Climbing Asters in bloom the entire journey. These were accented with the yellow Sunflower Tickseed and White Swamp Lilies nestled behind the familiar Water Hyacinth and Pickerel Weed.
Above us was a canvas of Fall colors, still awaiting their full brilliance. Numerous Bald Cypress were in multiple displays of green, yellow and orange, the Maples and Gums displaying reds and yellows. Dahoon Hollies were numerous with their deep green leaves and clusters of red berries. Saw Palmettos brightened the shoreline with shades of green, as did the many Sabal Pamettos.
Birds of a Feather…
I have never enjoyed this many birds along the Ocklawaha as I did today. Blue Herons glided from side to side ahead of us, while some just stoically stood and watched us pass. Egrets gracefully took flight as we paddled close to them and at river mile 8, Ibis, by the hundreds, rested in the trees above until the last minute, and as we arrived flew ahead of us and repeated the the same flight and rest scenario for another mile and a half. Along the shore an occasional Limpkin would quietly walk the water edge.
A few Otter were spotted along the way and of course Gators and Turtles took their places sunning on tree trunks along the way. Most of the Gators seen today were perhaps in the 4′ range, a couple a little bigger.
Paddling the Ocklawaha is always a peaceful experience. The flow is nice and the paddle is smooth as long as the trees have been cleared. On this trip it was fine the entire route. Lots of winding turns, several sections with high bluffs, especially at the 4 mile mark, a great place to take a break. This was another pleasant journey on a beautiful Fall day, ending another chapter In Florida Paddle Notes.