CITRUS COUNTY, Fla. - For years, the folks in Citrus County have kept the spring-fed waterway known as the "Chaz" to themselves.
When it comes to rivers, the Chassahowitzka isn't much to talk about. Just 7 miles downstream, the cool, clear waters empty into the Gulf of Mexico.
But if you are looking for a good place to swim on a hot summer's day, the "Chaz" can't be beat. A few paddle strokes from the boat ramp at the Chassahowitzka River Campground are the first of the river's more than one dozen springs. The water is clear and cold (72 degrees), coming from deep within the Floridan Aquifer.
About 20 minutes downstream, you will see a tiny island with palm trees off to your left. This is the entrance to Baird Creek. As you paddle deep into the woods, the creek will narrow and you will be tempted to turn back. Remain steadfast. Paddle on.
Eventually you will hit Blue Springs, which is usually full of large schools of mullet. There is a rope swing here, so it's a good place to stop and take a dip. But the adventure is not over. Keep paddling until you cannot paddle any more. Then leave the canoe behind, get out and walk along the creek bed.
A 200-foot trek through ankle-deep water will bring you to "The Crack," a 30-foot-long crevice for swimming. Bring a mask or some goggles and take your time and explore. You will be glad you did.
IF YOU GO:
The Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge is south of Homosassa Springs and north of the Weeki Wachee River, about 65 miles north of St. Petersburg. Take U.S. Highway 19 north to County Road 480 (Miss Maggie Drive), then head west. The canoe launch is at the end of this road.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, 1502 SE Kings Bay Drive, Crystal River, 352-563-2088, www.fws.gov/chassahowitzka .
Chassahowitzka River Campground, 352-382-2200. Nature Coast Outpost Kayak Adventures, 352-382-0800, rents canoe, kayaks and boats.