How to Paddle From Tampa to the Heart of Florida in One Day

This article and video were produced in partnership with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, which reminds you to leave no trace when you Enjoy Outdoors.

Just over an hour due north of downtown Tampa is the Chassahowitzka River and a spring-fed float through what Florida looked like before Floridians. Surrounded by protected wetlands and wildlife refuges, the river is dotted with exceptionally beautiful and remote places to park a kayak and take in crystal-clear water and dense jungle canopy to a birdsong soundtrack. “The Crack” is one such place, and you can be floating there within a few hours if you don’t leave during rush hour.

kayak chassahowitzka river florida
There’s only two turns, it’s almost idiot proof. ASN

Getting There

Take FL-589 north about 60 miles, and note that this toll road doesn’t accept cash — if you don’t have a SunPass, you’ll need to pay online afterward. You can get there without using the toll road, but then your friends will think you’re cheap. 

  • Exit US-98 North and drive 4.5 miles.
  • Go straight through the junction with US-19 where road turns into W Miss Maggie Dr.
  • Head through the town of Chassahowitzka, turning left to stay on W Miss Maggie Dr toward the Chassahowitzka River Campground, where you’ll find the boat ramp. 
  • There’s a $5 permit required to boat the river, which can be paid by dropbox if the campground ranger isn’t in the office. 
kayak chassahowitzka river florida
Don’t try to pronounce Chassahowitzka. Do watch your head. ASN

The Paddle

Given how remote it feels, The Crack is only about an hour’s paddle from the Chassahowitzka River Campground boat ramp. Even at a leisurely pace and a long break before turning around, you won’t be on the river for more than three hours. 

  • As soon as you launch, you can go either left or right. Heading right brings you to Seven Sisters Springs, which is where all the people go who don’t realize how much more beautiful/less touristy Chassahowitzka gets if you go left. 
  • Go left.
  • Stay left for a few hundred yards, around the river’s first big bend. 
  • You’ll see two tributaries to the left in quick succession. The first quickly dead ends, and the second is the entrance to Baird Creek.
  • Go left. 
  • Maybe keep an eye out for alligators and snakes as you make your way into Baird Creek. Just saying. 
  • Once you’re in Baird, you’re basically paddling until you reach the end. You’ll know you’re almost there when you hit a log blocking the creek. 
  • Drag the boats over the log. Again, gators, snakes, just saying. 
  • Welcome to The Crack, so named due to a deep, narrow cleeve in an otherwise very shallow and crystal clear water. Crack a beer to toast to all the suckers over in Seven Sisters Springs who think they’re somewhere remote and beautiful. 
kayak chassahowitzka river florida
Congratulations, you’ve reached The Crack. ASN

What to Bring

As paddling expeditions go, this is somewhere between “Just around the bend” and “Should we just walk there?” Still, it’s important to maintain basic boat safety protocol and be prepared for the unexpected (like gators and snakes. Just saying). 

  • Personal floatation device
  • Plenty of bug spray and sunscreen
  • Enough snacks and water for a half day on the river
  • A few Sierra Nevada Pale Ales to enjoy in The Crack 

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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