Rainbow River Kayaking

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My wife and I, after having kayaked the generally brown and visually impenetrable North Georgia rivers and lakes, had seen pictures and heard tales of the crystal clear, spring fed rivers of northern middle Florida.  With the input of some friends and reviewing the available options, we decided an extended March outing was in order to enjoy several – but before the heat, mosquitos, and tubers hit the waters during peak season.

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The first we chose for obvious reasons – Crystal River, essentially a can’t miss for kayaking with the manatees, or sea cows as some would name them.  Only, we didn’t get around to it.  We arrived late in the day at Crystal River, but it was windy, there are motor driven boats on the water, and despite the wee bit of time it would have taken, we were tired and passed.  Maybe next year.  In any case, Crystal River, FL was a great place to rent a motel room, eat, and otherwise treat as home base.  It’s a touristy area, so we also brought security chains to secure our kayaks to the car, because you never know.  The hotel  didn’t think it would be an issue, but they’re not exactly responsible for watching our car, either.

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Rainbow River is located in Dunnellon, FL, about a 25 minute drive.  We arrived around 9:30 at Rainbow River Canoe and Kayak, which offers a shuttling service for about $15 per kayak (they rent them as well).  They deposited us upstream at a State Park near K.P. Hole, essentially a sandy bottomed crater in the river that divers enjoy.  New paddlers to Florida should pay attention to the safety requirements as well as the restrictions (disposable containers).  Reservations, even for shuttling, are recommended as they have limited shuttling capacity and only do this at the top of each hour. The put-in is easy – there’s a boat ramp very near where they offload the boats.

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From there, it’s 4.5 miles back to the outfitter, a couple hours of easy paddling.  But, if you do that, you’re missing the best of the river in my opinion.   Instead, we paddled 1.5 miles upstream, without difficulty, to the head of the river, then back down, creating about a 7 mile trip.  This was a beautiful paddle, with the expected crystal clear water, shown at its best when the sandy bottom was visible.  Grasses cover most of the river bottom, but these add different shades to the river, though not qualifying as a “rainbow.”

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Overall, I’m glad we did this river first.  If we had saved it for last, I would have been somewhat disappointed.  It was probably noted in the websites we researched, but one bank of the river is built out with river houses.  They’re attractive enough, whether close to the banks or set back, but the other bank has the natural habitat we were expecting.  Residents and others do use houseboats occasionally, but it’s no issue for kayakers.  Still, it’s a pretty nice place to live if you enjoy recreating and exercising on or alongside the water, and the web indicates you can buy a modest 3BR river front house built in the 1940’s for ~$500,000.

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Wildlife on this river was surprisingly sparse, but we still spied a variety of birds and fish.  There were no alligators, which is good as a number of people tube and swim in the water, though few in March.  Afterwards, we stopped for a late lunch at the Blue Gator Tiki Bar & Restaurant, which was right around the corner from the outfitter.  Highly recommended – great deck space by the river as well.

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Complete set of photos from the trip can be seen HERE.

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