~ NOBLETON — Within an hour of Orlando and Tampa, the Withlacoochee River meanders through an unspoiled cypress forest in rural Florida. It ranks as one of Florida’s most scenic rivers, and yet, it’s uncrowded and unspoiled. (On a sunny winter weekend when I visited, an eight-mile paddle involved seeing only one canoe. The count for alligators? Four.)
The river, Florida’s fourth largest, winds through the Withlacoochee State Forest, a wild, natural region with many options for campgrounds and picnics. The Withlacoochee, designated a Florida Outstanding Waterway, originates in the Green Swamp and flows north, eventually emptying into the Gulf near Yankeetown.
We used Nobleton Canoe Outfitters, which will deliver you and a kayak or canoe upstream for either a 10, an eight or a five-mile float back to the outfitter’s base, where you can get a bite to eat at the outdoor cafe. The outpost also rents a cabin. The outfitter is open four days a week, closing Tuesday-Thursday.
The scenic Florida river is rich in history. Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto visited here — a mass grave near the river on the McGregor Smith Scout Reservation in evidence — and Seminole warrior Osceola frequented the region.
If you’re planning a trip, use the state’s detailed map and guide.
This map suggests an interesting option I am putting on my future “to do” list: A hiking/canoeing loop trail. The Florida Trail Association maintains a 7-mile trail that begins at Hog Island Recreation Area and ends at River Junction Recreation Area. A paddler can drop (and lock) a canoe or kayak at River Junction, drive less than an hour to Hog Island and park. From there the hiker goes back to River Junction and then paddles back to Hog Island.
If you’re considering a weekend, bring your bike and pedal the nearby Withlacoochee bike trail. It’s a gem, and from the Nobleton Canoe Outfitters, just a mile away. Here’s a Florida Rambler report on the Withlacoochee bike trail.
Things to do around the Withlacoochee River:
- Withlacoochee bike trail
- Van Fleet bike trail: 29 miles of solitude
- Dade Battlefield: Lovely spot to reconsider history
- Weeki Wachee springs: Canoe with manatees, see the mermaids.
- Best camping near Tampa: Lithia Springs
- Best camping near Orlando: Kelly Park