Hidden Creeks, Secret Springs: A Baird’s Adventure on the Chassahowitzka River
Years ago, our family ventured to the hidden spring on the Chassahowitzka River. My husband and I had paddled an oversized bright-red canoe with three young children. The kids were sweltering in their little life-jackets on a hot Florida day on the Nature Coast. I fed them Cheerios to keep them occupied on the paddle.
I was so concerned about keeping an eye on the kids that I confess, I missed the journey. I felt relieved when we could paddle no more and had to get out and walk. We waded up a narrow sandy-bottomed water-trail to reach the spring. I had one hand firmly clutching our littlest, who insisted she would “walk”.
I remember scooping her up to safety as a dead snake floated past us. Red, yellow and black- coral or king, I wasn’t sure. I wondered what killed it because we were the only souls around.
The channel opened up to a deep spring pool surrounded by a thicket of brush and overgrowth. My husband told us he camped here with his friends when he was young – and how they all were eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Seven Sister’s Springs
Years later we returned the Chassahowitzka, our kids now teens. No longer satisfied with watching the view, we all piloted our own crafts. We launched our kayaks from the Chassahowitzka River Campground and took the waterway to the right to reach the nearby Seven Sister’s Spring system. The Seven Sister’s Springs are serious spring vents that eroded through the limestone.
On a weekend day, the springs had already drawn a crowd of families and teens hanging out. The daring attempted dives through the tunnels. The water was a cool 72°F, but the springs were crowded. We decided to leave.
Back in our kayaks, we headed up the Chassahowitzka River in search of the little hidden treasure we visited all those years past.
Chazzahowitzka River Paddle: Hidden Adventure up Bairds Creek
“Chassahowitzka” is a Seminole word for “place of hanging pumpkins,” but the pumpkins are long gone. Locals simply call it the “Chaz”. The 5.6-mile spring-fed river runs from the main springs and meanders to the Gulf of Mexico. Little side creeks stretch out through the tidal salt marshes and brackish swamps, like long curly talons on a dragon.
For the most part, the river is shallow. In some places, the tall grasses on the banks provide shelter for gators and birds. In others, turtles sun themselves on twisted logs. Herons wade through the shallows, hoping to catch a fresh lunch.
A manatee and her calf tag along with us for a distance up the river. This is the first time we’ve seen a manatee up-close. Thought to be mermaids by drunken sailors, these torpedo-shaped mammals are gentle giants. Visitors spot manatees year-round on the Chaz. In the winter, manatees seek refuge in the warm springs on colder days.
Return to the Crack: A Baird’s Tale
We left the wide river and our manatee companions behind for our trip up Baird’s Creek. We paddle hard against a challenging current on the narrow and twisting brackish water channel. This creek is an intermediate paddle and almost an initiation to “the Crack”.
The current conquered, we were rewarded with an open pool of misty blue, known to some as Blue Spring. It is actually one of the four freshwater Baird springs along our paddle trail.
There are side pools to paddle around the blue spring hole. A couple in a canoe arrives into the blue spring behind us and turn back, unimpressed. I confess that we waited for them to leave, not wanting to lead anyone to the little hidden spring beyond.
With a little hunt, we find the way, paddling up a small side waterway. The trees grow dense around us. Eventually, we can paddle no more. The water is shallow and pilings in the channel bar the way. We disembark and secure our kayaks, continuing the journey on foot.
Not all trails are seen, but the path to the “Crack”, or final Baird is sandy and clear. I can see my nail polish in the water. There are no dead snakes this time, nor young children’s hands to hold. The kids have already dashed ahead, splashing through the water.
We duck under a tree and there it is – a dark slash in the earth beneath a pool of inviting sapphire blue. The last Baird. It looks different now than from years before – friendlier. Sunlight filters through the trees. Birds chatter around us. The banks are sandy, not overgrown.
We jump into the icy 72°F water to cool off from our paddle. Unlike the Seven Sisters, here it’s us and nature, a sacred spot hidden in the Florida wilderness.
Before the sun dips in the sky and the mosquitoes appear, we wade back up the channel to our waiting kayaks. We paddle back to Baird’s Creek. This time the current from the springs pushes us through the channel like a log flume ride.
We find ourselves back on the Chassahowitzka River all too soon. There are other creeks and freshwater spring-fed lagoons to explore, but the kids are tired – and maybe some of the adults too 😉, so for us, it was only a Baird’s tale today.
Things to Know Before You Go:
The Chassahowitzka River Campground (& launch) is located at 8600 W. Miss Maggie Dr. in Homosassa, FL 34448. They do charge for parking. Extra for trailers. Contact number: (352) 382-2200
If you plan on exploring the river, bring bug spray or dress appropriately. The mosquitoes can get bad in the shady areas and late afternoon.
If you encounter a manatee on your adventure- let it be. It is illegal to touch and feed a manatee. It’s also illegal to separate a cow (female) from her calf (baby).
When paddling on the river, stay to the side. Boats can come pretty fast down the channel.