“That sounds like a baby gator. Did you hear it?” We stopped paddling and listened. Leaves rustled, there was the splash of a turtle sliding into water, and then “pew, pew,” the dainty call of a baby alligator sounding like a video game laser. We saw the hatchling’s mother hauled out on muddy ground. She watched us pass. Giving due deference we moved away, quietly thrilled by the encounter.
We were standup paddle boarding on Silver Glen Run, in Central Florida, an hour and 15 minutes’ drive north of Orlando. Here, water from the underlying aquifer, flowing to the surface through caves and rock tunnels, creates “spring runs,” short, clear creeks and rivers that flow into a larger river or lake.
In Florida, navigable waterways are held in public trust, even if the surrounding land is privately owned. Clear water and navigation rights are invitations to explore these riparian pathways, and paddle boards, which combine portability and a quiet approach, are the perfect vessels for slow travel on them, a way to enjoy wildlife — otters, cormorants, garfish and snapping turtles.
While the waterways are public, access to them is via boat launches on private or state-owned land. Some state parks, such as Weeki Wachee Springs, have limited launching slots, in order to control the number of visitors and protect the habitat, that need to be booked in advance online. Others, like Silver Glen Spring, are popular and have limited parking, which should be booked in advance to guarantee entry. Staying in waterfront accommodations is another way to ensure access. Paddling upstream and drifting back to your parking spot removes the need for a shuttle ride back to your vehicle.
Myles, my boyfriend, and I have explored Florida’s springs over many years. This year his 19-year-old daughter, Lili, had free time between studies and internships, so we brought her to our favorites. We had our inflatable boards, which are lightweight, easy to launch and pack down to check-in size for flights. In a circular route, starting and ending at Orlando, over the course of a week we stayed in three places and paddled on six spring runs. Our trip took place in the spring, but peak paddle-boarding season runs through October, though it’s possible to do year-round.
Braving a tunnel
We started our week with two nights in the town of Homosassa, at the Chassahowitzka Hotel, a bed-and-breakfast with shared bathrooms that suits families or friends staying as a group. It provided the…