The NWFLOA team attended the 2017 Florida Paddler’s Rendezvous in Ocala, FL this past weekend, and one of our trip destinations was Rainbow River in Dunnellon, FL, about 45 minutes away via Hwy 40 and Hwy 41. Our trip started at the KP Hole County Park at where we waved goodbye to the majority of our paddling friends as they headed downstream on a leisurely 4 ½ mile float while we paddled upstream a mile and a half to see the headsprings, figuring we wanted to have the full experience after driving down from the panhandle.
We shoved off from KP Hole with our new friends, Gus and Susan, who were doing a shuttle with us and we hadn’t paddled any distance at all when a stunning Bald eagle flew across the river and landed in the front yard of one of the many waterfront homes lining the river. I allowed my kayak to drift quietly closer to shore while I took several photographs of this seemingly unperturbed eagle before he finally took flight up into the trees. Next we saw Ibis, Anhinga and Cormorants. Talk about a welcoming committee!
We continued up toward the headsprings, passing several smaller springs and delighting in the clarity of the water. Vibrant green grasses swayed beneath the gentle current and scores of fish and turtles swam by oblivious to our presence. The water was deceptively deeper than it appeared; where it looked like one could reach down and touch the bottom, a depth test from the paddle proved that it was over a paddle length deep. We passed a couple of groups of scuba divers who were also enjoying the clear waters.
We made it to the headsprings and one member of our group dove in to have a look around while I paddled up to a trio of turtles basking on a log. We could hear nearby Juliette Falls but weren’t able to see it. A handful of swimmers were enjoying the roped off swim area above the headspring. It’s easy to understand why this location is so popular during the hot summer months.
After a few minutes of exploring and drifting, we headed back downstream to check out the rest of the river. A short distance past where we put in at KP Hole park, we were treated to the sight of a river otter catching and eating a fish. He also ignored us and I was able to get a few photographs of him before he headed back beneath the surface to find more to eat. Almost everywhere we looked there was wildlife. We saw two more otters slip from the bank into the water, but I wasn’t able to get a pic of them.
Turtles, turtles everywhere. No alligators this trip, but I’m sure there must’ve been one tucked away on the riverbank somewhere. We took our time heading downstream and roughly 4 ½ hours after we started the confluence of Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers came into view. From there it was a short paddle to the takeout at the public boat launch on Hwy 41 where I declined to announce the presence of a Northern Water snake next to the kayaks until after our party exited for fear that one of them might paddle out to the Gulf rather than share space with a scaly friend.
This river was the highlight of the ones we paddled over the weekend and I highly recommend it. If you’re not able to run your own shuttle like we were, there are several nearby outfitters that will handle the shuttling for you.
KP Hole County Park is located at 9435 SW 190th Ave, Dunnelon, FL.