Photo by Jake Stachovak

Photo by Jake Stachovak

By Jake Stachovak

I paddled upstream off the Gulf on the Chassahowitzka River looking for shelter from big winds, and encountered manatees closer than I'd ever seen before. It was an experience I'll never forget. The "Chaz" is less commercialized than the more popular Crystal River a bit farther north, but with the same gin-clear water and amazing, up-close wildlife experience. Enjoy a taste of "Old Florida" at the county campground and keep a keen eye for airboats coming and going on the narrow river.

Beta: Visit in winter, when the manatees head upstream looking for warm spring water. They'll let you get very close, but remember that manatees are a threatened species and it's best to observe them from a respectful distance. Camp and launch at the Chasshowitzka River Campground: (352) 382-2200. Rent canoes or kayaks from Nature Coast Outpost: (352) 382-0800.

Don't forget: To secure your food from raccoons in the campground; they are many and bold.

Afterward: Enjoy a burger and a drink at Jake's Bar just outside the campground.

Web: Aardvark's Florida Kayak Company.

Ed Note: In 2009 and 2010, Jake Stachovak paddled around the eastern half of the United States. These are some of his favorite stops along the way.

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