February 2022 – Part 2: A General Store, Homosassa, Silver Springs, Manatees, Dolphins, and More Alligators

Continued from part 1, if you missed it click here for that post.

Camping – Part II

Hampton Campground – Green Swamp East Tract

This was my least favorite of the water management district campgrounds, although it grew on me during our week stay. It was smaller with more people camping here. In fact it was almost full and we arrived on a Tuesday. We finally settled on a spot that offered shade to keep us cool and allowed for some solar collection. The panels ended up on a side road, which was only used by one other camper.

Luckily we positioned our rig so our awning faced the forest and away from other campers. This turned out to be a smarter move than we realized at the time.

One particular camper (who really belonged in an RV park, in my opinion) had a giant 5th wheel. When he decided to leave the LED lights on, most of the campground was flooded in his lights. We however were shielded but I felt for those in his light path. He finally turned them off a few hours later. Note to people like him, no one wants to see your fancy LED lights in a quiet, remote, and primitive campground. This same guy was the only one in the campground to run his generator all day and into the night, finally shutting it off at 10:30 pm. When he left two days later, I applauded his departure. Once he was gone the place was actually quite nice. Tucked back away from the main road it offered peace and seclusion.

There were trails near the campground and we spotted our first gopher tortoise while out exploring the trails on foot and by Jeep.

Flying Eagle Preserve

This was my favorite. The campground was only 10 minutes from Inverness, FL yet tucked away and remote. We grabbed the very large and spacious back spot. It offered shade for Ralphie and a large open area nearby for our solar panels. However, this campground had some noise in the form of airboats cruising very nearby. They ran everyday, usually a few of them each afternoon. The noise didn’t bother us but if you are looking for complete peace, this would not fit the bill.

Behind the campground was a bridge and airboat crossing. We caught one coming across one evening during our walk. The video failed to work on our phone so we missed capturing it.

During our stay here we met some wonderful people. Jeff is an ex-Army ranger traveling in his 1987 Dodge van. He also has a boat he lives on part time in Ohio. Very nice and interesting guy. After having it all he prefers to live life simply and not in a house. We spent a few evenings chatting and exchanging stories. He really loved Josie as he recently lost his service dog after only having Banjo for a short 3 years. Josie enjoyed the tour of his van complete with trying out his bed. She made herself right at home.

Photo credit – Shane. Thanks Jeff for permission to use this photo.

Mike and Patty are retired Air Force, both were enlisted and also had plenty of stories. They have a home in Alaska, Oregon, and just purchased a home in Florida to spend the winters. They were parked here for a few days awaiting the closing on their house. Mike was quite a hoot, with his many stories, some more fictional than others. Patty has just the personality to deal with Mike’s antics. We chatted and laughed over wine.

Mike & Patty’s dog, Timmy hanging out at our campsite + their rig parked nearby.

All were great neighbors to have. We exchanged contact information with Jeff, Mike & Patty and hope to see them down the road one day.


Withlacoochee River Round Two

Our second paddle on the Withlacoochee was on another section and involved me having a passenger.  My second mom, Anita, spent the night with us and rode in my kayak.  It was quite humorous as she kept mixing up her rights and lefts.  Needless to say we ended up on top of rocks and large downed limbs more than once.  We all survived and no alligator or turtle sightings on this trip.

During the summer I finally got around to writing all of the dates and places my kayak has been since we bought them in 2020. After this kayaking session it was updated with 2022 paddles thus far.

Richloam General Store

On a tip from a local hunter at the Hampton campground we stopped at the Richloam General Store. It was off the beaten path but well worth the stop. This place was like stepping back in time. What a cool old general store but with modern prices of course. I had to have jam made the right way (without high fructose corn syrup).

Homosassa – Boat Ride

Many thanks to Captain Bill and Anita for taking us out on their boat for an afternoon. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm. We were scouting for manatees and alas did not find any on this particular trip. However, we were treated to a very nice display of dolphins. In fact two of them swam right up and under the boat while we all watched in delight. (See video at the end of this post.)

We capped off the afternoon with some drinks and snacks at the Monkey Bar nearby. Turns out there is a small island with actual wild monkeys living on it. Three in total from what I was told. When we went by on the boat they were all napping so no pictures of them.

Silver Springs State Park

Lastly but certainly not least, Silver Springs State Park. Hands down my favorite paddle to date. This was one of those places you must go if you find yourself in or near the area. We actually visited twice. The first stop was during a travel day out of Ocala National Forest, on our way to visit the Tampa family. The day was beautiful and warm, perfect kayaking weather. However, we did not have the time.

Instead we walked around the grounds and boardwalks admiring the crystal clear water. When I saw the kayakers going out I felt a moment of jealousy. I really wanted to get out on that water. I vowed we would come back and kayak here.

While staying at Flying Eagle Preserve, I looked at the map and calculated we were an hour away from Silver Springs State Park. We picked a beautiful weekday to head over and check it out via kayak.

The Silver River DID NOT disappoint. It was a spectacular day filled with alligators, manatees, wild monkeys, countless turtles and beautiful birds. It was worth the two hour round trip drive. I have never kayaked in such clear water. In some areas it was rather shallow and in others 30 feet deep. Even in those deeper areas, you could see all the way to the bottom. It was incredible. If you love to kayak you must check this place out.

The manatees in the above photos were napping on the bottom. The first two we encountered were very playful and came right up to our kayaks. Josie was very intrigued by them. Sadly, no photos of the wild monkeys having fun on shore.

We opted to kayak 2 miles down the river and return back to our launch point. For a fee you can kayak the entire 5 miles down and take the shuttle back to your car. I’m happy we turned around when we did as the current was picking up. It took some doing to paddle against the current at our turn around spot but further back up it settled down.

The entire day was magical and one I will not forget. In total we spent 7 hours in absolute bliss. Forget places like Orlando, this place had it all, nature’s water park and zoo all without the long lines and high costs.

I will say my cell phone photos do not do this place justice.

Before leaving central Florida and heading to the panhandle we explored one of the backroads at Flying Eagle Preserve and found some beauty along the way.

Up Next: One Year on the Road!

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