The spring fed Chassahowitzka River is located on the west coast of Florida about an hour or so north of Tampa Bay. The Seminole Indian name pronounced cha-suh-hoh-wit-skuh means hanging pumpkin place. The pumpkin variety, once a staple food for early native Indian tribes, is now believed to be extinct.
Locals call the river Chazawhiskey or simply the Chaz. The five-mile long river with its tributary creeks is an epic paddling destination. The natural, undeveloped waters attract paddling enthusiast from far and wide. Skirting over the surface as bald eagles and ospreys soar overhead and alligators and bull sharks lurk beneath the surface makes for an exciting adventure. Manatees, otters, turtles, and an abundant array of waterfowl are often seen along the way. The springs that feed the river are intriguing places to explore and many of them can only be accessed by boat. The Chaz’s popularity with paddlers makes it a very busy destination — especially on weekends.
Grammi and I have been here before with our kids. It’s been a few years ago, the kids were teenagers then. We rented a couple of canoes from a local outpost and paddled to Seven Sisters Springs where the crystal clear water revealed an underwater labyrinth of passages and chambers in the limestone rock. As with most, we were drawn to the thrill of swimming through the tunnels. It was a playful and fun-filled day that we are eager to recreate.
We made our reservations at Chassahowitzka River Campground months ago and planned three days with our now adult children. As the day to depart neared, we kept an eye toward the weather. April in Florida is a time of year when you can’t be sure of the weather. It might be hot and summer-like or it might be cold and blustery. The days leading up to our departure were beautiful and warm with temperatures nearing ninety degrees. However, when the time came to head to the campground, a cold front was pushing south. We drove away from home in a steady downpour. It was going to be one of those cold and blustery weekends.
When we arrived, the rain stopped long enough for us to get the camper set up and plugged in. Others were not so lucky. The downpour started up once again and we empathetically watched from under our awning as new arrivals got soaked setting up. By evening, the rain subsided only to be replaced with gusty winds that rattled the trees. The overnight temperature was forecast to be in the forties.
The campground has plenty of trees providing ample shade. The sites are level and come with full hook-ups providing water, sewer, and 30 amp electric. A fire ring and picnic table are also at each site. There is a bathhouse and laundry room that required a door access code that is given only to registered campers. I did not go inside the bathhouse, but I was told by others it was very clean.
There are no hiking or bike trails nearby as the main source of activity comes from being on the Chaz. The office and camp store is on the river located about an eighth-mile further down the road. Firewood, ice, snacks, cold drinks, and some camping essentials can be purchased there. Kayak and canoe rental is also available there, but there is no special accommodations or discounts for campground guest. My only complaints are the campsites are too close together and the weekend crowd noise kept going a little pass quiet time. Not too bad though. We have experienced worse.
Our daughters’ campsites were next to ours so we had a family compound with three sites. The arrangement worked out nicely. We cooked our meals together and ate outside at the picnic table, even though it was cool and we had to hold our plates so they didn’t blow away. We brought plenty of firewood and kept a fire burning every night. We cozied around it to stay warm and even roasted a few marshmallows.
With the weather being as it was, regrettably, our plans changed. It was too chilly and windy to be on the water. We looked on the interwebs for other things to do and, of course, we found plenty to keep us busy and entertained. On Friday, after a big breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, we drove 12-miles to Cavallo Estate Winery. When we arrived, we were told there was a glitch with their license. They said they could not serve a wine tasting or sell bottles of wine. They hoped to have the problem resolved soon.
Even without the wine tasting, this was a great find. There was a gift shop boutique, produce market, bakery, a cafe that served breakfast and lunch, and 35 acres of blueberries. We were not too disappointed that we couldn’t taste their wine because we really came for the u-pick blueberries. We spent over an hour roaming the fields filling our buckets. We picked about 15 pounds of berries in all.
The bakery was gourmet all the way. The cookies were to die for. This was a fun experience and we certainly want to return one day soon. I would love to try their wine and dine at the outdoor cafe with its view of the farm. As we walked to the parking lot, Grammi declared she was going to make a blueberry cobbler when we got back to camp.
We didn’t go directly back to camp though. Instead, we went to the Freezer for lunch. This out-of-the-way tiki bar is a hidden gem. Located quite literally in an old bait house freezer that is accessible either by water from the Homosassa River or by land driving west from U.S.19 to South Boulevard Drive. Specializing in steamed shrimp and clam chowder, it is the quintessential dive bar with an eclectic decor where you order your steamed shrimp by the pound. It was fun to watch peoples reaction when they brought out an eye-popping plate piled high with beautiful, deliciously shrimp. The place is always busy and tables are hard to get. Many people just belly up to the bar or bring their own chairs to sit outside. I would say, “don’t miss this place if you are ever in the area”.
After overstuffing ourselves, dinner wasn’t until well after dark. We sat around the fire with our plates in our laps and enjoyed the warmth from the fire as we ate. It was a long but happy day that continued late into the night. Oh yeah…the blueberry cobbler was delicious.
On Saturday morning, can you guess what we had for breakfast? If you said fresh blueberry pancakes hot off the Blackstone griddle with melted butter and real maple syrup, then you would be right. Another one of our daughters joined us and arrived just in time to eat some pancakes. Afterward we went to explore a cave.
Located 11-miles from our campground in the Withlacoochee State Forest on South Lecanto Highway is a 1.2-mile round trip hike to Dames Cave. There is no official parking area — just roadside parking. When we arrived late morning, cars were lined along the road for half a mile. The trail was well worn and easy to follow. When we got to the cave, there was a crowd of people looking into a hole. The cave’s roof collapsed years ago creating the giant hole. Off to the side is a place where you can climb down to explore the cave. It is a small cave with ugly graffiti painted on the walls. It’s unfortunate, but it was still an interesting site to explore. Further down the trail is another cave, but we did not go on. We turned around and hiked back to our vehicles.
Next we met our granddaughter and her husband at Sparacia Witherell Family Winery and Vineyards near Brooksville, Florida. My girls definitely enjoy wineries. There is something special about sitting under a shaded cabana overlooking beautiful landscape while sharing a bottle of wine with family and friends. We did a wine tasting. To Grammi’s delight, most of the wines were on the sweet side. I prefer my wine more dry, but we did agree on a couple of bottles to buy.
Sparacia Witherell Family Winery and Vineyards was recently featured on a local morning news show promoting its venue. As we sat and enjoyed the afternoon with a glass of wine and a picnic lunch, more and more people showed up. A tour bus actually drove in and a group of about thirty seniors got out for a wine tasting. We saw three campers back into spots and set up for a nights stay. We learned this winery is a Harvest Host. We absolutely loved this place. It ￼had a great vibe.
Back at the campground we all went for a walk to the camp store and boat launch.The stiff wind was cold coming off the water, but that did not deter some people from getting out. We sat on a bench looking across the water. We could see it boiling up from the spring located out from the deck. Then across the way, a manatee raised it’s snout to take a breath before disappearing once again.
Although we did not go on a kayak trip, we had loads of fun. The campground was nice enough. Sometime soon, we will make plans to come back again with the hope of better kayaking weather. But regardless of the weather, we still know how to have fun.
Until next time — Happy days and save travels.