An Insider’s Guide to Paddling the Econlockhatchee River

Kayaking down the Econlockhatchee River in Central Florida.
Kayaking down the Econlockhatchee River in Central Florida. Waterplay USA
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It’s Saturday morning and your alarm is blaring, waking you up too early for a weekend. You know you have to get up to beat the crowds to the river. It seems like everyone has had the same idea as you to beat the heat—find a cool body of water and spend the day there.

Nonetheless you drag yourself out of your cozy bed because you know the weekend’s better spent outside than inside and you’ve got to get to where you’re going so you can grab a coveted spot in the parking lot.

That scenario’s all too familiar for a lot of people when they want to paddle at a state park. Florida has some phenomenal state parks, but everybody knows about them and they end up being the go-to place for most because of their amenities and access. One of your best chances to spend a day on the water alone, or with some friends is on the Econlockhatchee River, otherwise known as the Econ River.

Enjoying sunset on the Econ River.
Enjoying sunset on the Econ River. ATrumbly

The Econ River snakes almost 55 miles throughout Central Florida. Paddlers of all skill levels and disciplines (canoe, kayak, and SUP) love the Econ River for its ease of access, amount of people (or lack thereof), tranquility, and its views.

Obstacles in the water are going to give you the most trouble. Downed trees are sporadic along the river and depending on the water level; you might have to get your feet, or whole body, wet to navigate around them. After lots of rain, the water levels should remain fairly high for a while and any obstacles should be covered up, making it easy to float on down the river. Rapids and rough waters are nonexistent—it is Florida after all.

When it does rain, however, the current is going to be moving fast. If you go then, you’re going to end up cursing yourself if you decide to float down the river and paddle back upstream against the current to your car. Going with a friend (or a few) in this scenario would be a great idea so you can leave a car at one of the take out areas.

Take your time floating down the river. Observe the various trees and Indian mounds you’re passing, and keep your eye out for rope swings on the riverbank. People are putting up new ones and taking down old ones fairly regularly. On a hot day it’s a ton of fun to pull over, tie off, and swing into the river to cool off.

Swinging on a rope swing along the Econlockhatchee River
Swinging on a rope swing along the Econlockhatchee River Justin Fricke

Always keep an eye out for wildlife. Not only is the wildlife in this area very photogenic, just want to steer clear of some, like gators and snakes. The gators can get big in this area, real big. Despite their size, they’re most likely going to be more afraid of you, which is more of a reason to steer clear of them. They’re not afraid to defend themselves. Need I say more? Before you decide to leave the safety of whatever you’re floating on, just make sure to do a quick surrounding check.

Paddling in Florida is a year-round activity. When it’s warm it’s awesome to take a dip in the water to cool off. When it’s cooler out an overnight paddle trip is always fun. Paddle the entire 55 miles over the course of a weekend. Camping is allowed in some part of the Little/Big Econ Forest. You’ll just have to make sure you call ahead and buy a permit. Permits are priced very reasonably.

With a river that flows all throughout Central Florida with so much to offer, it’s a wonder the Econ River’s not more crowded. Take advantage while you can—that condition might not last forever.

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