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The river is fed by a series of springs. We paddled as far as we were allowed up to the head spring in the river, the place made famous by the mermaid shows. The river is narrow and winds along some residential areas and then into purely natural surroundings. On most days the water is crystal clear.
We were greeted by a mama and baby manatee, lots of turtles, and herons. It takes about three hours of steady paddling against the current to reach the head spring. But when you turn around, the fun begins! The current lets you basically just steer as you wind your way back downstream to the launch site and this segment only takes an hour of fast and fun paddling. There are many places to stop along the way to swim and relax in the cool waters.
Word of caution:
The river can get crowded with weekend revelers who have a hard time steering the rental canoes or kayaks they have... lots of dodging and maneuvering required on your part. Most people rent at the main spring and just float downriver. Go early and preferably on a week day when kids are back in school. But it is definitely worth it to experience the clarity of the water and the swift current to hone those paddling skills.