This Warm Year-Round River Has Crystal Clear Swimming Spots And Underwater Tunnels

Florida is known for a lot of things. From the state's budget-friendly beaches to its underrated nature parks, world-known theme parks, and cities buzzing with culture and nightlife — Florida is all about adventure, relaxation, and entertainment in all the best ways. Whether you prefer chilling with ocean wildlife, screaming your lungs out aboard some of the best roller coasters, or soaking up some sun with a boozy drink in hand, the southern state is more than ready to deliver — no matter the season.

For travelers looking to veer off the beaten path and away from the crowded tourist hotspots, there's a beautiful destination just waiting for you: the Chassahowitzka River. Located an hour north of Tampa and around 1.5 hours west of Orlando, the Chaz — as locals commonly refer to it — is an ideal destination for nature lovers looking to explore the great outdoors.

It can be found within the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, officially established in 1943 to help protect the local fauna; the Chaz offers plenty of activities, including kayaking, swimming, paddleboarding, and even snorkeling.

Enjoying a day on the water

The Chaz is roughly 5.6 miles long and made of about 12 natural springs that continue to feed it. Some of the most popular springs include the Seven Sisters Spring, the Crack, and the Chassahowitzka Main Spring. Famous for its underwater tunnel system, the Seven Sister Springs is typically the busiest and most visited — however, it also tends to be the most dangerous if you're not careful.

While the tunnels are enticing, there have been reports of accidental drownings. If you're planning on exploring the tunnels, stay alert, calm, and observant. The rocks are jagged and sharp, which could cut or injure you. Plus, you also run the risk of hitting your head against some of the lower-hanging sections.

In terms of wildlife spotting, the Chaz's aquatic inhabitants include everything from snakes to alligators, manatees, fish, otters, and other smaller critters. While swimming with manatees is allowed, make sure to follow basic guidelines: this means no chasing, harming, or feeding them. Not only can disturbing manatees make them afraid to return to the river, which they need to survive, but it's also illegal and may result in a hefty fine, according to The Florida Guidebook. Meanwhile, although gator attacks are rare, there have been instances where visitors have come too close for comfort and provoked them. This, ultimately, means one thing: don't disturb the wildlife, and they won't disturb you.

More tips for your visit

If you're hoping to extend your visit, the Chassahowitzka River Campground offers both RV hook-up sites and tent camping grounds for visitors to enjoy, with prices varying depending on the type of accommodation. The campgrounds also include access to picnic tables, fire pits, a dump station for RV travelers, and potable drinking water. Do you want to bring your four-legged friend along for the adventure? The campground is pet-friendly for up to two dogs per site at no additional charge. All you need to do is contact them ahead of time and provide updated medical records.

As for choosing the best time to visit the Chaz, it all depends on what you're after. If you're looking to spot some manatees, you'll want to hit up the springs during the winter, when the river is less crowded and the temperatures have cooled down. Alternatively, summer is your best bet to swim and snorkel without too much of a chill. Be warned, however, that most of the river is uncovered, so make sure to pack enough sunscreen and protective clothing.