In the language of the Seminole Indians, Chassahowitzka means "Hanging Pumpkin," although no one seems to remember just how this region earned that moniker. Regardless, Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge encompasses mangrove islands, saltwater bays, estuaries, and brackish marshes, fringed with an oak-cypress-cedar hardwood swamp on the eastern side. Except for a northeastern portion, the entire refuge is designated Wilderness. The Homosassa River runs through the northern Wilderness, while the Chassahowitzka River marks the uppermost boundary of the southern Wilderness.
Originally established for the benefit of waterfowl, the area now provides critical habitat to a diversity of wildlife, including endangered species such as the West Indian manatee and whooping crane. The tidal bays, rivers, and creeks of Chassahowitzka NWR provide summer habitat for the West Indian manatee. These gentle aquatic mammals consume 10 to 15 percent of their body weight each day. With some animals exceeding 1,000 pounds, the abundance growth of musk grass in Chassahowitzka's shallow bays provides an important food source for manatees. While manatees frequent the refuge most often during the summer months, whooping cranes can only be seen on the refuge during the winter months. An experimental migratory population of whooping cranes has been migrating to the refuge to winter in the saltmarsh since 2001.
Other resident wildlife species include some 250 birds, more than 40 reptiles and amphibians, and 25 mammals. To see these critters (and to get into the Wilderness at all, for that matter), you will need a boat. All watercraft must abide by slow speed restrictions put in place to protect the manatees. The Homosassa and Chassahowitzka Rivers are ideal for canoeing and kayaking and a canoe trail borders the wilderness area along the eastern boundary for about 5 miles. Fishing lures anglers year-round. Camping is prohibited.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Chassahowitzka Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
(No official title, designates Fish and Wildlife Service wildernesses) - Public law 94-557 (10/19/1976) To designate certain lands as components of the National Wilderness Preservation System and to provide designation for certain lands as Wilderness Study Areas
When planning a trip to the Chassahowitzka Wilderness, please be aware that the area is accessible by boat only.
Recreational opportunities within the Wilderness include kayaking, canoeing, boating,wildlife observation and photography, and recreational fishing. Some areas are open to waterfowl hunting. Contact Chassahowitzka NWR for a copy of the hunting and fishing regulations.
Safety and Current Conditions
When visiting the Chassahowitzka Wilderness, you will be paddling or boating in remote areas. It is important to always have a float plan which includes letting someone know where you will be and when you expect to return. You should always pack bug spray, sunscreen, food, and water along with your other emergency items.
The salt marsh is highly influenced by the tides, with very low tides occurring throughout the winter months. Visitors should always check the weather and tides before visiting. Low tides expose hazards like mud flats and oyster bars, limiting access throughout most of the Wilderness.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.