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Gum Slough, a challenging adventure on a pristine river in the North Central Florida wilderness

Beginning of Gum Slough at the Withlacoochee
Beginning of Gum Slough at the Withlacoochee

A true wilderness experience that challenges even the most experienced paddlers is Gum Slough, a spring fed river nestled in a semi-tropical wilderness. It flows into the Withlacochee River in Sumter County near Inverness, Florida.  Paddlers have to head upstream for about a quarter of an hour to reach the river's unremarkable entrance. Appearing no larger than a small tributary, Gum Slough's depth's vary from waist deep to sizable pools.

Headed upstream on the Withlacoochee towards Gum Slough
Clif Oliver

It presents a gauntlet of obstacles to conquer. Navigating narrow passageways and ducking low hanging trees test the skills and stamina of adventurers but the pay-off is experiencing a slice of untouched nature.

First-time paddlers should go on a guided trip before venturing on their own. The terrain changes from lush forest to marshland with a maze of streams flowing into the main channel. Crystal clear waters cut through a lush passageway of trees, with Cyprus at the waters edge and a variety of hardwoods and palm trees leading into the forest.

It's always a good idea to be aware of the environment, and although alligators are rarely seen, it's worthwhile to be alert. Certainly there are all kinds creatures crawling through the woods, including spiders and snakes. You just have to be careful where you venture. The banks tend to be marshy or tangled with tree roots, so there's limited access to land.

One feeling that overcomes visitors is the total absence of man-made sounds and the vibrance of nature. Plant lovers and bird watchers are treated to a show in this pristine environment. Once in awhile you might catch a glimpse of an otter or deer scampering through the woods. Or see birds of prey perched on overhanging limbs keeping guard over their nests.

This is a full day excursion, so bring food and water and be ready for plenty of exercise especially during low water. Gum Slough is located next to the Half Moon Wilderness Management Area but the best river access is from the public boat ramp at Turner's Fish Camp on the Withlacoochee off of CR581.

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