The dark waters of the Econlockhatchee River originate in swamps east of St. Cloud, flowing northward for more than fifty miles.
Known to locals as “The Econ,” the river is a popular destination for paddling, fishing, and hiking the trails along its bluffs.
The portion designated as a state paddling trail runs from SR 419 to SR 46, where the river empties into the St. Johns.
The lower Econ is mazy and wild, so this run from the launch in Oviedo to Snowhill Rd is the most common stretch that paddlers tackle.
Heading downstream is strongly recommended. The river fluctuates with recent rainfall. It has variable currents and obstructions ranging from sandbars to large snags.
Vehicles can be staged at each end, making this run a great group paddle.
Resources for exploring the area
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Length: 8.1 mile linear
Trailhead: 28.655233, -81.168373
Address: 3799 Willingham Rd, Oviedo, FL 32766
Land manager: Seminole County
Open sunrise to sunset. Leashed dogs are permitted. However, this river is home to enormous alligators. Swimming isn’t recommended.
Water levels fluctuate with rainfall. If the flow looks above your skill level, don’t attempt it.
From the intersection of SR 50 and N Alafaya Trail, head north for 7.2 miles before turning right onto CR 419 into Oviedo. Immediately after crossing the river in 2.8 miles, turn left onto Willingham Rd. A small parking area is to the left for the launch point.
For the landing, pass Willingham Rd and continue along CR 419 two miles to the traffic lights at Snow Hill Rd. Turn left. Follow this road 3.4 miles through Chuluota into Little-Big Econ State Forest. The road to the landing is just before the river bridge on the right, just past Bob White Trail.
At the launch, paddle craft must be brought down a hill approximately 300 feet between the parking area and the riverbank.
Water levels fluctuate greatly throughout the year, hence the height and span of the nearby highway bridge.
Once you push off into the water, the winding nature of this river is immediately revealed with a sharp turn to the left before curving to the right.
Clusters of cabbage palms extend from steep banks, standing alongside live oaks and majestic bald cypress trees.
Carolina willows spread out in large leafy plumes next to beaches bordered with tall green grasses.
Depending on the amount of sun and time of year, alligators warm themselves on the sandy banks, cautiously watching passerby.
Riverside moonflower vines bloom at night during the warmer months, sporting large white blossoms that remain open until touched by the morning sunlight.
Shade is typically limited to the water’s edge, where thick canopies offer short breaks from the sun on a hot day.
As the dark tannic river waters meander northward, the calls of pileated woodpeckers and belted kingfishers can be heard echoing through the treetops.
Brightly colored wood ducks hide in the thick aquatic vegetation, building nests in nearby trees.
Turtles gather and bask together on half-submerged tree trunks, dispersing quickly from their clusters when frightened.
Large oak trees stretch precariously from eroded shorelines, covered in an array of epiphytes including airplants, resurrection ferns, Spanish moss, and orchids.
At 3.5 miles, the river turns eastward near a grassy clearing. It is common to see people at this scenic spot, as the Barr Street trailhead is a popular access point for hikers and campers.
The banks quickly become steeper where the Florida Trail weaves alongside the river atop tall bluffs.
A quarter mile later, a recently breached river bend directs water on a new path, leaving the former channel to eventually form an oxbow pond.
At 6 miles, the Flagler Trail crosses the Econlockhatchee on an impressive wooden bridge. A small beach on the right beyond the bridge provides a scenic picnic spot.
Continuing eastward, the river snakes through a forested floodplain forest for the final 2.1 miles. Side channels sluice into the river at showy junctions.
When the Snowhill Road bridge looms ahead, turning right immediately before the bridge reveals a launch.
From here, boats can be carried up a small hill to the parking area at the landing.
Learn more about Little Big Econ State Forest
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
One of the most beautiful hikes near Orlando is rugged, too: the Florida Trail atop bluffs above the Econlockhatchee River through Little-Big Econ State Forest.
Tieing together the Florida Trail, the Kolokee Trail, and the Flagler Trail, the 5.6-mile Kolokee Loop in Little Big Econ State Forest shows off the best facets of the its humid subtropical forest.
Following a historic railroad route, the southern portion of the Flagler Trail provides a sometimes rugged, sometimes gentle offroad ride between Chuluota and Geneva.