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Canoeing & Kayaking

Rainbow River, Dunnellon FL to Lake Rousseau
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Copyright 2001 Alfonso Vazquez-Cuervo - See Terms of Use

Our Route Summary

  • Submitted by: Al Vazquez
  • Date Submitted: 7/2001
  • Location: Dunnellon, Florida
  • Class: Typically flat water, spring fed river with about a 1 or 2 mph current near the put in
  • Distance Paddled: about 3 miles one way
  • Water Level: this spring fed river is typically not affected by low water drought conditions elsewhere
  • Water: fresh
  • Wildlife: bass, ducks, otter, anhinga, gar, alligators, ibis, great blue heron, turtles
  • Special Regulations: To reduce litter, no disposable containers are allowed


  • Directions: Dunellon public boat ramp on the west side of Route 41 about 1/2 mile south of it's intersection with Route 484 (Pennsylvania Avenue) in Dunnellon. On the water, the ramp will be on river right immediately beyond the road bridge over the Rainbow River.
  • GPS: N 29 degrees 02.788' W 82 degrees 27.879'
  • Fee: none
  • Description: cement ramp and adjacent sandy beach
  • Parking: paved parking just up the hill
  • Facilities: picnic area and rest rooms. Restaurants nearby.
  • Handicap Access: ramp


  • Directions: From the water, the takeout is on river left about 2 miles past the Dunnellon boat ramp (see below). The main channel will take a sharp bend to the right around a grassy peninsula and the ramp is just around the other side. By land, take Route 41 south from Route 484. Just after crossing the bridge over the Rainbow River, go right (west) onto Route 488 about 2 miles. Take a right onto GoldenDale Avenue to the boat ramp at the end.
  • GPS: N 29 degrees 02.461' W 82 degrees 30.137'
  • Fee: none
  • Description: cement ramp and adjacent sandy beach
  • Parking: adjacent unpaved
  • Facilities: none at the takeout but plenty nearby in Dunnellon.
  • Handicap Access: ramp

What We Saw

The Rainbow River is fed by Rainbow Springs, a 500 million gallon per day spring that stays in the low 70s year round. It runs into the Withlacoochee River, which then flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The head springs are about 6 miles of the Pennsylvania Avenue put in at the Rainbow River State Park. If you have the time, you may also start your paddle from KP Hole County Park about 4 miles upstream of Pennsylvania Avenue for about a 7 mile paddle one way.

The put in is at the take out for the rafters floating down the clear upper part of the river. For the first mile, you'll paddle through Dunnellon, past it's public beach and riverfront homes.

As you paddle past the Dunnellon public beach on river right, continue bearing right until you pass under the railroad and Route 41 bridges. You may stop briefly at the Dunnellon Beach and restrooms, but there is a fee to stay.

Don't turn left onto the Withlacoochee River that joins the Rainbow River just down river in Dunnellon (though that's also a nice paddle for another day). Once past the bridges, you'll see the alternate entry/exit on river right immediately past the road bridge.

Despite the heavy traffic of rafters upstream of the put in on weekends, once past Dunnellon, we only saw the occasional bass fisherman. We asked a couple for directions around channels and islands in Lake Rousseau. If you have a GPS and head toward the takeout coordinates, you should have little trouble navigating. I always recommend marking GPS coordinates by visiting the takeout by land before starting the trip. Stay generally on the left bank of Lake Rousseau to reach the takeout.

Once past Dunnellon, the character of the river changes dramatically. You'll feel like you're miles from civilization. Both banks will seem primitive as they become lined with cypress trees and grass entering the long and marshy Lake Rousseau. Chances are good you'll see lots of wildlife such as alligators and birds. For you fisherman, the bass fishing in Lake Rousseau is excellent.