Exploring Our Backyard Waterways – Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to River Ranch on Kissimmee River
A trip that’s been on the list for the last few years, a journey through the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes to River Ranch on the Kissimmee River. We’ve talked about this many times but finally we took the trip.
Leaving Mount Dora around 8:30 in the morning we trailered down to Kissimmee. Our destination was Lake Tohopekaliaga, more commonly called Lake Toho or West Lake by the locals. Lake Toho is world renowned for its largemouth bass fishery with some monster fish. We didn’t come to fish, so we didn’t bring any rods.
We arrived at Big Toho Marina on the northwestern edge of the lake and had the boat in the water by 10 AM. The marina has a nice multi-vehicle ramp, ample parking, and a friendly staff. Our destination, River Ranch, was approx. 40 miles south but first we had to navigate the first 4 miles on Lake Toho to the South Port Lock on S-61. Lake Toho isn’t very deep and has a lot of vegetation. The channel is well marked up to a mile or so north of the lock where we found ourselves mixed up with some hydrilla for a short while.
South Port S-61 Lock was recently reopened in January 2022 for the first time since 2017. Pulling the rope got us into the lock in short order. The water level drop to the C-35 canal is not more than a few feet. Unlike the locks here on the Harris chain, once the doors on the Lake Toho behind us closed, the front gates were cracked about a foot to allow water to run out creating a current which we didn’t expect. Once thru the lock we were on our way heading for Cypress Lake.
The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is managed by the South Water Management District. C-35 Canal from Toho to Cypress is 4 miles long according to the American Canal Society Canal index. It’s a straight shot with a little bootleg left as you approach Cypress. Not much to see on either bank but very well maintained and deep. We were marking 15’ to 19’ in most of the canal till we research Cypress Lake.
It was a short distance across Cypress to the Hatchineha Canal, again in a well-marked channel, but man there isn’t much water in that lake. Running along we were marking 2’ in some spots wondering if we were going to make it.
In the canal we found deeper water. With Rough Island to the west and Ike Hammock to the east we continued south. Rough Island doesn’t look like an island but given Dead River and Reedy Creek are to the west and north, it technically is. There’s a nice tree line on the Ike Hammock side and we spotted a camp site or two where people beached their boats and pitched tents. On trips like this you get a real sense how much of Florida is still natural and largely undeveloped.
Entering Lake Hatchineha on its southeastern corner meant we didn’t ever get into the main body of the lake. Here again the water was getting a little low with some lily pads growing into the channel. Regardless, we didn’t see a depth reading below 4’. Our heading was southwestern for about 5 miles before entered the Kissimmee river for the first time and continuing south.
Lake Kissimmee came into view once we were south of Camp Mock Road having passed Camp Mack, a Guy Harvey lodge, marina and R.V. resort. Kissimmee was by far the largest lake. With the wind blowing out of the northeast at a pretty good clip, it was good we brought a bigger boat. The lake encompasses 34,948 acres, averages 5 to 6 feet deep with our next waypoint 15 miles on the south end at the S-65A Lock.
Heading south around Brahma Island the lake started to narrow. Soon State Road 65 and the loch came into view. Following the channel to the entrance it looked as though we may have just taken a 2-and-a-half-hour boat ride to nowhere. It looked like there was no way to reach the entrance because of weeds growing out 100 yards or so. Slowly making our way in we were glad to find it was all surface debris blown in by the wind. Another quick drop, maybe three feet this time, had us back on the river and the final leg of our trip.
River Ranch was just a few miles down on the right with a big sign right on the river. Once we turned into the canal it took less than 10 minutes to reach the marina.
So, was it worth the three-hour boat ride???? Absolutely! River Ranch is a West Gate Resort with, as its name implies, a western theme.
There are tons of things to see and do. Here’s a short list of activities to enjoy:
- Horseback Riding
- Petting Farm
- Saturday Night Rodeo
- River Ranch Saloon
- Zip Line
- Rock Climbing
- Swap Buggy & Airboat Rides
- Mini Golf
- Adventure Park
- Overnight accommodation in the lodge, Luxe Conestoga Wagons, Luxe Teepees or Glamping (luxury camping)