By Lauren Tjaden

The brochure describes it as a tour into pristine areas to see and experience the wildlife and history of the St. Johns River in one of the amazing scenic boat tours through the river.

True enough, but to us it was a two-hour, 20-mile round trip escape into beauty and serenity on St. Johns River, one of the longest rivers in the world that flows north. Our boat was the Osprey, a 21-foot skiff, hosted by affable, knowledgeable Captain Ernie. We headed downriver toward Jacksonville where St. Johns empties into the Atlantic.

One of the prettiest and most tranquil stretches came when we swung off the main river into the several-mile-long waterway of Blue Creek, with the Ocala National Forest on one side and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge on the other.

No development marked the land, which gave us nostalgic insights as how it looked 100 years ago. It was overflowing with birds, wild life and tropical flowers. We even tracked a manatee.

While in the boat tour in St. Johns River, we cruised just into the edge of Lake George -- Florida's second largest lake, at 14 miles across -- before turning for home into St. Johns' main channel.

The channel swirled with boats, including a have-to-see-it-to-believe-it pontoon rig. Someone had mounted a bright red MG automobile on it, with all the controls transferred into the car's cockpit. 

When we arrived back at the docks, we were smiling and relaxed. And we’re already planning our next trip. Next time we'll go the other way, upriver to Lake Dexter and Hontoon Island.

Boats depart from the Blackwater Inn (55716 Front Street) in Astor. Other tours are available. For more information call 866-349-0674 or visit St. John’s River Tours.

For this and other tips on Florida tours, go to VISIT FLORIDA's official tours and attractions guide.


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