Spot exotic Florida wildlife on ‘Wild Bill’s Airboat’
You don’t have to travel very far to see Florida’s exotic wildlife in their natural paradice.
On “Wild Bill’s Airboat Tour” you can cruise down the Withlaccoochee River and venture through the swamps to scope out the Florida aligator.
The tour will take you through the vast unspoiled wilderness of the Withlacoochee River wetlands.
You may even catch a glimpse of the area’s famous 14-foot live gator, Bubba.
The Airboats are powered with a 600 horsepower motor and can seat small or large groups.
Wild Bill’s is the first Airboat tour in Florida approved by the Coast Guard.
Tours run daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It costs $45 for aduts and $35 per kid.
Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours is located at 12430 E Gulf to Lake Hwy in Inverness.
CLICK HERE to learn more about Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours.
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Wild Bill's Airboat Tours
Airboat adventures on the Withlacoochee River.
- 12430 E Gulf to Lake Hwy
- Inverness, Florida 34450
- (352) 726-6060
Ⓒ 2021 Discover Crystal River Florida. All Rights Reserved.
Riding the Withlacoochee with Wild Bill
So this is an "easy adventure."
Climbing high atop the strange-looking boat, I don the pair of earmuffs. In a few minutes, 500 cubic inches of Cadillac power roar to life 4 feet behind my head.
"Hang on," a muffled voice says as our platform starts to move . . . slowly at first. Then, with head-snapping motion, we are launched on another one of Wild Bill MacKay's wilderness airboat explorations of the Withlacoochee River.
The world is a blur of colors as we fly over the middle of the river. We head directly for a solid-looking cluster of brush, go right through _ or over _ it. Banking around a curve in the river, MacKay cuts the engine, and in silence we settle to a stop in the middle of vibrantly green water plants and grasses.
"Look just to the right of the boat," MacKay says as a dozen pair of eager eyes scan the twisted vegetation. "See the alligator there?"
We follow his outstretched arm and, barely 5 feet away, see its black, malevolent-looking head staring at us. Cameras and videos madly whirr and click as it finally flips its scaly tail and with a splash makes a graceful retreat under the dark water.
It is a perfect morning, not too hot, and the river reflects a cloudless sky. We see birds of all descriptions, and the air is fresh-scented, earthy and moist.
What an exquisite river the Withlacoochee is, shallow and (at least where we are) little intruded upon by humans.
Beginning northeast of Tampa, the Withlacoochee flows north for approximately 150 miles, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico near Yankeetown. Known to the early Native Americans as "Little Great Water," it twists and turns through some pristine areas. It even has its own state forest lands.
This trip is about 50 miles from the river's end, just east of Inverness.
MacKay announces, all in one breath and with a huge grin on his face: "There's wild boar, wild turkeys, wildcats, ospreys, eagles, alligators, otters, deer, bears, panthers, wolves, foxes, coyotes, armadillos, raccoons, possums, turtles, exotic birds, snakes and other things" in the woods not far from where we are.
Within the next hour we would travel almost 3 miles upriver, exploring little cypress-lined backwaters filled with gators large and small. Turtles, legs splayed out to the sunshine, topped every exposed log. Cows grazed contentedly in the river.
We would spy osprey nests filled to overflowing with rambunctious youngsters. Bald eagles soared overhead. Great blue herons, egrets and other birds stalked mealtime tidbits in the shallows.
We skimmed atop mere inches of water at a breathtaking clip. Yes, airboats are noisy. MacKay said his boats are fitted with noise-reducing mufflers, special gearing and multibladed propellers to help keep the huge engine's sounds to a minimum.
Having sailed chartered yachts in the Caribbean, MacKay and his wife, Sue, appreciate the merits of comfort and have fitted their boats to provide ease and safety. Our boat was Coast Guard-approved to carry 17 passengers, and the MacKays have two other boats that carry 28 each.
There are also six-passenger boats for customized, longer tours.
Because much of the river is shallow, airboats are the best way to see the Withlacoochee, MacKay says.
"I saw more wildlife from my first airboat ride than I ever saw from my little johnboat. . . . You cover a lot more territory in a shorter time and have a higher platform to sit on."
MacKay said airboats don't hurt the environment to the extent that propeller-driven boats can.
"Outboard motors have a gas-oil mixture which doesn't always burn up in the exhaust and stays in the water, and their props can chew up the weeds, which spawn new weeds and help congest the waterways."
By contrast, airboats have no prop in the water and are moved by air from a giant propeller.
"The bottoms of our boats are flat," MacKay said. "We keep on moving and plane over the grasses and obstacles.
While MacKay tells tales of wildlife spotting, his wife has the oddest story _ about scattering a deceased river lover's ashes on the Withlacoochee: "I always say "hello' to him when I go out there," she says with a smile.
"If I ever forget to do it, for some strange reason we see (fewer) alligators that day."
Pat Canova is a freelance photojournalist who lives in Fort White.
If you go
Wild Bill's Airboat Tours are on the Citrus County side of the Withlacoochee River along State Road 44 about 9 miles west of I-75 (Exit 66) and 6 miles east of Inverness.
One-hour tours include a tram ride through a small animal park, featuring alligators, cougars, deer, wild hogs and other animals, and a 45-minute guided airboat ride on the Withlacoochee. The airboat tours are accessible to the disabled. Prices: $11.95 (plus tax) for adults and $7.95 (plus tax) for children 11 or younger. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Last airboat trips are at 4 p.m.
Customized tours are available with a minimum of two people and a maximum of 15.
For information, call (352) 726-6060.
Come Ride the River!!!
(we are not on a lake)
Serving central Florida for 39 years
WALK-INS will experience a 1 to 2 HOUR WAIT
PLEASE MAKE A RESERVATION
You MUST arrive 30 MINUTESprior to your reservation to check-in.
Customers not arriving 30 minutes prior will lose their reservation, and it will be given to walk-ins.
1 HOUR ADVENTURE
(2 and under free)
*All coupons and discounts have been applied to SUMMER SPECIAL
***** LIMITED TIME OFFER *****
$60.00+tax Per Person
minimum charge $300.00+tax
ASK ABOUT OUR GROUP RATES
(15 OR MORE PEOPLE)
All the COOL people come here!!!
Email Us: [email protected]
Tours wild bills airboats
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Wild Bill's Airboat Tours, Inverness
Excellent! Informative and interesting. Our guide was awesome. Will definitely do this again. One special note : They don't tell you until you're on the boat that the Captain works for tips! So not being a big cash carrier I was unable to tip him properly.more less
Excellent experience! Painless sign up and payment process. Very fairly priced- $35 per adult. Our captain was Doug and he was a wonderful guide and educator. We learned so much and had an unforgettable experience. If you have an hour or two check them out, you will not regret it!more less
Great spot to see the inland of the river. Captain had some good history of the area. The air oats are badass too.more less
Fun ride on a big ol' fan boat. Our guide did a good job spotting interesting wildlife and was very knowledgeable about the area.more less
What an awesome way to spend your morning! Saw alligators, turtles, osprey, egrets and other birds. Riding the Withlacoochy with one of the captains was exciting, fun, and educational. Check out Wild Bill's!more less
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Come on. - Yah. Tanyusha denied. - Well, let him at least just look.