Naturally Delightful Wekiwa Springs State Park
The Sunshine State that is Florida has so much more to offer than just the giant Mouse. The wonderful temperatures mean that it is possible to swim outside year around and I don’t just mean in a heated pool. Florida has many natural springs with pure, clear water gushing up from the Florida Aquifer which runs underneath much of the state. This spring water is a steady 72 degrees Fahrenheit year around making it deliciously cool on a hot humid day, or relatively warm on a cooler one! The manatees that swim up river to enjoy the springs during the winter months certainly know that. You shouldn’t have to share your swimming hole with too many natural inhabitants though – not the large ones anyway. Safe swimming areas are normally provided around the actual spring point in Florida State Parks, and the fellow swimmers are usually restricted to fish, a few turtles and the odd heron. You may see the occasional alligator, but they are not particularly keen on human company and tend to steer well clear of the splashing and shrieking that accompanies swimming areas.
Within in just half an hour’s drive of the tourist capital that is Orlando/Kissimmee, the Wekiwa Springs gush from caves at the rate of over 40 million gallons of water a day, through the swimming area and down into the Wekiva River. We first visited in 2010, and we make sure that we return each holiday as it is the most beautiful place for a relaxing day with a picnic or barbecue at the grills provided.
This year, we took a detour to Sand Lake, which is a small lake to the side of Wekiwa, definitely not for swimming, a popular fishing hole. We noticed many animal tracks on the sandy approaches to the lake, along with a rather large alligator swimming in the middle of the lake. There were lots of tiny minnows in the shallows, and larger fish out in the depths, but they were not throwing themselves on to the rod that was dangled for them. If fishing is your thing, then this would be a lovely place while away a day, with picnic benches and grills provided. But for us, it was just a detour before heading to the springs for a swim.
A really fun activity at Wekiwa is hiring a canoe or kayak and paddling down river for an hour or two. This gets you really close to Florida nature, and close enough to bigger alligators without needing to be too close! The river meets up with near by Rock Spring Run so a fit and dedicated person could easily explore a lot more than we did. If you can find a snorkel to take with you then more fun can be had by snorkelling around near the bridge at the end of the swimming area. Quite a few varieties of fish bask in the shallows here, you may even see a catfish if you are lucky. Goggles or snorkels also help you peer down into the depths of the cavern where the springs erupt whilst you swim over – how brave are you?
On busy days, and in the height of the season, the park can be full by 10.30 am, so it is worth heading off early, or arriving later for an evening picnic and swim. We have tended to favour Monday’s over the weekend, as this is a quieter day with most local people at work for the day. Take a large blanket or towel to rest on the grass – no sun-beds here!
Wekiwa Springs is easily reached from the Kissimmee area by using toll road US 429 and 451 towards Apopka, and then turn right towards Apopka. When the road starts to split, keep left onto US 436, then turn left onto US 434 – Wekiwa Springs Road. If you are staying in Orlando as opposed to Kissimmee, then head up Interstate 4 to Junction 94, where you come off and take a left onto US434 (Wekiwa Springs Road). Wekiwa Springs is about 4 miles up Wekiwa Springs Road.
If you are staying in one of the area hotels and need a hire car for a few days to allow you to visit natural Florida, then we have lots of ‘downtown’ car hire locations listed at TripWheels, many located directly in hotels, where you can collect a car for one day or one month – your choice!