Some of Florida’s most beautiful places are hidden and unheralded.
The area where Blackwater Creek flows out of Lake Norris, 40 miles north of Orlando, is like that. It’s the sort of place I am tempted to keep to myself so it will always be as quiet and pristine as I found it.
But for places like this to survive in Florida, people have to know them and love them.
So here’s what I say: Take your kayak or canoe to Blackwater Creek and Norris Lake and spread the word: This is a Disneyland for nature lovers.
Blackwater Creek is a tributary of the Wekiva River, traveling 20 miles before it joins it. Many people know about the Wekiva and kayak it; Blackwater Creek is less well-known.
There are several places where you can kayak scenic Blackwater Creek. We tried two – one near the creek’s origin at Lake Norris inside the Lake Norris Conservation Area and the other inside Seminole State Forest. Both were scenic and filled with wildlife.
The Lake Norris section, however, was over-the-top beautiful.
Kayaking Blackwater Creek at Lake Norris
A gorgeous kayak trail is hidden within Lake Norris Conservation Area, a 3,660 acre preserve in eastern Lake County.
Located at a trailhead shared with equestrians and hikers, you’ll find a kayak launch site right off Lake Norris Road. At this point, Blackwater Creek is a narrow stream with water so dark it’s like a mirror to the branches arching overhead. Paddling to the left of the launch site, you are going upstream against a slight current. (Blackwater Creek becomes unpassable downstream from here within a 20 or 30-minute paddle.)
It is less than a mile to Lake Norris, but it’s a very special mile. The shore is lined with cypress trees emerging from the dark water, the vegetation is thick and it is all reflected in the water, surrounding you in green. A deer munched on vegetation stream-side on the day we visited and birds were plentiful.
As the river opens into Lake Norris, there is a forest of dwarf cypress trees growing along the lake’s edge so that you paddle between them and among them. The cypress trees are all different, strangely twisted with odd fat bases and peek-a-boo gaps in their trunks.
Cypress trees give Floridians a real seasonal treat: In fall, the leaves on the cypress trees turn autumnal gold and orange. In winter, the cypress trees are bare, with white branches against blue sky. In spring, vivid greens we associate with the northern version of this season are displayed as the cypress trees leaf out.
The big lake has a few buildings and a Boy Scout camp on the opposite side, but we saw no boats and no people on our weekend visit. If you stick to the left, you can paddle for several miles through cypress trees along the lake’s edge and not see any sign of human interference.
Not too far along the shore, you can make a great stop at a landing site close to a group campsite with picnic tables. This spot is also reachable by hikers and equestrians and if you want to stretch your legs, you can hike the trail several miles from here, all the way to the next lake, Sandmine Lake. We didn’t hike, but we did picnic. (There are no rest rooms. If nature calls and you head into the woods here, let me warn you: I was covered with chigger bites after a similar stop here. Next time, I spray with Off before venturing off trail.)
Several canoes and paddles are locked up here and you can arrange to use them (for free!) from the Lake County Water Authority. You also can make camping reservations at that number. (See details below.)
After our picnic break, we paddled halfway down the lake’s eastern shore before turning around.
On our trip, we encountered several alligators that splashed into the water as we approached and there were lots of birds. Staff at the Boy Scout Camp on the northern shore of the lake have reported more than 100 active osprey nests in the cypress trees that ring the lake, according to preserve officials.
Paddling with the current, the return was quick and easy. Be aware: Paddling might not be as easy if water is low; our trip came at the start of the dry season when there was a lot of water in the creek.
Kayaking Blackwater Creek within Seminole State Forest
About five or six miles east of Lake Norris, on the east side of State Road 44, Blackwater Creek passes through the Seminole State Forest Wildlife Management Area. There is a pretty launch site with a picnic table off Sand Road in the forest. You can enter at either State Road 44 or State Road 46, but the gates are locked. To access this area, you must call in advance — 352-360-6677 — and get a permit and the current code for the locks. (Here’s more information and a map.)
Calling for the permit sounded like a lot of trouble to me, but it was accomplished easily on Thursday before our weekend trip. Don’t let it dissuade you; the payoff is that the forest feels like it is your personal domain.
This section of river was pristine, shaded and scenic. At first we paddled downstream, but soon came upon fallen trees that would have required a portage, so we paddled upstream for an hour or two, an easier route requiring no portages.
The forest here was filled with flocks of birds – hundreds of ibises, along with wood storks, various herons and egrets. As we paddled, we roused the same large flock of ibis repeatedly, setting off a flurry of flapping wings and grunting calls.
The birds were endlessly entertaining, and we had them all to ourselves. We did not see another boat or person on the water. (We did pass two or three trucks on the forest road.)
Seminole State Forest is adjacent to and just north of Rock Creek Run State Reserve. The Florida Trail passes through the forest and there are miles of hiking trails. (We hiked several miles along the Sulphur Run trail — an OK trail, but nothing special.)
Planning a kayak trip on Blackwater Creek
- Norris Lake canoes and camping: If you don’t bring your own kayak or canoe or want to camp, a very economical alternative is to arrange to borrow canoes for free at Lake Norris from the Lake County Water Authority. First call them at (352) 343-3777 to make sure your dates are free. Then download and complete this form and send it with a $50 deposit check to the water authority. You’ll be issued a combination to unlock a canoe. Once it is returned, your check is returned. You have a to hike about a mile to reach the campground where the canoes are located. It works the same way to reserve a rustic campsite. To camp here, complete and submit this form.
- Lake Norris Conservation Area
- Lake Norris Trail Guide brochure
- Seminole State Forest Wildlife Management Area
- Both kayak trails listed here are part of the Wekiva River Basin, which includes some excellent campgrounds. If you’re a camper, nearby Kelly Park is one of the best campgrounds in Central Florida.
- Non-campers may want to book a room in quaint Mount Dora, as we did.
- No kayak or canoe? These companies also run trips on various sections of Blackwater Creek:
Things to do nearby
This region is full of state parks, state and national forests and hiking, biking and kayak trails. Here are a few of our favorites:
- The West Orange Trail for bicycling
- Winter Garden and the historic Edgewater Hotel as a base.
- Kelly Park and Rock Springs Park
- Blue Spring State Park
- Ocala National Forest