When I first arrived at Kelly Park, I really had no idea what to expect, other than it being the source of the hugely popular Rock Spring Run — a summer mecca for Orlandians.
The campground is beautiful, well-shaded, clean and spacious — one of the best public campgrounds in the state.
There are 26 sites tucked under a dense canopy of pine and hardwood forest, ranging from 35 to 70 feet deep with comfortable separation between sites that afford unusual privacy.
The base is hard-pack shell rock, excellent for RV’s, and most sites have softer shoulders for tents.
The campground is arranged in a circle with feeder paths to a clean and well-maintained bathhouse in the middle.
I chose Site No. 10, and my second choice probably would have been 15, but you really can’t go wrong with any campsite in this park. Each site has a picnic table, campfire ring (with grill), water and electric, and you are allowed two sleeping units (such as an RV and tent) for up to six people.
Campsite No. 17 is a pull-through, double site for family or group camping of up to 12 people, allowing up to four camping units.
During the summer months, the park fills to capacity early on weekends and there are lines of cars waiting to get in. Registered campers have special access via a separate entrance gate.
Your best bet for this campground during summer is to arrive early in the week and avoid weekend altogether.
Rock Spring Run
Rock Spring is the main attraction with large pools for swimming that spill downstream from Rock Spring to Rock Spring Run. In summer, and on holiday weekends, the park fills to capacity early with swimmers seeking relief in the cool, crystal clear freshwater that flows at a rate of 26,000 gallons per minute.
You can wade or tube down Rock Spring Run for about a quarter mile.
There are no kayak or canoe rentals inside the park, and you cannot launch your own. For that, you have to go outside the park to the privately owned concession at Kings Landing. It’s not far, and their prices are reasonable — $30 per day for either a kayak or a canoe, which includes a shuttle service that will pick you up 8 miles downstream at Wekiva Island. It’s a spectacular 4- to 5-hour paddle.
Note: Rock Springs Run is blocked off three miles south of Kings Landing due to fallen trees that came down during Hurricane Irma. As of 11/29/2017, there was no date scheduled for their removal. As a result, kayakers will not be able to paddle through to Wekiva Island. However, you can rent a kayak or canoe at Wekiva Island and paddle upstream or downstream.
From Kings Landing, you can still paddle upstream to the Kelly Park boundary (about an hour up and 20 minutes back down to Kings Landing), or paddle out and back downstream for three miles each way.
Kings Landing is closed on Monday and Tuesday, and there is only one shuttle on weekdays, returning from Wekiva Island at 3:30 p.m., which means you need to launch before 11 a.m. to arrive in time for your pickup. There is a tiki bar and lunch counter at Wekiva Island to bide your time if you get there early.
If you bring your own kayak or canoe, there is a $10 launch charge at Kings Landing, which allows you to park, and a $10 shuttle fee if you don’t have your own shuttle vehicle.
Kelly Park campground sits in the heart of the Wekiva River Basin, with access to a half-dozen state parks and wildlife preserves, bicycle trails and nature trails for hiking.
A short drive will bring you to Wekiwa Spring State Park, which also has a spring. For an overview of the basin and its recreational opportunities, see this companion article: Wekiva River Basin: A wild and scenic adventure
And it’s less than a hour’s drive to Disney World and other Orlando attractions.
Sites are a bargain at $18 per night for Orange County residents, $23 for non-residents. Resident seniors (55+) pay $13.50, and non-resident seniors, $17.25.
The family site (No. 17) is $36 for residents and $46 for non-residents.
The park has four hiking trails, two of which provides access to two primitive tent-only campsites. (The primitive sites are is $15, $11.25 for seniors). All four trails are under 2 miles. These trails are not bike-friendly because of soft sand.
Reservations can be made up to 45 days in advance by calling the park office at (407) 889-4179. The park is owned and maintained by Orange County, and a ranger lives on site near the campground. I found it comforting that they have a policy of providing you with the resident ranger’s cell phone number in case you have a problem at any time, day or night.
Pets are not allowed anywhere in the park or campground, and alcohol is prohibited.
This is black bear country, and there are raccoons as well, so keep your food secure in your vehicle, not in your tent, and use the bear-proof garbage receptacles on the campground road.
I made the mistake of cooking after dusk one evening and had a hard time convincing an uninvited guest (a raccoon) to leave. This probably wouldn’t have happened if I had cooked my meal earlier, during daylight.
Just outside the campground entrance, at the intersection of Kelly Park Road and Rock Springs Road, there is a convenience store and gasoline station, but don’t bother stopping there if you are looking for camping supplies. They didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked if they carried mantles for my propane lantern.
A limited selection of camping gear, including mantles and propane tanks, can be purchased at the Ace Hardware store in nearby Apopka. Take Rock Springs Road south and cross U.S. 441 in Apopka. The store is about a block past 441 on the right.
For groceries, there’s a Publix supermarket about 2 miles from the campground on Rock Springs Road, at the corner of Welch Road.
Firewood is available in the park, or you can buy a healthy stack of quality hardwood for $10 outside the park at the Rock Springs Bar & Grill, a funky little dive across from the convenience store at the intersection of Kelly Park Road and Rock Springs Road.
The Rock Springs Bar & Grill is a colorful saloon with food and beer, and a good source of local information. That’s how I learned about Ace Hardware for camping supplies. I usually find saloons catering to locals are a good resource for information. Many a time I’ve been saved a lot of time, trouble and money by stopping for a beer and quizzing the locals for information. By the way, the food is widely acclaimed.
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Winter Garden, a nearby town with a great historic hotel that caters to bicyclists
Kelly Park at Rock Spring
400 East Kelly Park Rd.
Apopka, FL 32712
Scenic Rating: 9 out of 10
Family Rating: 10 out of 10
Sites: 26 for RV, tents and trailers; 2 primitive
Hookups: Water and electric (Dump station)
Reservations: 45 days in advance. Call (407) 889-4179
From Daytona and Northeast Florida: Take I-4 to Exit 101-C onto SR 46 and go west 1.2 miles. Turn left onto County Road 435 and go 4 miles to Kelly Park Road. Turn left on Kelly Park Road and follow it all the way to the end, through the intersection with Rock Springs Road, to Baptist Camp Road. Park entrance is on your right.
From Orlando and other points: Take U.S. 441 (Orange Blossom Trail) to Park Avenue (Rock Springs Road) in Apopka. Go 6 miles north to Kelly Park Road and turn right. Curve left onto Baptist Camp Road. Park entrance is on your right.