Holding its own against encroaching development, a wide swath of wilderness anchored by the wild and scenic Wekiva River offers an abundance of recreation escapes to be enjoyed year-round northeast of Orlando.
The river’s vast watershed includes crystal clear springs, a stunning river system and scenic wilderness trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
You could spend several days exploring the basin and not see it all.
Fed by more than 30 springs and vast wetland marshes, the basin spreads through three counties and is protected by more than a half dozen government agencies.
The Wekiva River and its tributaries make up one of Florida’s only two nationally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. The other is the Loxahatchee River near Jupiter.
Paddling the River
The Wekiva River is accessible to kayakers and canoeists from four of its main tributaries — Rock Springs Run, Wekiwa Springs Run, Wekiva Falls Run and Black Water Creek.
The launch for Rock Springs Run is at privately owned Kings Landing, around the bend from Kelly Park and Rock Springs. Widely regarded for its natural beauty and abundant wildlife, Rock Springs Run winds 8.5 miles through spectacular wilderness. There is no other public access along Rock Springs Run.
Kings Landing, 5722 Baptist Camp Road, Apopka. (GPS N: 28.7684, S: -81.5039) Phone: (407) 886-0859 kingslandingFL.com
Note: Rock Springs Run is currently 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.
Launch into the Wekiwa Springs Run from Wekiwa Springs State Park. The concession offers kayak and canoe rentals. Day-use access on summer weekends can be difficult due to hordes of swimmers who flock to the park to cool off.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka. (GPS N: 28.7095, W: -81.4628). Phone: (407) 884-2009. floridastateparks.org/park/Wekiwa-Springs
Wekiva Island, 1014 Miami Springs Road, Longwood, FL. (GPS N: 28.7139 W: -81.4443) Call (407) 862-1500. wekivaisland.com
Wekiva Falls is a private RV resort about eight miles downstream from Wekiva Island. The concesssion offers canoe and kayak rentals, or you can launch your own boat for a fee. The river flows slowly here, so you can easily paddle upstream or downstream for many miles. Access from Wekiva River Road, off State Road 46, just west of the river bridge.
Wekiva Falls RV Resort, 30700 Wekiva River Road, Sorrento. (GPS N: 28.7951 W: -81.4168) Call (888) 4-WEKIVA. wekivafalls.com
Wilson’s Landing. Hidden behind a subdivision of luxury homes on the south side of State Road 46, Wilson’s Landing is a quiet Seminole County park with a broad lawn sweeping down to the river with a large picnic pavilion and a canoe launch. Rarely used and very quiet, this is a Seminole County park.
Wilson’s Landing, 387 Malekean Trail, Sanford. (GPS
N: 28.8087 W: -81.4169) Phone: 407-665-2180. www.visitseminole.com
Katie’s Landing is 1.5 miles downstream from Wilson’s Landing and a popular takeout for paddlers originating at Wekiva Island. Launch here to explore the lower reaches of Blackwater Creek (4 miles) and the Lower Wekiva River. The St. John’s River is two miles downstream. A canoe and kayak concession has recently been established (see note below). Access from Wekiva Park Drive on the north side of State Road 46, just east of the river bridge.
Katie’s Landing, 262 Wekiva Park Drive, Sanford. (GPS N: 28.8292 W: -81.4127) Phone: 407-884-2009. For kayak and canoe rentals, call 407-761-1310. katieslanding.com
Black Water Creek snakes through Seminole State Forest to the Wekiva River from Lake Norris, itself a worthy destination. To paddle the lake, launch from Lake Norris Conservation Area. The upper creek is otherwise not navigable.
For the lower Black Water Creek, you’ll need an access permit for Seminole State Forest. Call (352) 360-6677 for a permit and gate access at the forest entrance on the north side State Road 46, just west of the river bridge.
The Wekiva Wild & Scenic River System, a cooperative partnership for managing the river, has produced an excellent Paddle Wekiva guide. Download their excellent Paddle Guide here.
Bike, hike, ride
The Seminole-Wekiva Trail is the premier multi-purpose trail in the Wekiva River Basin, 14 miles of smooth riding through Seminole County from Sanford south to Altamonte Springs.
Built on an abandoned railroad bed, the trail runs parallel to Interstate 4 through a varied landscape of woods, parks, light industrial and back yards, tainted only by a couple of awkward highway crossings.
Hikers, equestrians and off-road bicyclists have thousands of acres to explore in Seminole State Forest, Rock Springs Run State Reserve and Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, all of which can be accessed from State Road 46, west of Sanford.
More than 17 miles of trails twist through Rock Springs Run State Reserve, and equestrians are welcome. If you don’t have a horse, saddle up with Captain Jack’s Trail Rides, based in a barn on site. (There is no water access from the reserve.) Click here for the trail map.
You’ll find 18 miles of multi-use trails open to bicycling, hiking and equestrians within Lower Wekiva River State ParK. Hiking and bicycling trails are accessible from the south entrance on State Road 46, west of Sanford. Bicyclists, hikers and equestrians access the park from the north entrance at 38015 Fechtel Road in Eustis,
and another 21 miles of trails for hikers, including a 7.5-mile segment of the Florida Scenic Trail, running through Seminole State Forest.
Off-road bicycles are allowed on 25 miles of open roads and bike trails in Seminole State Forest, while equestrians can enjoy 23 miles of designated horse trails. There are 21 miles of trails for hikers, including a 7.5-mile segment of the Florida Scenic Trail. Park at the entrance gate on State Road 46 or obtain a permit for vehicle access to the forest by calling (352) 360-6677. Click here for the trail map.
West Orange Rail Trail – This 22-mile trail was one of the first rail trails in Florida, and it remains one of the most popular. It’s northernmost trailhead is just a few miles from Kelly Park and Wekiwa Springs State Park, at the junction of Rock Springs Road and Welch Road, north of Apopka.
The plan is eventually extend the trail to Kelly Park and connect it to an extended Seminole-Wekiva Trail.
The Wekiva River Basin is home to several public and private campgrounds that accommodate RVs and tents. Wekiwa Springs State Park has 60 sites, Kelly Park/Rock Spring, 26 sites, and Wekiva Falls has 800 sites.
Primitive camping is available in Rock Springs Run State Park and Seminole State Forest.
There are several hotels near the I-4 exit for State Road 46, or include Mount Dora in your itinerary and stay at one of many quaint inns.
Kelly Park/Rock Springs (Orange County), 26 campsites (tent or RV), $23 per night (discounts for seniors and Orange County residents); Rest rooms with showers; Fire ring with grill, table, water and electric at every site; Dump station; Swimming, wading, tubing in spring; Kayak/canoe launch nearby at Kings Landing. No pets, no alcohol, no weapons. Reservations guarantee a site but site selection when you arrive. 400 East Kelly Park Road, Apopka. For reservations, call 407-889-4179 weekdays.
Wekiwa Springs State Park (State), 60 sites (tent or RV), $24 night; Rest rooms with showers; Fire ring with grill, table, water and electric at each site; Dump station; Swimming in spring, hiking, bicycling, canoe/kayak launch with access to Wekiwa Springs Run, Rock Springs Run and the Wekiva River; Pets OK but not in swimming area; No alcohol or firearms. 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka. For information, call 407-884-2008. For reservations, call 800-326-3521.
Wekiva Falls RV Resort (Private). 800 sites, including more than 20 shaded tent sites on the spring run. All RV sites have full hookups. WiFi, cable TV, picnic tables, swimming, wading, kayak/canoe launch, well-stocked store, laundry, exercise room, community center, picnic pavilions, showers and restrooms, playground, tiki bar by the river, Pets OK. 2017 RV Rates: $44-$49; Tents $35. 30700 Wekiva River Road, Sorrento, FL 32776. Call for information and reservations, (888) 4-WEKIVA.
Primitive Camping for Paddlers
There are six primitive campsites accessible only by water on Rock Springs Run (3 sites), Wekiva River (1) and Blackwater Creek (2). These sites are available for overnight paddle excursions. All require permits and reservations.
Rock Springs Run and Wekiva River Campsites.
All three sites have fire rings and require reservations. Reservations can be made no more than 60 days in advance. For information and reservations, call (407) 884-2009. Rates are $5.00 per person, per night, plus tax.
Big Buck (GPS N: 28.7430 W: -81.4744) is on the west bank of Rock Springs Run within Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Indian Mound (GPS N: 28.7430 W: -81.4744) is on the east bank of Rock Springs Run within the Rock Springs Run State Preserve.
Otter Camp (GPS N: 28.7382 W: -81.4643) is on the west side of Rock Springs Run within Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Buffalo Tram (GPS N: 28.7403 W: -81.4223) is on the east side of the Wekiva River within Rocks Springs Run Reserve.
Blackwater Creek Campsites
Both campsites are located within Seminole State Forest and require forest access permits. For information and forest permits, contact Lake Forestry Station at (352) 360-6675. There are two forest gates for vehicle access, both of which are locked. Permit holders are provided combinations.
Moccasin Springs Camp. (GPS N: 28.8522 W: -81.4430) Upstream from the Black Water Creek Day Use Area, Moccasin Springs Camp is a group camp accessible by water and on forest roads.
Black Water Camp (GPS N: 28.8575 W: -81.4353) is on the south side of Blackwater Creek, adjacent to the Black Water Creek Day Use Area, which has kayak/canoe launch and is accessible by vehicle on forest roads.
Lake Norris Camp (GPS N: 28.9223 W: -81.5488) Lake Norris is at the headwaters of Blackwater Creek and is managed by the St. John’s River Water Management District. However, there is no navigable access to the lower reaches of the creek or the Wekiva River in Seminole State Forest. Still, Lake Norris itself is a paddler’s paradise, scenic and pristine with plenty of wildlife. The camp is accessible only by vehicle. Camping permits can be obtained by calling the Lake County Water Authority at (352) 343-3777.
Credit: GPS coordinates courtesy of Wekiva Wild and Scenic River Program.
More on the web
Kings Landing: http://kingslandingfl.com
Wekiwa Springs State Park: floridastateparks.org/park/Wekiwa-Springs
Wekiva Island: wekivaisland.com
Wekiva Falls RV Resort: wekivafalls.com