The Wekiva River is well-known – it’s one of two federally designated Wild and Scenic Rivers in Florida and several kayak operators run trips on it.
But there’s more to the Wekiva River system than these well-paddled kayak runs.
Nearby there is hidden and unheralded Blackwater Creek, a tributary of the Wekiva River, that leads to a lake that is among the most beautiful spots I’ve seen in Florida, Lake Norris.
Those who have kayaked to Lake Norris say things like “exquisite,” “pristine,” “fantastic place to photograph.”
While a bit off the beaten track in the Lake Norris Conservation Area, Lake Norris is only 40 miles north of Orlando. It’s worth discovering: This is a Disneyland for nature lovers.
Blackwater Creek originates in Lake Norris and travels 20 miles before it joins the Wekiva. For most of those miles it too is considered “wild and scenic.”
You can paddle two sections – one that leads to Lake Norris and another (separated by an impassable section) that is even more remote, where Blackwater meets the Wekiva.
This article covers both sections.
Kayaking Blackwater Creek to Lake Norris
This gorgeous kayak trail is hidden within Lake Norris Conservation Area, a 3,660 acre preserve in eastern Lake County.
To kayak to Lake Norris, go to the trailhead, which is shared with equestrians and hikers, right off Lake Norris Road. Here’s a Google map to the kayak launch.
At the launch site, 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. (If you paddle downstream, Blackwater Creek becomes unpassable within a 20 or 30 minutes.)
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. If you go on a weekday or early in the day, you have a good chance of seeing wildlife. 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. This fantastic forest looks like a collection of bonsai specimens.
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. (By the way, dwarf cypress are not a separate species; pond cypress growing with limited nutrients form dwarf cypress.)
Lake Norris has a few buildings and a Boy Scout camp on the opposite side of Blackwater Creek, but we saw only two or three kayakers 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.
A stop along Lake Norris and free canoes you can borrow
Not too far along the shore on the left, 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 surrounded by cypress trees before turning around.
Kayaking Blackwater Creek within Seminole State Forest
There’s more to Blackwater Creek than just paddling to Lake Norris. About five or six miles east of Lake Norris, you can launch a kayak within Seminole State Forest, and the odds are excellent you will share this primeval wild stream with only the alligators and birds.
It’s too bad its name is so common – there are other Blackwater rivers and creeks in Florida and nationwide. THIS Blackwater Creek is very uncommon. There are no manmade sounds audible on the river. Most of the creek is accessible only through Seminole State Forest, where you need to call ahead and get a code to open the gates to the launch site.
You may think that’s a nuisance, but I consider it an asset. The only people you’ll see here went to a little trouble, so you’ll never see crowds.
Where to launch on Blackwater Creek
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.
Calling for the permit sounded like a lot of trouble to me, but it was accomplished quickly and easily on the Thursday before our weekend trip.
We’ve paddled Blackwater Creek here twice. In both cases, we paddled a distance both upstream and downstream. The first time (2014) we encountered a fallen tree downstream, and so turned around and paddled upstream. In 2021, our way was blocked about 90 minutes upstream, so we again turned around and paddled downstream a bit.
Both times, 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 either time. (We did pass two or three trucks on the forest road both visits.)
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
Lake Norris 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 open. You’ll be issued a combination to unlock a canoe. Once it is returned, your check is returned. You have 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.
Things to do near Lake Norris and Blackwater Creek
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
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.