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Kayaking Blackwater Creek & Lake Norris: Splendid waterways to discover

Last updated on November 30th, 2021 at 03:31 pm

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.

Dwarf cypress along Lake Norris near Orlando. You kayak to Lake Norris along the pristine Blackwater Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Dwarf cypress along Lake Norris near Orlando. You kayak to Lake Norris along the pristine Blackwater Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.)

Kayaking Blackwater Creek near Orlando, it is one mile to Lake Norris along a narrow stream that seems positively primeval. (Photo: David Blasco)
Kayaking Blackwater Creek near Orlando, it is one mile to Lake Norris along a narrow stream that seems positively primeval. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

Dwarf cypress at Lake Norris, where Blackwater Creek forms before flowing into the Wekiva River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Dwarf cypress at Lake Norris, where Blackwater Creek forms before flowing into the Wekiva River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

Fall colors on the dwarf cypress trees at Lake Norris near Orlando, which you reach by kayaking Blackwater Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Fall colors on the dwarf cypress trees at Lake Norris near Orlando, which you reach by kayaking Blackwater Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.)

Lake Norris near Orlando is lined with dwarf cypress. You reach it by kayaking one mile on Blackwater Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Lake Norris near Orlando is lined with dwarf cypress. You reach it by kayaking one mile on Blackwater Creek. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

The kayak trail on Blackwater Creek in Seminole State Forest passes through a pristine forest on its way to the Wekiva River. (Photo: David Blasco)
The kayak trail on Blackwater Creek in Seminole State Forest passes through a pristine forest on its way to the Wekiva River. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.

A flock of ibis kept us company as we paddled down Blackwater Creek near Orlando through Seminole State Forest. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A flock of ibis kept us company as we paddled down Blackwater Creek near Orlando through Seminole State Forest. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

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.

Here’s a Google map to Cassia Trailhead, off SR 44 and here’s a Google map to the Bear Pond Trailhead off SR 46. (The code works on either gate.)

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.)

Dwarf cypress trees in Lake Norris near Orlando. Beautiful Blackwater Creek flows out of Lake Norris and travels 20 miles into the Wekiva River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Dwarf cypress trees in Lake Norris near Orlando. Beautiful Blackwater Creek flows out of Lake Norris and travels 20 miles into the Wekiva River. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

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:

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.

This page may include affiliate links from which we may earn a modest commission if a purchase is made. More often, we include free courtesy links to small businesses, such as kayak outfitters, from whom we receive no commission. 

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Suz Davis

Friday 24th of February 2017

What a great site, thank you!!

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