What could be more fun than swimming in a cool, refreshing, pristine Florida river? Or jumping into the world’s deepest freshwater spring? How about a jungle cruise reminiscent of a Tarzan movie? Well, pack up the family and head to the Wakulla Springs State Park, 30 minutes south of Tallahassee. Unless you plan to camp, book a room at the Wakulla Springs State Park Lodge and you’ll be happy you did.
There are two parts to this adventure. One is the Wakulla Springs State Park. The other is a boat, canoe, or kayak ride up and/or down the Wakulla River. Both are truly inseparable and reveal authentic Florida. So, you have two missions: A kayak, canoe, or boat ride on the Wakulla River, then a drive and stay in the State Park for the spring and wilderness preserve adventure.
Wakulla Springs is the origin of the Wakulla River which flows nine miles south joining the St. Marks River, then running an additional five miles, and finally dumping into the Gulf of Mexico at the Apalachee Bay.
Day of Fun on the Wakulla River
Let’s start with the refreshing river trip. Start your adventure at the family-owned T-n-T Hide-A-Way Canoe and Kayak Rental off U.S. 98. They will equip you with all you need. Or if you bring your own, there is a county boat launch adjacent to T-n-T. Or do a guided tour. They also provide shuttle trips, if you would prefer to go upriver and take an easy glide down. The Wakulla River is a fairly easy paddle. You will be heading upriver (north) as you start, so travel as far as you like (6 miles is the final turnaround) and then float leisurely back downstream. The turnaround and fence are at the Wakulla Springs State Park boundary where the remainder of the river and springs are protected and closed.
Lush, green trees and vegetation, crystal clear water, thick river grass, and cool shade along the river bank. Manatees, turtles, snails, fish, and birds will catch your eye. We launched our kayaks in the morning enjoying the river vegetation, had lunch when we pulled under some nice shady trees, and later floated leisurely back downriver.
Wakulla Springs State Park
Over 200-300 million gallons of water per day pour out of the Wakulla Spring, home to the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world. The world? Yep. The Spring is also home to the deepest and most extensive underwater cave system, another fascinating factoid you will learn about which includes a crash course on the Florida aquifer, storage for most of Florida’s groundwater.
The actual Wakulla Springs preserve area is so neat that Tarzan movies were filmed here. Johnny Weissmuller, Jane, and Cheetah hung out at the park; so did The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
There are a number of things to do. You can join the throngs of folks and enjoy the giant swimming hole near the actual Wakulla Spring. That’s fun for the kids. We highly recommend the ranger-guided boat ride with a three-mile loop through the wildlife sanctuary for getting close and personal. We saw loads of alligators on the river bank, herons, egrets, anhingas, ospreys, common moorhens, wood ducks, Suwannee river cooters. The guide noted that several manatees had been spotted during the day. While on the ride, someone shared an insightful comment. They said they felt that the experience was so pure and pristine, even prehistoric, that one could visualize pterodactyls flying overhead and dinosaurs roaming nearby.
If there is an archeologist in you, you’ll be fascinated with this place. An ancient mastodon (at the Museum of Florida History) was found at the bottom and the remains of nine more extinct mammals have been found. All dating to the last glacial period.
There’s also plenty of hiking at Wakulla Springs State Park with a nature trail on the southwest edge of the Lodge parking lot. The state park guides are extremely friendly and will give you plenty of information to make your stay one of the best Florida has to offer.
We all owe our thanks to Edward Ball, an early conservationist and visionary, who in 1934 purchased the property and preserved the habitat. Later, he built the Wakulla Springs Lodge in Mediterranean revival architecture with 27 spacious rooms. Be sure to look up at the ceiling when you walk into the lobby to view the beautifully painted wood beams with Florida wildlife and art. Also, don’t miss the marble checker tables, huge fireplace, and “Old Joe,” a stuffed 11 ft. alligator that lived in the park. The Lodge has a lovely dining room, where we ate baked grouper stuffed with crab meat. Don’t miss the fried chicken and the famous navy bean soup. Yummo.
Every family ought to have this much fun. The kids will love it and so will you.
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