North of Orlando and an hour from the major attractions, Wekiwa Springs State Park is a delightful retreat with an authentic “Old Florida” feel. Once inhabited by indigenous Timucuans and Native American Creeks who hunted and fished the region, Wekiwa Springs has plenty to offer those in need of renewal.
Wekiwa is an Indian word for “bubbling water” which describes the spring that attracts many visitors to the park. Wekiwa Springs State Park sits on 7,800 majestic acres complete with nature trails, a 72-degree (year around) freshwater spring and authentic Florida waterways. The Wekiwa Spring discharges approximately 45 million gallons of cool, crystal clear water daily and is joined upstream by the Rock Springs Run, both which form the headwaters of the Wekiva River, a 17-mile tributary of the St. Johns River.
There’s a lot to see and do – whether it’s swimming, picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, birding or boating. Wekiwa Springs is a short distance beyond the ranger station where visitors can swim and picnic. The nearby Nature Center provides an overview of the park and its wildlife. Also, Wekiwa Springs Park is home to Indian middens and shell mounds – essentially ancient “garbage hills” which often contain pottery fragments, shells, animal bones and artifacts. (Note: Middens are to be admired only and artifacts are not to be removed from the park.)
I arrived to the park as soon as it opened (8:00 am) and was glad to arrive early. A cool morning mist gently hovered over the water, river otters swam almost undetected, a white tailed deer darted about in the nearby hammock, a Sherman fox squirrel (black face and white ears) foraged for acorns, alligators floated like logs up river, and a green heron waded at the shoreline. And I saw all that in the first hour.
Not far from the main spring, I hiked the nearby boardwalk, a beautiful short walk in a hammock complete with ferns, mossy oaks, palms and other native flora. Wekiwa Springs State Park has 19 distinct biological communities in the park ranging from flatwoods to hammocks, swamps to marshes, lakes and streams with more diversity than any single park in the state. This diversity creates unique vegetation and is home to a wide variety of animal and bird species. Wekiwa Springs has Florida black bears, raccoons, bobcats, gray foxes, armadillos, 27 kinds of snakes, gopher tortoises, bald eagles, and plenty more.
Quiet Water Kayaking, Canoeing
If you are looking for solitude, consider a kayak or canoe trip to see more of the park. Rentals are available in the concession area near the spring. An easy paddle on the Wekiva River and up the Rock Springs Run convinced me that its designation as a National Wild & Scenic River was well deserved. Florida wildlife is everywhere – ospreys, limpkins, wood storks, ibis, egrets, herons, alligators and loads of turtles sunning on the partially submerged logs.
The Wekiwa Springs Park is a part of the Wekiva Basin ecosystem. Park neighbors such as the Rock Springs Run State Preserve, the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park and the Wekiwa Springs State Park total almost 40,000 acres. Needless to say, there are plenty of nearby parks to explore that are real treasures for the Central Florida region.
The next time I return, I’m going to plan a horseback ride and also take one of the recommended longer hikes. There’s a horse camp and barn near the north entrance with some great trails. There’s plenty to explore in the flatwood, sandhill and scrub areas, which are home to more unique plant and animal habitats.
Orlando has grown considerably over the years, so we are fortunate to have these fine natural treasures. And Wekiwa Springs State Park provides a perfect oasis for suburbanites and others who desire the simplicity of real Florida.
Enjoy your time in one of Florida’s finest. I sure did.
[Editor’s note: Spelling for the Wekiwa Springs and the Wekiva River are different.]