Old Florida Beckons At Wekiwa Springs
Spring has sprung and summer will soon be upon us. How about a dip into some “bubbling water” to refresh and renew as the weather heats up? Wekiwa is an Indian word for “bubbling water” and Wekiwa Springs State Park is a delightful destination about an hour north of Orlando and its major attractions. This is a place to escape for a more natural adventure where nature, history, beauty and clear, cool spring water combine to give you a welcomed “Old Florida” feel.
Once inhabited by indigenous Timucuans and Native American Creeks who hunted and fished the region, Wekiwa Springs State Park sits on 7,800 majestic acres complete with nature trails, wildlife, 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 of which form the headwaters of the Wekiva River, a 17-mile tributary of the St. Johns River.
There’s so much to see and do here - whether it’s swimming, picnicking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, birding or boating. The main spring 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 State Park is home to Indian middens and shell mounds – essentially ancient “garbage hills” which often contain pottery fragments, shells, animal bones and artifacts.
For a special treat plan to arrive early. The park opens at 8:00 am. Often in the early morning hours a cool morning mist will gently hover over the water, and river otters will swim and frollick almost undetected. You may spot a white tailed deer in the nearby hammock, or see a Sherman Fox Squirrel (black face and white ears) foraging for acorns. There may be alligators floating like logs up river, and wading birds stalk prey along the shoreline.
Not far from the main spring is a boardwalk beckoning to take a short walk in a beautiful hammock complete with ferns, mossy oaks, palms and other native flora. And make sure to notice the flora and fauna. 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.
A Paddler’s Delight
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 State Park is a part of the Wekiva Basin ecosystem. Park neighbors include 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.
With the growth and development that has spread throughout the Orlando and central Florida area over the years, we are fortunate to have these fine natural treasures. And Wekiwa Springs State Park provides a perfect oasis for suburbanites and others who desire a different kind of escape to the simplicity of real Florida.
[Editor’s note: Spelling for the Wekiwa Springs and the Wekiva River are different.]