Canoeing on Wekiwa Run, Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs State Park contains the headwaters of the Wekiva River on its 7,000 acres. Before 1941, the park was owned by the Wilson Cypress Company who ran a small turpentining operation in the forest. The Apopka Sportsmen's Club bought the property in 1941 to use it for recreational purposes. Then the State of Florida got interested and bought the property, opening it as a state park in 1970. Today, most of Wekiwa Springs State Park looks much as it did when the area was being hunted and fished by the Timucuan Indians. A large part of Wekiwa Springs State Park is managed as though it is a wilderness area.

The prinicipal attraction to the park is Wekiwa Springs, pumping some 42 million gallons of water a day into the upper end of the Wekiva River. The spring flows out a of a cavern that has been extensively explored by scuba divers but diving is no longer allowed. Swimming and snorkeling are allowed in the main spring area but not in the Wekiva River or along Wekiwa Springs or Rock Springs Runs.

Wekiwa Springs State Park offers bicyclists a nine-mile route that is for bikes and hikers only. There's another eight miles of multi-use trail (hikers, bikers, horseback riders) available, too. Portions of the trails are strenuous, usually because dry conditions make for soft sand and gravel. Equestrians have access to primitive equestrian camping facilities at Big Fork, an area with several sites that can accommodate up to ten campers each. Big Fork is in the wilderness area and there is no vehicular access. Campers need to be at their campsites at least two hours before sunset or they won't be allowed to camp. Reservations are required.

The park also offers a 60-site, full-facility campground in the Sandhill habitat. Each campsite has electric and water hookups, a picnic table and a fire ring with grill. Some sites are ADA accessible and two of the restroom/shower facilities are also ADA accessible. There is a central RV dump station at the campground. You'll need to get your firewood from the Ranger Station. Maximum RV length: 50 feet. For youth groups there are three primitive group sites available that will accommodate up to twenty campers each. Camp Cozy is about 3.5 miles from the main trailhead in the wilderness area and offers several primitive sites that can accommodate up to ten campers each.

The park concession offers canoe and kayak rentals. For most folks it's a five-hour float down the stream to Katie's Landing in Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park (the first pullout point with vehicular access). Along the way there are two primitive campsites that can only be reached by boat. Both campsites are located on Rock Springs Run, have fire rings with grills and can accommodate up to ten people each. Some folks make the eight-hour run downstream to Rock Springs Run State Reserve before getting off the river.

Wekiwa Springs State Park also has a Nature Center, open Saturday and Sunday only, from 12 noon to 3 pm. The Nature Center is located next to the concession stand in the main spring area and offers exhibits of live animals and their habitats.

Wekiwa Springs is less than an hour's drive from most of the major attractions in the Orlando area. It's a popular park and very busy on weekends and holidays. Depending on the season, if you aren't already in the parking lot by noon, you might not get in.

Wekiwa Springs State Park is open for day use from 8 am until sunset every day of the year. The park office is open Monday through Friday from 8 am until 5 pm. Campers who plan to arrive after sunset need to call the park the day of arrival to get instructions and the gate combination. To get there: Exit Interstate 4 at exit 94 and go west on State Road 434 to Wekiwa Springs Road. Turn right and go north for about four miles on Wekiwa Springs Road to the park entrance.