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Most vacationers come to Florida for the world-class theme parks, beaches, and resorts. The downfall to popular tourists spots is long lines and shoulder to shoulder crowds that usually plague most of the high-end attractions. Luckily, Florida boasts plenty of lesser-known beaches, a plethora of charming small towns and dozens of freshwater springs. If you’re looking to truly get away from it all on your vacation or just looking for a unique outdoor adventure, then try kayaking at Weeki Wachee Springs.
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Getting To Weeki Wachee Springs
Located about an hour north of Tampa and just under 2 hours west of Orlando, Weeki Wachee is the perfect day trip. The town of Weeki Wachee is incredibly small and the springs are probably the biggest attraction. As you approach the intersection of Highway 19 and Highway 50, you’ll see tall waterslides and signs pointing you in the direction of the parking lot.
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Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
As you navigate to the parking lot, you’ll see the waterpark, Buccaneer Bay, that has been built around the springs. Entrance fees into the state park include access to the waterpark, wildlife shows, mermaid shows, and a boat ride down the Weeki Wachee River. The boat ride is a great alternative for those who are not able to paddle down the entire river but still wish to enjoy some time on the water. The park opens at 9:00 AM every day and typically sells to capacity on weekends and holidays in the summer. Ticket prices vary depending on the season. Adults are $13 and children are $8.00 in the summer. Click here to visit Weeki Wachee Springs State Park’s website.
Launching From Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Directly next to the entrance of Buccaneer Bay is where you can rent or launch your own personal watercraft. A one-lane road found in the back corner of the parking lot takes you to the Weeki Fresh Water Adventures building. It’s important to visit the Weeki Fresh Water Adventures website to secure a time slot for both renting or launching. This location is the only place you can rent or launch in the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. They cap the number of kayaks they allow to launch in order to not put too much pressure on the river by clogging it up with people. Make sure to reserve your spot well in advance when kayaking at Weeki Wachee.
A Point To Point Paddle
If you launch your own watercraft, you have the entire day to navigate the Weeki Wachee River. If you rent from Weeki Fresh Water Adventures, you have approximately two hours to make your way to the pickup point at their new take out location about 2 miles from the launch. In my experience, two hours is plenty of time to enjoy the river and make it to the pickup point without feeling rushed. Feel free to take your time and stop for breaks along the way.
NEW INFORMATION: As of October 2020, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park rentals will only be paddling from the original launch point to the newly created takeout point about 2 miles down the river. You will have approximately 2 hours to complete this route that winds through the state park before exiting at the newly constructed ramp for your shuttle back. Prices have been adjusted to compensate less time spent on the river compared to the full paddle to Rodgers Park previously. As always, check with the state park for the most updated information!
It is still possible to launch your own personal vessel at the state park for $6. However, the state park will not transport your vessel. The good news is that you can still float the whole length of the river in your own personal vessel as long as you arrange transport back to your car when you are finished.
Kayaking at Weeki Wachee Springs
Kayaking at Weeki Wachee is absolutely beautiful with crystal clear water and picturesque landscapes. You’ll spend the first half of the paddle winding through Florida foliage with little to no sign of civilization. Weeki Wachee Springs kayaking is truly something you have to see to believe. If you are taking out at the state park, you’ll remain in the dense Florida forest. If you are going all the way to Rogers Park, you’ll begin to see houses and docks at about the halfway point. There are only a few forks in the waterway, each of which you’ll stay to the left in order to make your way to Rogers Park.
The Return Trip
When you arrive at the new exit, you will be picked up in their shuttle and returned to your car at the launch building which is only approximately a 5-minute drive. If you are putting in your own kayak for your paddling adventures down the Weeki Wachee River, the shuttle will not transport your personal boat back to your car for you. My advice is, do this paddle with at least one other person and either use two separate cars or utilize Uber to transport you back to your vehicle. Ubers in the area seem to run approximately $12 for the return trip.
Best Time of the Year for Kayaking at Weeki Wachee Springs
The summer tends to draw huge crowds, especially on the weekends and holidays. The handful of swimming holes and white sand beaches that are scattered along the river are a huge draw for people looking to cool off on the hot summer days. If you are looking for a more peaceful outdoor experience, try visiting during the winter months (November-March). With the cooler temps, it might not be as refreshing to enter the water, but thinner crowds and less heat/humidity make for a great paddle. It’s also much more likely that you will encounter manatees during a winter paddle since they retreat to the warmer waters of the spring.
What To Bring For Your Weeki Wachee Springs Kayak Adventure
Being prepared is key to an enjoyable paddling adventure. Lather up the sunscreen, pack a hat and sunglasses and don’t forget a reusable water bottle. Disposable plastic water bottles are not allowed on the river so make sure to bring a reusable one! Need a water bottle? Check out my favorite CamelBak bottle <—Super CHEAP! After you exit the state park, you are allowed to swim in some of the deeper areas of the river. Bring a pair of goggles and a towel if you plan to get in and enjoy the warm water. Check out this snorkel set!
The Weeki Wachee river is a beautiful Florida gem that has grown in popularity over the years. While paddling, be mindful that this is a wild place and it should be kept in pristine condition for others to enjoy and wildlife to thrive. Everything you take with you should leave with you. When you encounter wildlife, do not harass or attempt to touch. It is a much more amazing experience if you simply float and let the wildlife come to you. Manatees are known to frequent certain areas of the Weeki Wachee River. Remember that it is illegal to harass or touch a manatee as they are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.
Hungry After Your Paddle?
Check out some of the local restaurants that are just a short drive from Weeki Wachee Springs. I’ve had lunch multiple times at Upper Deck which is just across from Rogers Park. Not only is their food amazing and service great, but they’ve got a balcony overlooking the water with a killer view. If you’re looking for even more of a dive, check out BeckyJack’s Food Shack which can be spotted on your drive back to retrieve your car. It’s a small and unique place with great staff and delicious bar food.