Experience Wekiva Island Like a Local: Everything You Need to Know Before Your Visit

Experience Wekiva Like a Local

We spent a Thursday enjoying the great outdoors at Wekiva Island and Wekiwa Springs State Park near Orlando a few weeks ago. With temperatures already reaching the mid-80s by midday, we knew the calm, clear spring waters would provide the perfect remedy to the Florida heat.

As we pulled into the Wekiva Island parking lot around noon, we could see the place was already buzzing with activity. People were playing on the sand volleyball courts, relaxing in cabanas and the line for kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals had just started to build. “Our kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are always a favorite when people visit Wekiva Island,” shared a representative from the island. “It’s the perfect way to get out on the river and get a taste of the real Florida. Guests can either paddle about a mile up to the state park and enjoy the beauty of the springs, or paddle down river and explore serene waters and beautiful wildlife. You’ll see something different every time you head out on your adventure. Our cabanas are also a super popular option. They provide a great home base for your group, and they are the perfect way to relax after a day of paddling.” We quickly secured a double kayak for $55. We came prepared with our own snorkel gear and waterproof bags to protect our belongings during the adventure.

After pushing off the Wekiva Island dock, we began our gentle upstream paddle along the river. The current wasn’t too strong, allowing us to easily navigate the winding, cypress-lined waterway. Gliding through the peaceful, scenic corridor, we kept our eyes peeled for wildlife, spotting turtles, herons, and alligators. 

This area is quickly becoming one of the top kayaking destinations in the state, as we highlighted in our blog post “The Top 8 Places to Paddle in Florida.” The Wekiva region is a true paddling paradise with scenic, cypress-lined rivers and easy access to incredible natural springs. 

After about a 30-minute paddle, we reached the bridge marking the entrance to Wekiwa Springs State Park. This 7,800-acre protected area is centered around the stunning Wekiwa Spring, which pumps over 42 million gallons of crystal clear, 72-degree water daily.

The spring itself has a long and fascinating history. First inhabited by the indigenous Timucua and Acochee people, the spring was an important gathering place and source of sustenance for centuries. In the 19th century, the land was homesteaded, and the spring became a popular recreation destination, with boat rides, cabins, and other amenities for visitors.

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We tied up our kayak and paid the $2 cash fee to enter the park grounds. The grassy area around the spring was pretty crowded, with people enjoying picnics and spending time in the sunshine. However, the water wasn’t too busy, so we strapped on our snorkel masks and waded in.

The crystal clear, 72-degree spring water was mesmerizing. We drifted silently over the rocky outcroppings and sandy bottom, marveling at the incredible underwater visibility. Having our GoPro along allowed us to capture some stunning footage of the spring’s natural beauty.

After thoroughly exploring the spring, we checked out the rest of the Wekiwa Springs State Park grounds. Beyond the water, over 15 miles of hiking trails wind through the park’s hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods, offering opportunities to spot gopher tortoises, woodpeckers, and other terrestrial wildlife. The trailheads are also popular with mountain bikers and horseback riders looking to explore the park’s interior. We strolled around the spring area and visited the nature center. Above the park’s main spring, the nature center has examples of wildlife within the Wekiva River Basin and some historical artifacts. Visitors can get up close and personal with snakes, turtles, and an alligator.

We returned to our kayak, untied it from the bridge, and began our paddle downstream. Navigating the river was trickier this time, as there was more boat and kayak traffic to maneuver around. We spotted some less experienced paddlers struggling to keep their boats straight, but our group managed the current and other watercraft with no issues.

As we approached Wekiva Island, the employees were there to help us securely dock our kayak. We went to the island’s craft beer and wine bar and enjoyed some well-deserved refreshing drinks. The entire beach, outdoor bar, and food truck area was bustling, with people filling up the Adirondack chairs and lining the docks. Luckily, we found a spot to sit with our legs dangling over the water’s edge. 

It’s easy to see why Wekiva Island has become a go-to destination for outdoor recreation and natural beauty in central Florida. “We are so happy to have a destination like Wekiva Island; there’s no other place like it in the area,” said a representative from Orlando North Tourism. “On top of all the fun things to do there, they’ve been a leader in sustainability and conservation and are champions in keeping the natural beauty of the Wekiva River alive.”

Preparing for the Adventure

Experience Wekiva Like a Local

Here are a few essential tips to make the most of your Wekiva Island and Springs visit:

  • Arrive early, especially on weekends, to secure your kayak, canoe, or paddleboard rental. The lines can get long.
  • Bring your snorkel gear, water shoes, and any other equipment you’ll want for the spring. It’s worth having your own rather than renting.
  • Allow ample time to explore Wekiva Island and Wekiwa Springs State Park – there’s so much to see and do.
  • Have small bills and coins for the $2 per person honor fee to enter the state park by kayak or boat.
  • Remember your camera or GoPro to capture the incredible underwater scenery and wildlife.
  • Be prepared to navigate some boat traffic and watch for less experienced paddlers.

Packing List for a day on the Wekiva River:

  • Swimsuit
  • Towel
  • Water shoes or sandals
  • Snorkel gear (mask, snorkel, fins)
  • Waterproof bag or dry bag
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Camera or GoPro
  • Cash for entrance/usage fees
  • Reusable water bottle

An Unforgettable Adventure

The destinations along the Wekiva River are unlike any other in central Florida. The seamless blend of outdoor recreation, natural beauty, and relaxed, laid-back atmosphere made our adventure here an absolute must-do during spring. 

Wekiva Island itself provides the perfect launching point to experience all this area has to offer. The wide array of activities, from kayak and paddleboard rentals to sand volleyball courts and an inviting outdoor bar, ensure there’s something for everyone. We loved being able to rent our gear, grab a bite to eat, and then quickly transition into our exploration of the spring – it was the ultimate one-stop shop for a day of fun.

Slipping into the refreshing waters of Wekiwa Springs State Park and drifting silently over the rocky bottom was an almost spiritual experience, allowing us to disconnect from everyday life. The spring’s incredible natural beauty and diverse marine life mesmerized us, and we were so grateful to have our GoPro along to capture the stunning underwater scenery.

Beyond the spring, the park’s expansive trail system immersed us in the area’s lush, protected ecosystems. While we only had time to briefly explore the trails around the spring, the glimpse of the hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and marshes left us eager to return and discover more. With over 15 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian paths, there’s no shortage of ways to connect with nature at Wekiva Springs.

Ultimately, what struck us most about both destinations was the palpable sense of stewardship and preservation that permeates throughout. From Wekiva Island’s sustainability initiatives to the state park’s long-standing status as a National Natural Landmark, it’s clear that the caretakers of this land are deeply committed to protecting its natural splendor. That conservation mindset only heightened our appreciation for the experience and inspired us to do our part in preserving Florida’s precious natural resources.