We’re all well aware that summers in Florida can be brutal, and beach resorts can be crowded and a pricey; so one of my favorite ways to cool off and be surrounded by nature is to explore one of Florida’s gorgeous fresh water springs.
Last month we took an hour drive north to paddle the Weeki Wachee River with a group of friends, and it was an experience I highly recommend! We didn’t visit the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park itself, the one with the mermaids and the swimming hole. We just rented a couple of kayaks and paddled about five miles down the most crystalline river I’ve ever seen. It was the first time we took our son on a full-day river trip (read about our first attempt here) so trial and error was real. Let me take you through the basics in case you’re ready for a visit:
We rented our kayaks through CHS sports, but there are other options. You’re also welcome to bring your own gear, and only pay a small park fee. We had an inflatable paddleboard in our group, which I’m definitely lusting over! Our experience with the rental company was fine, but parking was tough, and I’d recommend doing your research on other companies also. The cost for the day was $40 for a double kayak that fit two adults and our little guy in the middle.
When to go
During the summer vacation months, (and especially on weekends) load up on coffee and get there as early as you can. Our reservation was for 9:30am, but we didn’t launch until 11am. The river became quite crowded, and the sun was beaming down hard. Though the first half of the paddle wasn’t so bad, there were tons of people at every turn later on. We took a few stops to eat, relax and swim, and we were done around 4 in the afternoon.
Summers also mean almost daily afternoon thunderstorms, so check the weather report before you go. We almost got caught in a pretty decent one, and let’s just say we paddled faster and harder than ever. The route is not a loop, so the rental company just picks you up 5 miles downstream. There’s no turning back if you rent from one of them, and even if you did, paddling upstream is much harder!
What to take
Not a lot, which can be a struggle with kids. We took one backpack and a cooler, and not much more would’ve fit in the kayak. My suggestions:
- A waterproof phone case is ideal (every corner of this paddle is insta-worthy) but a ziploc bag filled with air for your phone and keys will do.
- Sun and bug protection. Sunscreen, bug spray, a hat, sunglasses, and those fishing shirts and rash guards come in super handy! There were some shaded areas where everyone would stop to rest, play, and eat, but most of the time we were under the direct sun.
- Food and water! We had a small floating cooler with our beverages, avocados, hummus, chips, veggies, sandwich bread, and fruit (tangerines, bananas, grapes). Don’t forget a trash bag.
- We left towels and a change of clothes in the car.
Depending on who you talk to, wildlife could be either the appeal or hindrance of visiting the Florida springs. For one, alligators. As a Floridian, we learn that if there’s a body of water, there’s a chance of a gator living there. They tend to avoid crowds, which was a plus side of the hoards of people everywhere. The water is also crystal clear, which could make you feel less paranoid about what’s lurking underneath. We didn’t see any, but my advice would be to stay with a group, and keep your little ones close by for your own peace of mind.
Next, manatees! The best time to see them is November through March. They might look intimidating by their sheer size, but manatees are gentle, vegetarian, slow moving creatures that cause no harm. We saw adorable river otters, tons of fish, and our friends saw a snake swim by. We did paddle past water moccasin breading grounds, according to a sign.
Overall, I loved and recommend this day trip! It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve seen in Florida, and it was very kid-friendly! We saw tons of little ones, and ours had a great time! We have a water baby who loves the beach, pool, boats, and most of all, paddleboards! He did an amazing job staying relaxed and patient through the four-plus hours we were paddling, but we did have easily accessible snacks for him at all times, and stopped about three times for breaks.
Have you ever visited any of Florida’s springs? Which is your favorite?