All due respect to Mickey and Minnie, but there’s only so much manufactured adventure we can take before we’re raring for a real-deal trip around the Orlando, Florida, area. If you think flat terrain and shopping malls are all the inland Florida area has to offer, take a trip north to Wekiwa Springs State Park (you’ll still be back in time for the fireworks).
What: Wekiwa Springs is a popular fresh-water spring that doubles as a swimming pool for both overheated Floridians and tourists. Located about 45 minutes north of the Disney theme parks, it’s a nice escape for tired parents and attraction-weary outdoorsmen, and kids will go nuts over the giant, natural swimming pool (which is surrounded by man-made concrete walkways and bridges for easy, safe access).
Where: 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, Florida, 32712.
The stats: Park entry costs $6 per vehicle. Dogs allowed but check park rules for updates. Onsite camping available. Kayaks, underwater cameras, and lifejackets available for rental with proper I.D.
What do to: Kayak and canoe rentals are available on site, but feel free to launch your own boat into the small river system extending out the back of the spring pool. A short paddle will offer an exciting little trip through some low-hanging palms, lily pad fields, and sunbathing alligators—just be prepared for a long haul down the boat launch path since all cars are restricted to the parking lot.
How to get there: From the south (aka Disney World), drive along Route 1-4 East and take exit 94 for FL-434 West. Drive straight along FL-434 W until you see state park signs on your right.
What to bring: A kayak, lifejacket (you don’t have to wear it but it needs to be in your boat), paddle, suntan lotion, a swimsuit, a towel or chair for sitting in the grass lawn, a wide-brimmed hat to fend off the Florida sun, driver’s license, a GoPro or underwater camera, some cash for the concession stand, and plenty of water.
Do: Take a dip in the Wekiwa Springs “pool” with some goggles and an underwater camera. The water feels refreshing after a paddle thanks to its year-round 72-degree temperature. Expect a depth of about 5 feet with clear turquoise water and a soft, sandy floor.
Don’t: Plan on arriving before 10:30 am. The line into the park rivals that of the Tower of Terror and the gates often shut early in the morning due to capacity limits. Your best bet is to get there by 9 a.m. at the latest for a prime parking spot and a little head start.
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