Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Is there anything else I can you help with?” the pleasant Florida State Ranger asked as he handed our camping park pass and informational brochures through the car window at the entrance to Wekiwa Springs State Park, not far from Orlando, Florida.

“Why are there two spellings for the area around here?” I asked. “Sometimes we see it spelled with a “w,” like here in Wekiwa Springs State Park, but we have also seen it written Wekiva in other places, even just outside the gate. What's the difference?”
“Both are Creek Indian words,” he answered with a big smile. “Wekiwa means bubbling water, and Wekiva means flowing water, so Wekiwa is the spring, and the river the springs feed is the Wekiva River.” 

A flock of wild turkeys wander by the edge of the campground

So, now we know why the different spellings for an area we like as well as any in Florida. The state park is located on 7,800 acres just north of a huge urban area that includes greater Orlando. It is actually just north of Apopka, Florida. Once you enter the park, however, civilization is left behind. You even get a lecture at the gate about the do's and don'ts about Florida's Black Bears.

We drove in slowly, and had only traveled a few hundred yards when two wild turkeys took their time and strolled across the road right in front of the car. Our golden retriever, Taz, his head hanging out of the car window, thought he had died and gone to heaven. The turkeys cautiously eyed exuberant Taz and slowly wandered off into the underbrush. Later, while walking the dogs one morning, we had a flock of twelve turkeys walk through the campground.
A ranger stopped by told us to move our screen room completely onto the camp pad.
We found our shady, reserved camp site and backed in with no problem. The camp roads are all paved, with plenty of room to maneuver. There are two camping loops with a total of 60 individual camp sites. Each loop has a modern, clean shower and toilet facility in its center. The campgrounds are shaded, well spaced, and level, with water and 30 amp electrical service. Each site also has a fire ring and a picnic table. We were informed the campgrounds will be closed for almost a year beginning in October as a major upgrade is made to the facilities. Sewer hookups will be added to each campsite, removing the dump-station and its associated septic system. Check with the park before planning any camping as the schedule appears to be tenuous at best. The park and the springs themselves will be open to the public while the upgrade to the campground are being made. Wekiwa is already better than most of the other five campgrounds we've been to this year. I'm sure Wekiwa will probably be great when they finish.
Sand Lake

Wekiwa Springs State Park draws huge crowds on weekends, as do all of Florida's spring-based state parks, so we scheduled our arrival on a Monday morning, long after the weekend crowds have left. In fact, they close the park after all the parking spaces at the spring are full, so if you are trying to get in with an RV on a busy weekend or holiday, you may have a long wait on traffic just to get in. The campground had only a smattering of RVs on Monday when we arrived, with quite a few tent campers, mostly with small, school age children. One last camping fling before school starts for most of them.

Trail to Sand Lake

Our first morning was quiet and hot as always in Florida in August, but with low humidity and a nice breeze. Ilse and I took a leisurely bicycle ride on the shady two-lane park road to Sand Lake. We walked around the small, pretty lake as a nice quiet interlude. We were struck by the silence. No birds, no wildlife at all. A really odd experience for mid-August Florida. We saw a single Gopher Tortoise, and that was it. The lake is ringed with picnic tables and grills, and, unfortunately, cans and bottles left over from the careless few who leave it to someone else to haul out their trash.

The park offers walking trails as long as 15 miles. The trails are well maintained and well marked. On our first forest walk we startled a small herd of deer which scattered through the underbrush. While almost all of the trails are wide, the trails through the sand hill underbrush overgrow the walking area so chigger protection is a must.

The highlight of the park, however, is the beautiful spring. The basin wall was concreted in years ago, making the border of the spring into walkways and staircases to the clear, 72 degree water. The actual spring fissure is only feet from the main retaining wall and the rush of clear, flowing spring water can easily be seen from just a few feet away. The basin itself is shallow enough in spots to allow wading, but wet-shoes are recommended because of the rocky bottom. The swimming area is separated from the downstream river by a wooden pedestrian bridge that was being rebuilt while we were there. The concession that rents canoes and kayaks is just a few yards below the foot bridge. While you may bring your own boats, you must unload in the parking lot and transport everything down a footpath to the launch area, which is cumbersome and not really meant to be attractive to kayak owners. The busy concession stand is obviously meant to make renting a boat a far more attractive proposition than lugging your own. 

Wekiva River

While we were talking to the young man who was taking a break from hustling with kayak paddles and life jackets to the constant stream of paddlers, we noticed two aluminum Grumman canoes tied up at the bank with turtles in them. Not just a few common cooters, but quite a collection of different turtles, all taken from the river and spring area. Several young men and women were taking a break nearby, stripping off scuba gear and wet suits. One heavily tattooed young man in a soggy tee-shirt and swimsuit came over and began chatting with us when I pointed at a small soft-shell snapper that was crawling along the bottom of one canoe. When I called another one a mud turtle, he grinned and said, “Well, yes, but it is actually a variation of a musk turtle.”

They were with the Central Florida Fresh Water Turtle Association, a volunteer group started by Penn State several years ago to monitor the health and population of turtles found in the fresh waters of Florida. He thoroughly enjoyed picking up the different species and showing them to us, explaining how the turtles were numbered and tagged. When I asked if he had any real snapping turtles, he grinned and pulled two big cooters out of the way to show a full size common snapping turtle that obviously didn't want to be in the canoe. Given enough time, I have no doubt he could have chewed his way out. He wouldn't have to, of course. After tagging, all the turtles were released back into the Wekiva River.

The Wekiwa Springs State Park offers us all we look for in a campground and park. Plenty of walking and hiking trails, a nice paved park road for biking, a beautiful spring and river, and a really nice campground. In addition, the nearest grocery store, in case you have to make a milk run, is just several miles outside the main gate.

This park gets five stars from us, and I'm sure after the addition of the sewer hook-ups later this year, it will even be better.

Next: Back to Anastasia - Another view of one of our favorite campgrounds at:

More info about Wekiwa Springs at: https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Wekiwa-Springs

1 comment:

  1. Hello from RootsRated!

    We write about hiking, paddling, running, and climbing trails all over the country and my job is to find photos that match the destinations.

    I'm a photo editor for the site and I've been looking for photos of the Wekiwa Springs State Park. This is how I found your blog!

    I was wondering if RootsRated could feature some of your photos on our site?

    You can see what it will look like here. http://rootsrated.com/orlando-fl/backpacking-camping/wekiwa-springs-state-park

    If you're interested, please let me know at molly@rootsrated.com




Featured Post

The Waterfalls Trail

After several days of hiking and walking shorter trails to build up our stamina, we decided today was the day to descend the Waterfall Tr...