Wild swimming in Orlando:
The best natural springs in Florida
There are waterparks and there are water parks. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, to a Central Floridian, the differences are enormous. Orlando may be the theme park capital of the world, but the best spots for water babies are entirely natural. These are the best natural springs for wild swimming in Florida.
Florida has more springs than any other state, and some of the best ones are just a short drive east on Interstate 4 from Orlando. One of the most popular for locals is Wekiwa Springs State Park. At the headwaters of the Wekiva River, you can hike, horseback ride, canoe and kayak, or take a dip in the refreshing springs, which (despite the sometimes-scorching Florida heat) stay between 20 – 22 degrees Celsius.
A recent addition along the Wekiva River is the somewhat unexpected oasis of Adirondack chairs, “river-banas”, a volleyball net, and free-flowing beer along the shore at Wekiva Island. Arrive by land (entrance is less than two miles away from the State Park) or rent a kayak or canoe at Wekiwa Springs and stop on your way down the river. Weekends promise a lively, but relaxed crowd, so be sure to rent your river-bana early.
If scuba diving or manatee spotting are more your thing, then take a drive a little further up the road to Blue Spring State Park. Although you can’t swim with them – trust us, some have tried – the clear, cool water is perfect for observing Florida Manatees, who make the springs their winter home. Like Wekiwa, Blue Spring offers tons of amenities for visitors, and fans of ecology can take a guided two-hour river cruise on the St. Johns River without ever putting a paddle in the water.
It’s hard to tell if this next one is more famous for its springs or for its pancakes. Not only is De Leon Springs State Park known for its swimming and snorkelling amidst the abundant wildlife, but its Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant also draws crowds for its cook-your-own pancakes. For less than $5 a person, guests gather around tables flanked by built-in griddles and pour the deliciously prepared batter for themselves. Sure, they’ll make the pancakes for you, but why miss out on all the fun of adding scoops of chocolate chips or slices of bananas yourself. Calories barely count, either, since you can burn off a breakfast’s worth by enjoying a four-mile hike along the Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail.
No matter which natural spring you choose, you’re guaranteed a glimpse into Florida’s ecological attractions. But like the saying goes, the early bird gets the worm – and entrance to the parks.
Written by Kim Taylor