Paddling on the Weeki Wachee River in Florida

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Featured

We stepped into our rented orange and yellow kayaks respectively and with a gentle push we were off with the advice of “always go left” and “keep an eye out for manatees” lingering in the air. It was clear right from the beginning that paddling down the Weeki Wachee was going to be a unique experience.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Clear Water

Crystal clear springs

Every day a staggering 170 million gallons of crystal clear water emerges from an underground river, which is the deepest naturally occurring spring in the entire United States. The spring water flows for 7.5 miles (12 km) before it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Because there are no alligators in the river (they prefer the safety of murky waters), it is safe to swim at any point along the Weeki Wachee, whose name translates into “small spring” from the local Seminole language.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Selfie

Stopping for a short swim

Wildlife

Due to the pristine water you can see fish and turtles and even diving birds swimming in the river. During our paddle journey one such bird dove into the water just ahead of us and we could watch her/him swim through the blue water only to surface again a few yards upstream. In the quieter sections of the river you can hear large numbers of crickets so be sure to time your bad jokes accordingly. 🙂

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Tree

A major draw to the Weeki Wachee Springs is the possibility of seeing and even swimming with a manatee, a very unique opportunity as there are so few in the world. Although we did not see any the day we went, we are eager to go back with the hope of experiencing sea cows in the future.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Kayaks

You are most likely to see a manatee when the water in the Gulf of Mexico is cold causing the manatees to seek out warmer waters. Since the water remains a constant 74.2 °F (23.4 °C) year-round, Weeki Wachee Springs is a likely respite for cold manatees.

Locals

Our 5.5 mile (9 km) journey down the Weeki Wachee River allowed us the unique opportunity to experience life on the water. Given that we went on a Sunday, there were many locals out enjoying what is essentially their backyard.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Residential

Imagine living here!

Locals are usually the ones traveling upstream in silver motorboats and may be drinking beer and/or fishing. They have also set up rope swings in select areas where the water is deep enough to jump and made ladders up the side of trees to high jumping points. Everyone is welcome to jump from the high vantage points so climb if you dare! Most of the locals are friendly despite the fact that canoe and kayak renters invade their not-so-secret paradise, so be sure to say hello or wave when you pass them by.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Canopy

Advice, Rules and Logistics

If you can, avoid weekends which are always more crowded than the weekdays as well as Spring Break (March). And unless you are there to party with the locals and are prepared to deal with major boat traffic jams, do not go on a holiday weekend. It is wise to look this up beforehand if you are not familiar with the local holidays. Also, arrive early (it opens at 8am) to make sure you get a parking spot, especially if you go on a weekend. If you are planning on renting a canoe or kayak we recommend making a reservation ahead of time as to ensure that they do not run out.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Blue Water

Rules

Despite the fact that you will see locals drinking beer along the river, Paddling Adventures has a no alcohol policy. In addition, be sure to respect the wildlife at all times and this includes not crowding around a manatee with no way out. If they want to engage with you, let them come to you.

Kayaking Weeki Wachee - Sunny

Directions and Prices

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is at the corner of US 19 and Rt 50 so if you are coming from Tampa, take US 19 north and the entrance to the State Park will be on your left. You will find the entrance to Paddling Adventures at the rear of the State Park parking lot.

A single kayak rental costs $30 and a canoe or tandem kayak costs $35. All rentals prices are the same regardless of how long you are on the water, so be sure to spend the day to get the most for your money. The price also includes a free shuttle ride back to your car.

Have a fantastic Weeki Wachee adventure!

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10 thoughts on “Paddling on the Weeki Wachee River in Florida

  1. Carolyn

    That looks like something I’d like to do! Especially with salt water creeping into the Florida aquifers, in the next year or two, just in case.
    When are the best months, you think? Warm enough to swim, but not midsummer — too hot for me in FL then. Thanks.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Carolyn,
      The great thing about kayaking in the spring is that the water is warm all year round. The most popular tourist season in during February and March, so to avoid the heat of summer and the tourists escaping winter, we recommend visiting natural Florida from October through January or in April or May before it gets too hot. Let us know when you are making the trip. We’d love to meet you on the river! 🙂

        1. Bounding Over Our Steps

          Hi Suzanne,
          Our understanding is that all spring have their own set temperature. Some, and perhaps like the ones you are more used to, are cold, like up in the Rocky Mountains or Maine or some such place. This one, and other in Florida like Three Sisters Spring in Crystal River for example, is warm. We’d be interested in learning more about this phenomenon as well. 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    Just to clarify a few things. Good Article overall. Alcohol is prohibited on the River and I have seen alligators in the River Many times so be careful about giving people misinformation. There are multiple channels that go far back into swampland and there are plenty of gators bck there. It would be very unlikely to be bothered by one but it’s not honest to say they aren’t there because of the water. They can be. In fact 4 fatal alligator attacks occurred in similar crystal clear water “springs” in Florida. I don’t think it’s a big risk and I typically swim the entire river dragging the kayak behind but you can’t say they cannot possibly be present. Any body of water including swimming pools can potentially contain and alligator, so you have to use common sense.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Good to know about alcohol being prohibited in this area. I don’t think it’s strongly enforced, however, because we’ve seen several locals enjoying many a refreshing alcoholic beverage. And yes, any body of water has the potential, even if a remote one, of having an alligator present. But also, as you mention, just because an alligator is present, doesn’t mean that s/he will bother a person. In my experience, most alligators want nothing to do with humans and will immediately leave the area when humans are present, unless of course eggs are nearby. 🙂

  3. doug

    Alligators have been seen in this river, In fact I have a picture of one. You need to be careful giving people a false sense of security. There absolutely are alligators in the marshes that connect to the river and I personally have seen alligators in this river and have pictures. In fact 4 fatal alligator attacks have occurred in crystal clear spring fed pools of water such as this.

    I don’t believe it’s a big threat but it’s irresponsible to say they won’t be in the river. Any body of water in the state of florida can potentially have an alligator. Alligators end up in people’s swimming pools so they can easily end up in the spring. they do prefer murky warmer water but that doesn’t mean they don’t make appearances. People need to be aware of their surroundings at all times. If you get off on the shore in some of the less tame areas be aware. In addition to alligators, I have been going to the park and boating up the river since they had monkeys on that little island. We are talking back in the late 80’s. I have seen river otters, wild boar, the raccoons which I believe all moved on as well as had many wonderful interactions with manatees.

    I think this river is one of the most treasured places I’ve ever visited and i hope people enjoy it. But they need to be aware.

    1. Bounding Over Our Steps

      Hi Doug, thanks for commenting on the amazing wildlife that can be seen on this river. And yes, one must be careful regarding alligators everywhere in Florida, even in places where it is unlikely we will encounter them.

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