Just 25 miles north of Orlando is Kelly Park and the beautiful Rock Springs. To save this natural treasure, Dr. Howard Kelly purchased 200 acres of land in the 1920s and bequeathed it to Orange County in 1927. Orange County has since expanded the park to 325 acres.
Kelly Park has a beautiful tree-lined campground and several hiking trails worth exploring. Snorkeling is allowed in the park. Rock Spring Run flows from its eponymous spring into the Wekiva River, and 26,000 gallons of pure 68-degree spring water come out every minute.
There are no magic kayaks in Florida. The Rock Spring Run may be a mystery to many, but we’ll leave the paddle out of the bag.
There are two excellent starting places to enter the Rock Springs Run. Orange County’s Camp Joy, located next to Kelly Park, does not rent kayaks or canoes and does not offer shuttle service, but you can launch your own raft from here. Note that you can hit the water a few hundred yards away. Call Kelly Park for your arrival date and time at Camp Joy so a ranger can meet you there. The entry fee is $5. Camp Joy will remain open until 5:30pm, so you can park your car there as well.
King’s Landing, at the end of the road from Camp Joy, is a private facility. They rent out kayaks and canoes and offer transfers. There is no need to book in advance, but on weekends it can get very busy, so it is advisable to arrive early. Launching your own kayak or canoe is also available for a $10 launch fee.
There is a shuttle service if you hire one. However, if you cannot arrange a shuttle yourself, Royal Landing will pick you and your boat up at the end of the cruise for an additional fee.
If you’re paddling with friends, drop your boats off at King’s Landing and take a car to Wekiva State Park or Wekiva Island, which marks the end of your trip.
If you do not rent a car at King’s Harbour, you will need to park it at the barrier on either side of the road. It is a dead end street and parking is usually always safe.
Loading and unloading options
The Rock Springs Race offers several options for your fun-filled adventure. You may want to go 8.5 miles directly downstream, but if you’re not from the area, you can add another 2 miles that will take you through a stretch of emerald that you can’t miss.
Emerald Cut is a mile and a half of paddling upstream in the crystal clear water that comes from nearby Rock Springs. Some prefer to do just this part and take all the time they need to enjoy their two mile up and down adventure and explore. If Rock Springs is easily accessible, you can paddle the 8.5 miles downstream on another day.
Others may choose to leave, paddle and return to their parked spot within an hour or two, eliminating the need for a shuttle.
Whatever you decide, you will certainly receive recognition for this particular spring contest and the need to continue it.
Nominated for its lush subtropical foliage and clear emerald waters, it is an experience not to be missed. Emerald Cut on your right (upstream) at the Port-Real launch exit. Exciting fun in crystal clear water awaits you at Rock Springs Spring in Kelly Park. This mile and a half of upstream paddling (with a current of 3 to 5 mph) takes you through a tranquility and beauty unmatched by many other springtime spots Florida has to offer.
When you reach the impassable low bridge that marks the actual Kelly Park, venture as far as you can. At this point, you can pull the boat to shore, jump, stretch your legs, splash in the water a bit and enjoy the scenery. Once back downstream, you will have time to fully enjoy the allure of the emerald head.
Keep this gem in a kayak – Rock Springs Rains Run
Prepare to live in wonder. From one of the starting points, King’s Landing or Camp Joy, paddle those 8.5 miles downstream and feel like repeating the trip.
Of course, if you can only entertain yourself on the weekends, you will find that others may feel the same way. Plan to arrive early. Personally, I prefer the period from mid-October to early May, when the sun is milder and the insects are less predatory. If you can escape the 9 to 5 rhythm and go paddling on a weekday, playing hooky is worth it.
The naturally slow-flowing Central Florida River has a pleasant current, giving you plenty of time to navigate the bends and flooded logs you may encounter along the way.
In the first few miles, you may encounter fallen trees left behind by torrential rains or hurricanes in Florida. The park aims to cut down obviously unsuitable trees, but only up to the crossing, so that Mother Nature can make the decisions here. As soon as the barrel is opened, the water takes on a tea-colored tannin hue and deep pockets of water can be seen.
Soon the water levels and the look of this race will change again. As you approach the 7-mile line, the race takes on a twisty, flat and clear character, taking you through tall grass, hyacinths and aquatic plants. This area is often shallow enough to get out and stretch your legs again.
Before you know it, you’ll reach the point where the Rock Springs Runs meet the Wekiva River. That would be obvious, almost like a dead end. You are faced with the choice of paddling left or right. The answer to this decision depends on where you park your car or where your shuttle comes to pick it up.
To the right is Wekiwa Springs State Park, a beautiful and well-known national park with a campground and a large spring where people used to frolic in the cool water in the heat of summer. The park rents canoes and kayaks at the launch site, which can also be used as a drop-off point.
Paddle to the left and your starting point is the island of Wekiva. This is the place Royal Landing uses for the shuttle. If you manage to develop your own shuttle, you can use either Wekiva Island or a state park. Both locations are a short boat ride away when you reach the point where Rock Springs Run merges with the Wekiva River.
As with any body of water in Florida, you are sure to see one, two or three alligators. There are no monsters hiding in the Rock Springs Run, but they look healthy. Don’t worry, keep your distance and they’ll keep their distance.
Turtles, otters, raccoons and white-tailed deer can be seen paddling in the emerald linden or running in the rocky springs.
This is black bear habitat in Florida, but having camped and/or paddled in this race many times, I think the bear is smart enough to stay in the woods. If you are camping, be smart and never leave food outside or in the tent.
Florida has a wide variety of birds. Owls, falcons, ospreys, eagles and vultures are common. Waterfowl will follow you on your migration, calling out if they notice you disturbing them.
Four primitive camping sites are available for paddlers, and it’s a real treat to camp here and make a two-day trip out of it. Big Buck Camp, Otter Camp, Indian Mound or Buffalo Tram can only be reached by canoe or kayak. The tramway is accessible through Wekiva Springs State Park or Rock Springs Rangs Preserve. Respect nature and the privacy it provides, wrap it up, wrap it up.
It makes you feel light and peaceful.
The descent of the Rock Springs Run offers not only a spectacle for the eyes, but also peace, appreciation and gratitude for a busy day. Relax, take it easy and enjoy this wonderful self-catering cruise.
The Rock Springs Run may not be a secret tip, but I’ve been paddling it for 40 years. He lives up to his success and, fortunately for all of us, hasn’t changed much. When you visit Central Florida year-round, enjoy the charm and incredible beauty that will leave you with unforgettable memories.
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