Updated: Sep 10
Dive into the natural beauty of central Florida's crystal-clear springs and discover an unspoiled riverine system which will completely refresh your spirit. These two neighboring properties can be done back to back or individually, but should not be missed!
Located in Apopka, just north of Orlando this beautiful oasis is perfect for spending the day. Crystal clear water decorated with rocks and native Florida fauna await those who make this day happen. It does require an early start and some planning. Known for ferns and lush green surroundings, this heaven is good for a mental refresh and reset! Both Kelly Park Rock Springs and King's Landing share the same river run. With good planning it is possible to do both adventures in the same day.
There's a lot of people trying to visit, and park closes at capacity - what's the secret for getting in?
If you are lucky enough to have one of the 26 camp sites at Kelly Park or be one of the first 280 vehicles through the gate at opening, you are going to experience this natural gem! This park is known for it’s beauty and because of its central location it’s a favorite for many. King's Landing requires reservations and it is sometimes booked up to a week out, but also may have space for walk ins. If you want to do both adventures, book your King's Landing time for an afternoon, then plan to arrive before the gates open at Kelly Park that morning.
The line for Kelly park is formed before the park opens. Especially crowded on weekends, it will open at 8 am, and can reach capacity before all those waiting get in. Cars line up as early as 6:30 - 7 AM. The sheriff maintains the roads around the park area diligently, they will let you know if it is at capacity. Another 50 cars are allowed back in at 1 pm, which can be frustrating to those who are turned away but keeps the spring from being overcrowded. These 330 vehicles equate to an average of 1,350 visitors each day. You must get a parking pass in the morning once the hit initial capacity to be able to gain access at the 1 p.m. re-open time. You probably won’t have a strong phone reception here. But once you are in the gate, it’s all worth it!
Rock Springs is located inside of Kelly Park and flows at the rate of 26,000 gallons a minute. A bit cooler than the other Springs in Central Florida, 68 degrees can be a bit shocking on a hot day. However, it’s shallow nature makes it perfect for families and an easy place to explore. This year-round temp can feel good on a cooler day and refreshing on a hot sticky day. Seasonal afternoon storms chase out many of the park’s visitors. Kelly Park itself aside from the main attraction of the Rock Springs has some great trails for hiking and is known for lots of wildlife. Great boardwalks zig zag to the spring, and paved walkways create a great area to wander through this jungle like park.
The spring head flows out of a cave through a rocky waterway into a small pool. The water makes its way to Rock Springs Run, a clear river. That river goes on for another 8 miles and merges into the Wekiva River. While in Rock Spring you can follow the current from the cave where the water originates to the end where a barricade stops you, a 3/4 mile lazy river run. On the other side of this bridge is the Emerald Cut of Kings Landing where paddle boarding and kayaking are in fashion. The barricade separates the two areas of the Rock Spring Run.
From the cave water flows through a rocky ravine a few hundred yards to a larger pool. The cave itself is closed off with a grate, but the pool areas are open to swimming and excellent for snorkeling. The swift current carries you along as you dodge the obstacle course of rocks that line the shallow, narrow channel. There are places just large enough for one swimmer to pass at a time, or scrape the rock on the way through. Swim along with an incredible array of fish and turtles as you enjoy the clear water. The fun part is the little cuts where water pools and shapes of the water twisting though the rocks.
Another feature families appreciate is the sandy area in the pool main area by the pavilions. This little beach zone is great for the smaller little guys getting used to this environment. The water is between 1 – 4 feet deep through most of the Spring. Beyond the main pool area the Spring continues along the run to the final bridge where visitor’s either exit and walk back, or turn around and walk against the water flow. Couples, large families, and groups of teenagers all enjoy the cool water, but because of the no dogs and no alcohol policies, the wild groups tend to prefer Ginny Springs (which is also way more packed). The way the trees, spring, and rocks all come together visitors here enjoy the beauty.
Beautiful Spring Experience
With so many Springs in this region to choose from the unique thing about Rock Springs is the rock formations that create pathways through the stream where the current flows. Because it can be so shallow in places, that 68-degree water does feel warmer with that Florida sun hard at work. Some people snorkel to admire all of the fish, turtles, or other cool things in the water, including sharks teeth! Remnants of Florida’s compelling geological past, when oceans covered all of Florida, shark teeth are trapped in layers of ancient limestone, and get blasted out by the flowing spring water.
Most people bring a float or even pool noodles and enjoy floating the natural lazy river which will take about 20 minutes if taken all the way to the end of the run then take a picturesque walk back along some trails. Wear goggles and a snorkel to ride the current on a pool noodle while looking at the features beneath you, and enjoying the schools of fish along side you. This is not a Spring where you can paddle or kayak because of the shallowness and rocks however, Rock Springs Run flows downstream for 8 miles. There, it merges with another spring run to form the Wekiva River.
Note: Kayaking is allowed in the spring run below the bridge, but swimming and tubing are prohibited past the wooden bridge and exit. Stop at a local Walmart before visiting and and grab some $3 pool noodles, or some floats to make that lazy river glorious, they don’t offer any inside the park. The rocks make it fun for sunbathing or climbing while being immersed in the beauty of nature. The trees and native plants breathe fresh oxygen for us while the fresh water bathes us in it’s healing.
Apopka is centrally located in the middle of an area wealthy with deer, bobcats, birds, and even bear. There natural areas are continuously connected to each other. This lets wildlife roam freely, and expands their natural habitat.
Kelly park/Rock Springs
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Lower Wekiva Rive
Rock Springs Run State Preserve
Wekiva River Buffer Conservation Area
Seminole State Forest
Black Bear Wilderness Area
Blue Springs State Park
Don't panic, but there are also alligators in Florida! And they freely roam the water ways, preferring dirty murky water to clean water. They prefer much less peoplly areas. However, it;s still a good idea to be aware and watchful as they have been seen in the springs.
One of the benefits of such clear water is you'd be able to see something swimming in there!
It is easy to see a lot of the little fish and turtles swimming along.
There are some pretty big turtles trying to hide in the grasses around the edges of the spring as well.
Rain Rain Rain
Florida is known for heating up until the humidity breaks into an afternoon storm. Sometimes these last a mere 15 minutes, and other times bring the wrath of the tropics along with it. While a good rain will clear out many of the visitors, if it isn't lightning, many will continue to swim and float. some find shelter to ride out the rain, later to enjoy a much less crowded park. This is one of the Floridian secrets to having a great time - enjoying the calm after the storm!
For more ideas of what to do on a rainy day click HERE.
It did rain the day we were there. I had my shorts laying over a bench to dry in the sun when they sky opened up and then I floated along peacefully while everyone ran in a frenzy for cover. By the time I walked back to our camp site most of the parking lot was empty!
I did enjoy the rain!
I hooked on to some rocks and stayed under a bride for a little while, letting the rain surround me.
Picnic tables galore and reasonable prices for your basic concession food.
This is not a buffet with a huge variety, but it is an alternative to hosting your own grill.
Awesome playground surrounded by woods and clean bathrooms is another bonus feature of this natural wonderland. This makes kids very happy!
What to bring to Kelly Park Rock Springs?
Float- pool noodle or float tube
Sunscreen (there is some shade from the trees, but also some sunny bright zones)
Waterproofing for phone/ waterproof camera
Cooler packed with drinks/ snacks
Dry clothes for later
Water shoes or water socks (the bottom is rough on bare feet)
Beach toys if wanted (football or frisbee)
Shade if wanted (no tents allowed outside of the camping area)
Life jackets and floatation devices are always a plus when swimming with children!
This day creates the perfect place for some quality time and family adventure!
Children do sometimes dig in the sandy areas below.
These were taken after a storm cleared the crowds, and we felt like we had the place to ourselves.
Okay let's bounce over to King's Landing, and paddle the Emerald Cut water trail
If you have your own board entry is $10.00 - enjoy a self paddle and explore!
Children are $5.00
If you do not, you can rent a board or join a tour:
Rent a Canoe - $59.00
Double Kayak - $69.00
Single Kayak - $49.00
Rates are per person and all people/ vessels must be back by 4:30.
There is also an 8.5 shuttle run available - more details on their website at kingslandingfl.com
As you pull up there is a loop to unload your kayak/ paddle board.
Parking is lined along the street, which dead ends at King's Landing if you pass the Kelly Park Rock Springs entrance.
There are some small lockers, or leave personal items in your vehicle and take only what you need in the water. Small water proof boxes are great for any items you may wish to have with you. Definitely bring a hat, visor, and or sunglasses for the sunny days, and plenty of water! You may also want water socks/ shoes but it's not the rocky bottom type of grounding like Rock Springs. The bottom here feels more like quick sand mud so if you like that, bare feet will be great.
The day we visited our reservations were from 12:00 - 4:30.
When you register online you can fill out your waiver to save time while checking in - there are no bathrooms, only port a pottys on site.
This is a friendly little native Florida business that feels like nature welcoming you from the moment you pull up. Once you are all ready to go, the slip where you walk in is a shallow ramp which can be slippery. For this side, you are not floating, or walking through like on the Rock Springs site. This is the side of the Spring reserved for Paddling/ kayaking/ canoeing.
Rock Springs Run is one of the water trails leading to the Wekiva River Basin, the same tributary that lands at the cave/ spring head at Rock Springs. The pristine clear waters of Rock Springs Run are one of two rivers designated as a National Wild and Scenic River in the state of Florida. This is a beautiful place to spend an afternoon, and I'd strongly recommend spending the morning at Kelly Park Rock Springs then the afternoon next door at Kings Landing.
Busy/ Remote narrow water trail
This Spring is basically in a remote area, feeling very isolated from society. You don't feel like the busy Orlando is just 30 minutes away. Once you are on the water the pathways are fun to twist and turn through. Bumpy tree roots line your trail and you will see many trees some of them down or even growing sideways. Zig Zag switch back curves make this a fun journey, as at times only one vessel can fit or navigate through the shallow water at a time, and other times it opens into more of a pool. When it's busy, it can feel like bumper cars. Luckily everyone coming through seemed entertained by the attempts of others to steer and turn with out crashing. It was fun to test my navigation skills, and a few times I ended up in the brush for sure. Surrounded by what feels like rain forest, this complex ecological system is home to many species, both fauna and animal. If you are lucky you may see some sea otters swimming along. If you are really lucky, a good rain will chase the other visitors away and you can have this Spring to yourself, making it even more peaceful, relaxing and refreshing.
One of the days we visited the spring trails were clear in some places, blue green in others, and crystal clear in others! This was due to excessive rain in the weeks prior to our visit. In some areas the brown water is a reflection of all the tannins from collecting tea leaves and decaying brush. This water is still clear and fun to watch for fish swimming through. At the end of the trail however, the turquoise water just breaks into view and the crystal bottom is so alluring. During our paddle it began to rain lightly while we were making our way to the end. This pushed us to work harder and faster determined to get to the end before the real storm hit. Many paddlers passing us offered words of encouragement saying "you're almost there", or "it's going to be so worth it". had recently been at that bridge on the other side, and knew how awesome it would be to get there.
Both sides of the same divider.
It was especially fun that the rain stopped once we got down to the end where the emerald cut runs into the divider or Rock Springs. It's interesting that both Spring days had some rain and clouds, but actually that provides some shade and makes the Florida heat a little less harsh. This subtropical terrain seems to sing when the rain falls. I didn't mind the weather, and didn't mind me either.
Some of the glorious trailway:
The paddle back was definitely stormy, lots of thunder, no lightning and at times the rain came down so hard I wished I had some windshield wipers for my eyes! But I must say this made me feel one with the natural environment all around me and made my heart smile. As we pulled in the staff of Kings Landing came to meet us and we asked if we were the last people in the Spring. They said there was one more group coming in shortly. Although our time had not run out, we made it back by 4:00 and we were ready to head out for some food. As we got the paddle boards loaded up the lightning cracked a few times and we were grateful to be done.
We dried off in the car and decided to go eat at Hurricanes, a local bar and grill about 15 minutes away where we could sit outside with our soggy selves. The girl time and fun day were amazing, and worth every penny.
I highly recommend if you have your own vessel it is definitely an affordable day. Rentals are a little high, but this one of a kind adventure will not disappoint. It is the most scenic place I've paddled or kayaked. As a whole day trip it is an unforgettable experience. I did not know I could do both adventures in one day if I'd planned accordingly, which I highly recommend, however as two separate adventures these are still amazing memories to have.
The Surrounding area
Kings Landing is right next door, schedule your paddle or kayak tour HERE
Other things to do in Apopka
Wekiwa Springs State Park is close by - Click HERE for more
Lake Apopka Wildlife Trail - Click HERE for more
There are lots of places to eat in the area if you are looking for dinner. Apopka has a great selection of dining and shopping. While service isn't great inside of the Park, you will be able to do a search of the area pulling up many options once outside.
*There is no gift shop, and the concession stand is good but has limited options and limited hours - if you are coming here to spend the day, bring snacks and drinks, pack a cooler, but no there are no chain stores close by.
*There are no pets, or alcohol allowed on site.
*$3 per vehicle for 1-2 people, $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people, $1 for additional person/walk-ins/motorcycles/bikes
*There are decent clean bathrooms, and showers by the campground.
*Get there early, earlier than the park opens!
*It rains. Got to love our tropical climate. Sometimes it randomly storms briefly clearing all the humidity making a wonderful afternoon. The driest month is December.
*It's important to have a good waterproof case for your phone.
*Just go, don't make it a big production. Sometimes we over think or over plan wanting everything to be perfect. It will be ❤
Sunscreen/ sun protection: My unpopular opinion (I am not a doctor) that a little sun is good for you can quickly change when your skin burns. I like pure zinc sunscreen. Please read the ingredients on your sunscreen. Some of those ingredients cause cancer! You are rubbing it on to prevent cancer then baking it into your skin. The Florida sun is strong however and there is some shade. I do see some people bringing their own shade with them and especially for small children this is a nice option. Decide how best to plan for lots of sun.
Affordabilty Meter: 9/10
On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this day?
With 1 being practically unaffordable, and a 10 being free, this day rates as a 9.
Variables: How far did you travel to get there/ food & drink choices.
Entrance fees are very low, and as a County Park, this is a very affordable day. Concession stand prices are very reasonable and if you pack a cooler and bring your own float you are set for the day! Some families have a shade pavilion (no tents) or just beach towels, this day is truly as easy as you make it!
** If you do visit both parks and have your own vessel, the $10.00 entry per person is also quite a deal, but if you are paying per person these costs can add up. It is not more expensive than other places to rent a vessel when considering the quality of this experience. However, I'd have to adjust my scale to 8/10
No matter where your travels take you, enjoy the journey!
Don't forget good music in the car and car snacks.
Breathe and be present.
Remember to let go of all the things you can't control.
Enjoy your surroundings, and the people present with you.
And most importantly, make the memories count.
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More Springs! Click HERE for a day at Alexander Spring in Altoona
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~~~Enjoy Nature All Around you~~ It is often the closest to our own nature we can get.
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