Doing the Rock Springs Run
Central Florida does not lack for springs or spring runs that twist their way through swamps and overhanging trees to reach a river and head for the sea. Some springs live in their own little contained worlds but most are part of a bigger web of life.
Just outside of Apopka Rock Springs bubbles up. Nearby Kelly Park is a nice place to swim with a one-mile run leading out of the spring that’s for tubing. There’s a boardwalk alongside so you can easily walk back and do it as many times as you like.
A little further down the Run is King’s Landing (5722 Baptist Camp Road, Apopka, FL 32712). It’s the kick off spot for an 8.5 mile paddle to a take-out point just beyond Wekiwa Springs. The paddle takes about four and a half hours and that includes time to stop for a picnic or a swim along the way.
You have a couple of choices for paddling in Rock Springs Run but you can’t go wrong with the laid back folks at King’s Landing (Where Everyone Deserves a Good Paddling). They have been renting canoes and kayaks and selling bait and tackle for 40 years. The Landing folks will also ferry you between your start with them and finish at Wekiwa Island.
Hand the guy at the counter a few bucks and he gives you a flotation device and a paddle and leads you down to the canoes (or kayaks) waiting to be turned loose. Get in, push off and 100 yards down the canal you are in the crystal clear water of Rock Springs Run.
These spring fed runs that turn into rivers that join bigger rivers are little changed since long before the first white men arrived. They were the same when the native Americans paddled their canoes made of hollowed out tree trunks down them to fish or hunt for deer. There is little here to stop you from feeling you are back in those days.
The river runs from 3 to 5 mph depending on the season and every turn delivers a shifting vista. There are only a few houses along the river and it’s hard to see one without wanting to just pull your canoe over and announce you are a missing cousin come home at last. Howdy. What’s for supper?
But before you get too far into that fantasy you see egrets just up the river that you will never reach. Every time you are close they fly, breaking the silence of the day with the whisper of their wings. They don’t go far downstream before lighting again and no matter how quietly you paddle they still spook and go.
The occasional great blue heron poses by the river’s edge and generally stays put when your canoe glides by.
Part way down are two primitive campsites half a mile apart. The second, on your left, is Indian Mound Campsite and it’s a particularly good spot to tie up and have your picnic. We had quite a feast thanks to my baby sister who is an amazing cook and tailgate expert.
Back in the canoes we glide over fish in the pale amber water and sometimes an otter pops up to give a look. Gator sightings are all but guaranteed. Most are the three foot variety but there are some bigger boys that pull up on downed trees to sun, never seeming to look at you but somehow you know that they know you are there just a few feet away.
Most of the run is pretty easy even for someone like myself with more enthusiasm than skill. There is a section toward the end where the river makes several sharp twists and runs a little stronger. I failed to make a few of those turns and had to execute some backing up maneuvers to get out of the weeds.
Shortly before the take-out you pass the entrance to Wekiwa Springs and from that point you have left Rock Springs Run and are briefly on the Wekiwa River on its way to the St. Johns.
After passing Wekiwa Springs and going under the bridge take your next right and paddle up a short run to your take-out place. There have been a few big, fun, sometimes rowdy restaurant/bar establishments here over the years. The most recent restaurant burned in October of 2013. It’s expected to be rebuilt and the rest of the property is still open for canoe rentals and more.
As we turned into the canal at the end of our canoe run the sky let loose and rain started to fall polka-dotting the water. We got to the landing just before the bottom fell out, pulled our canoes up and ducked under the metal sheds. It got loud, like summer rain does. We grabbed beers from the coolers and rods from our stuff and tossed plastic worms out toward the lily pads while we waited. When there was a break we ran for the truck and drove out the bumpy road and back toward home better for having spent those hours on the river.
© Copyright 2013: text Sue Harrison; photos Sue Harrison & Lee Brock for MyOldFlorida.com.