Monday, April 12, 2010

The Orlando You Don't Know: Spend a day in Old Florida

A mere 45 minutes from the parks awaits a lush paradise that is an unexpected surprise. Wekiva Springs State park is a different kind of Florida, the closest you can come to what things were like centuries ago, long before theme parks and interstates and Starbucks. Wekiva is part of the Florida State Park system and it prides itself on being " a glimpse of what Central Florida looked like when Timucuan Indians fished and hunted these lands."

Wekiva is a wonderful break from the ordinary, often hectic rush of an Orlando theme park vacation. Wekiva has acres and acres for you to explore at your leisure. There are trails for hiking, walking, bicycling, and horseback riding. You can take a kayak or canoe (rentals available at the park) ride on the often crystal clear water for glimpses of wildlife both on land and beneath the shimmering surface -- animals like Alligators, Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Limpkins, Little Blue Herons, Tricolored Herons, Woodpeckers, Swallow-tailed Kites, Florida Black Bears, White-tailed Deer, River Otters, and Fox are just some of what you may see. Swimming and snorkeling is available year-round as well, since the spring maintain a natural temperature of 72 degrees no matter what the air temp is--that's refreshing in the hottest Florida summer and still comfortable during cool Orlando winters. Just remember this is a State Park, not a theme park -- all animals are wild animals and you always swim/snorkel at your own risk. I'd stick with the kayaks, myself, but the more adventurous out there might think differently.

Wekiva is one of my favorite places in the Orlando area. It's a peaceful, beautiful haven, the perfect place to relax and get away from all stresses, even the ones vacations sometimes bring. And at $5 a carload, it's a real bargain. This is a day trip well worth making time for, especially with the new Nature Center where you can learn about Florida history as well as local flora and fauna. There are even live wildlife specimens if you're not brave enough to hit the trails on your own. You can bring your own food to Wekiva too, so grab a picnic basket or a loaded backpack; there are also a few concession stands serving snacks and basics.

If you go to Wekiva, be sure to pack plenty of sunblock, bottled water and insect repellent; the Florida sun is strong and the bugs can be plentiful. A small first aid kit isn't a bad idea either, especially for inexperienced hikers. In my opinion, the best way to spend time at Wekiva is relaxing near the big spring swimming hole, stretched out on a blanket with a good book, with perhaps the occasional walk along the 18-mile boardwalk to try to spy some lurking wildlife. Bring your camera, bring a blanket, bring the family. This is the Orlando area at its most unexpected. Make time for it if you can.

Wekiwa Springs State Park\
1800 Wekiwa Circle
Apopka, Florida 32712
(407) 884-2008

Wekiwa Springs State Park

*Photographs credit of The Florida Department of Environmental Protection


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