The Weeki Wachee River affords some of the most stunning kayaking in Florida. At eight miles long, the river flows from Weeki Wachee Springs—located about an hour north of Tampa—to the Gulf of Mexico near Bayport. The beautiful thing about kayaking the Weeki Wachee, besides the beauty of your surroundings, of course, is it’s accessible to everyone, from beginners to advanced paddlers.
Weeki Wachee kayaking guide
Weeki Wachee Springs itself is quite the tourist attraction, as it’s so deep the bottom has never been found. It’s classified as a first magnitude spring, which means it’s in the largest flow volume of springs in the world. To earn this classification, there must be a minimum of 64.4 million gallons of water per day, or 100 cubic feet of water per second, discharged from the spring. Weeki Wachee Spring has over 117 million gallons of clear, fresh, 74-degree-Fahrenheit water bubbling up out of the subterranean caverns each day. Northwest Florida Water Management has an informative infographic on how springs work that’s worth checking out if you’re visiting the area.
In 1947, a state park was established around the spring by Newt Perry, who specialized in underwater stunts. The mermaid show Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is known for was created by Perry himself, who taught the women he hired how to perform synchronized underwater routines while breathing from proprietary air tubes hidden in the scenery. The park still draws heavily on this heritage, with “mermaid” performances that run 365 days a year.
The mermaid show is a draw for many—maybe even you!—but if Weeki Wachee kayaking is what you’re after, this guide will take you through everything you to need to know before setting out on this stretch of crystal-clear water and through the riot of greens and blues of the floodplain.
Can I bring my own kayak?
Yes, you can bring your own kayak to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. It costs $10 per vessel to use the park’s private boat launch (reservations are required). There are other places to launch your kayak farther west on Cortez Boulevard; however, kayakers are encouraged to use the boat launch at the springs, as the natural banks of the river are sensitive to erosion and damage from human activity.
It should be noted that inflatable tubes and rafts are not allowed in the park. Inflatable kayaks and inflatable standup paddleboards are permitted, provided they are U.S. Coast Guard-certified (most commercially available boats have this certification from the manufacturer; you can double-check on your boat).
In an effort to minimize environmental impact on the very sensitive ecosystem of Weeki Wachee, motorized recreational watercraft are not permitted on the river. The full USCG regulations for small crafts can be found here.
Weeki Wachee trip options
There are three main options for the best kayak trips on the Weeki Wachee River, based on the experience level of your group and desired difficulty level.
On any of these routes, make sure to take some photos for your walls at home—the crystal-clear, blue-green waters with bright splashes from kayaks and paddles make for incredibly stunning photos.
Best for inexperienced paddlers
The most straightforward and beginner-friendly of the kayaking trips in the Weeki Wachee area involves putting in at Weeki Wachee Springs and paddling to Rogers Park, in the town of Weeki Wachee Gardens. This 3.5-hour stretch of river gives all paddlers an awe-inspiring view of Florida’s landscape and wildlife.
Weeki Fresh Water Adventures is the only kayak rental company in the park, and provides all the required gear as well as a shuttle for $40 per person. The other option available from Weeki Fresh Water Adventures is the shuttle service. Note that the company will not shuttle personal boats, but you’re welcome to take the shuttle back to your vehicle and then pick up your kayak.
Best for intermediate paddlers
The intermediate route option is Bayport to Rogers Park; this trip is a shorter distance at two miles long, but is made more challenging by the boat traffic, navigation skills that are required in this stretch of water, and the fact that you’ll be paddling upriver.
There are no shuttles available for this route, so you’ll need to arrange your own or paddle back downstream for a four-mile round trip.
Best for advanced paddlers
Those looking for a challenging adventure can make the journey from Rogers Park to Weeki Wachee Springs. This route will take you six miles upstream—again, you will either need to arrange your own shuttle or paddle back downstream for a 12-mile trip that will take a full day to complete.
There are some challenging elements on this route. At some points the river gets narrower and the current picks up, requiring a higher level of skill and composure on the water than the other more serene areas on the Weeki Wachee.
You’ll need to pay a $2 entrance fee at Rogers Park, but otherwise there are no costs to this route if you have your own kayak. If you need to rent, check out Kayak Shack Adventures, located across from Rogers Park. Costs are $35 for a solo kayak and $40 for a tandem. Reservations aren’t required, but are highly recommended.
Wildlife viewing opportunities
Wildlife abounds along the Weeki Wachee—there aren’t many other places that so beautifully exemplify the natural world of Florida. Keep your camera at the ready for unforgettable shots of manatees, alligators, raccoons, otters, and numerous birds like ducks, ibis, pelicans, herons, osprey, wood storks and cormorants.
Many paddlers are particularly interested in kayaking with the manatees that call the river home; however, you should always be respectful of them (and any wildlife, for that matter). There are only about 2,500 of these gentle sea mammals left in the world, and any threat to their habitat like plastic containers or straws can have a big negative impact on their survival. Florida State Parks are very attentive to the ecological situation in the area, and have banned all single-use plastics inside the park. Please keep their efforts going when you’re outside the park boundaries as well!
The best viewing opportunities of manatees in Florida are around springs; the clear water allows you to get a good look at them while these curious marine mammals cruise by to curiously check you out too.
There are alligators in Weeki Wachee—but don’t worry, you’re not likely to see them while kayaking. Alligator habitats are in the marshland where guests are not likely to go. Alligators do not naturally view humans as prey, so they’re most likely to keep to themselves. Key West Aquarium has some great facts on their webpage that will ensure you’re informed on alligators in Florida.
Weeki Wachee kayaking rules
Weeki Wachee Springs is a sensitive ecological habitat. As such, there are some guidelines for spending time in the park. The following items are not permitted on the Weeki Wachee River:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Inflatable inner tubes
- Rafts or similar floatation devices
- Motorized vessels of any type
- Disposable items such as plastic, aluminum, glass, styrofoam paper and fireworks
Exercise your common sense and empathy for the creatures whose home you’re visiting, and everyone will be happy!
The Weeki Wachee Springs State Park webpage provides a good overview of the offerings and activities in the park, and is a great resource for any closures or weather warnings in the area.
Paddle the blue-green waters of the Weeki Wachee. | Feature photo: Paul Clark/Flickr