Forget Disney for a day at Orlando’s Wekiwa Springs

All due respect to Mickey and Minnie, but there’s only so much manufactured adventure we can take before we’re raring for a real-deal trip around Orlando.

If you think flat terrain and shopping malls are all the inland Florida area has to offer, take a trip north to Wekiwa Springs State Park. (You’ll still be back in time for the fireworks.)

What is it?

Wekiwa Springs

Paddleboards — or, in our case, a windsurf board and a canoe paddle — work if you aren’t scared of falling in the (alligator-infested) water in Wekiwa Springs. Photo: Johnie Gall

Wekiwa Springs is a popular freshwater spring that doubles as a swimming pool for overheated Floridians and tourists alike.

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Located about 45 minutes north of the Disney theme parks, it’s a nice escape for tired parents and attraction-weary outdoorsmen, and kids will go nuts over the giant natural swimming pool (which is surrounded by manmade concrete walkways and bridges for easy, safe access).

How to get there

From the south (aka Disney World), drive along Interstate 4 East and take exit 94 for FL-434 West. Drive straight along FL-434 W until you see state-park signs on your right. (The address is 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, FL 32712 if you wanna plug it into your GPS.)

The stats

Park entry costs $6 per vehicle. Dogs are allowed, but check park rules for updates. On-site camping is available, and kayaks, underwater cameras and lifejackets are available for rental with proper ID.

What to do

Wekiwa Springs

Watch out for alligators along the marshy banks. If you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone. Photo: Johnie Gall

Kayak and canoe rentals are available on the spot, but feel free to launch your own boat into the small river system extending out the back of the spring pool.

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A short paddle will offer an exciting little trip through some low-hanging palms, lily-pad fields and sunbathing alligators. Just be prepared for a long haul down the boat-launch path, since all cars are restricted to the parking lot.

What to bring

Wekiwa Springs

Kayak and canoe rentals are available on site at Wekiwa Springs. Photo: Johnie Gall

A kayak, a lifejacket (you don’t have to wear it, but it needs to be in your boat), a paddle, suntan lotion, a swimsuit, a towel or chair for sitting on the grass lawn, a wide-brimmed hat to fend off the Florida sun, your driver’s license, a GoPro or underwater camera, some cash for the concession stand and plenty of water.

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Do

The clear, turquoise water of Wekiwa springs is refreshing after a humid kayak trip. Photo by Johnie Gall

The clear turquoise water of Wekiwa Springs is refreshing after a humid kayak trip. Photo: Johnie Gall

Take a dip in the Wekiwa Springs “pool” with some goggles and an underwater camera.

The water feels refreshing after a paddle thanks to its year-round 72-degree temperature. Expect a depth of about 5 feet with clear turquoise water and a soft, sandy floor.

Don’t

Wekiwa Springs

Arrive at Wekiwa Springs early or be prepared to paddle through a crowd. Photo: Johnie Gall

Plan on arriving after 10:30 a.m. The line into the park rivals that of the Tower of Terror and the gates often shut early in the morning due to capacity limits.

Your best bet is to get there by 9 a.m. at the latest for a prime parking spot and a little head start.