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Finding the Rock Spring Headwaters and Tubing

Sunday Afternoon April 3, 2016                                                  Most Recent Posts                                                   
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After my morning volksmarch (see post above) we spend Sunday afternoon on some scouting missions.  The first one, since I did not kayak all the way up the Rock Spring Run,  is to find the actual Rock Spring Headwaters which is located in a county park.

Wekiwa Spring is in Wekiwa Spring State park but there is no Rock Spring park.  The Rock Spring is located in Kelly Park run by Orange county. Although I find out that by water it is more than 8.5 miles up, by car it is 7 miles.  We arrive and find a BIG park with a huge very full parking lot.

Looking at the map we can see the headwaters there at the top of the blue spring run.  It’s marked Spring Head on the map. 





You cannot launch your kayaks here.  But you can launch tubes if you bring your own or rent them from a vendor outside the park.  Today is Sunday afternoon and lots of people have done just that. 

On the map you can see where the put in is near the spring head.  The take out is the last thing labeled bridge on the river.  Beyond that, you are on your own.  Actually there is fence across the river so kayaks cannot come up that far.  SO where do you launch your kayak if you want to float DOWN the river.   That’s our next stop.  But first we have to check out Kelly Park.


Kelly Park is named for Dr. Howard A Kelly, a famous surgeon and one of the founders of Johns Hopkins University. On one of his vacations to Florida he was very impressed with the springs which orginate from a cave in a bluff unlike most Florida Springs which come up from boils in the ground. He purchased 200 acres around the springs to preserve it. He tried to donate it to the state of Florida but they had no State Parks at that time so they told him they had no use for it. WOW! He did manage to donate it to Orange County in 1927 and they named it in his honor. Over the years the county has doubled the size of the park.   Take a good look at this picture of Dr. Kelly at the head springs cave.  I have a picture of it from today a little later on.



If you look again at the map above you can see that Kelly park is sprawling.  It’s hard to describe it as the water coming out of the cave floats through a canal into a large pool and then out into a more natural river like area to the end of the tubing run.  The main purpose of this park is tubing.  Bring your own tube or rent it from an outside vendor. Or just lay down and float without a device.  Parking is $3 per vehicle for 1 to 2 people and $5 for 3-8 people.  There is a concession stand, picnic tables and pavillions and a playground.  The park is open 8 to 8 in the summer and 8 to 6 in the winter, 7 days a week.

There is also a campground for tents and RVs.  More on that later.

We enter the park and walk by the Concession stand which has anything you might want or need to eat or to play with in the water.



In front of us is the large pool that is on the map between the canal from the head spring and the rest of the spring run available for tubing or swimming.



Lots of people are all around this afternoon but there is still room in the water.  The spring is 70 degrees but I don’t know what the temperature of the water is by the time it arrives in the “pool” which I assume is man made.





On the map you can see that the spring run leaves the headwaters and branches out around an island.  Not sure if that’s man made too since one side of each is cement to contain the island and the other side is natural vegetation.




From the point, looking up the stream, I can see people in tubes and just floating swimming along approaching the island.


From there they go around the island 

either around the right side


  or the left side.  One of the women in the bottom of the picture is towing the other back up stream.  Might be a shorter trip than to get out and walk around.



From which ever side you come, you end up in the big pool before floating on down to the end. 



The water is quite shallow, clear and the grasses abundant.





We decide to walk down to the take out before going up to see the Spring Head.  We walk over the bridge and find folks coming toward the ramp to get out, walk back up and start again.



We walk back up too, this time to find the actual spring head.



I recognize this spot from the picture in the 20’s of Doctor Kelly taken right here.







As you can see in the first picture of the cave, no one is paying any attention to the signs saying don’t cross buoy line.




From here just beyond the buoy line you can put in to float under the bridge and down the spring run.



Or just play in the water as many people were doing.



MANY people as you can see from this picture taken from the bridge back up to the spring cave.



I would like to come play in the water too and float down, but not today.  Maybe a Tuesday, before Spring Break season or is it too cold then?  After Spring Break season at the end of April, I won’t be in Florida.

The drumming of this red bellied woodpeck grabs my attention as we walk back to the car.


Once we drive around through the campground we realize it would have been just as easy to walk through.  I read that there are 26 sites tucked under a dense canopy of pine and hardwood forest, ranging from 35 to 70 feet deep with comfortable separation between sites that afford unusual privacy.  This appears to be true and on this late Sunday afternoon there are 2 campers here.

The cost for the 2015-16 Season is $18 for county residents and $23 for all others.  Water and electric sites with a dump station


Sites and Roads are hard packed.





They are advertising for a camphost.






From Kelly Park we drive less than a mile up the road to Kings Landing where you can launch a kayak.  You can see from the map the Spring head, the “emerald cut” around what I called the island at Kelly Park and off to the left, a canal that leads to Kings Landing which is mighty lucky to be the private enterprise with THE ONLY entrance to the rock spring run.

You launch here or you paddle up the 8.5 miles from Wekiwa Springs State Park.  In the map you can also see Wekiwa Springs where I launch from at the park and how its spring run combines with the Rock Spring Run to form the river.  King’s Take Out and Shuttle pick up  is just beyond the bridge and behind, or perhaps part of, Wekiva Island.   Also notice that on this map everything is Wekiwa including the river.  Not so my friends.






Kings Landing is right here at the end of the road.  They have no parking inside their grounds so you have to park on the side of the road.

We do and walk inside where we see their shuttle bus and get information about kayaking down the run from here and getting a shuttle to come back and get the car.

They say the trip down the Rock Spring run is 8.5 miles and takes 4.5 hours. We later find that is true if you don’t just float.

Kings has lots of rental offerings. To rent their canoes for the day including shuttle back is $40. Same cost for a one person kayak, $50 for a two person kayak.

If you want to just play in the run, paddle down a couple of miles, swim along the way and then paddle back the cost is $20 for a canoe. Kayaks are 1 person $30, 2 person $40.   This is for all day. If you bring your own kayak it is $10 per boat to launch and paddle back or anywhere on the Florida Canoe Trail you like or $20 per boat for the shuttle.

We sign up for a Tuesday put in and a shuttle for one.  I’ll paddle to the park and David will paddle to King’s and ride the shuttle.  As it turns out, that might not have been the best plan.




Cute sign on the shuttle bus which pulls a boat trailer.



I guess they don’t really care if you read the information and rules sign.  Wish I’d asked what happened to it.  Did something really chew it up? 



This late in the day all of these folks are coming back from their  paddle down 2 miles and then paddle back.  You have to be on the river by 11am if you want to use the shuttle which picks up at 4pm week days and 2:30 and 4pm on week-ends.




Having seen everything we came for and gotten all the information we need from both Kelly and King’s, we head back to the rig.  On the way into the park we notice the sign in the window (blue arrow on the left).  It reads:

Volunteer Host Postions Available
Inquire Within

Looks like you might be able to hang out at either of these two parks for the winter if you want to and kayak, tube and swim to your heart’s content.



  1. I don't think I'd be very happy in the water with so many people around. I'm a little too introverted for that, although seeing another person or two now and then would be fine as total solitude isn't my thing either.

  2. Do you think 70* water temperature is great for swimming? I think it's too cold. The older I get, the warmer I like my water.

  3. Amazed at how clear the water remains with all that human activity going on. I'm sure Dr Kelly could not have imagined all the tubes :-) Can't wait to see the river run on a weekday. The little campground looks pretty sweet - could be a very nice spot for camp hosting.

  4. Really a great swimming hole and tubing park in a lovely setting. A wonderful asset for the county residents mostly - a few too many for me, but nice to see everyone having fun if not paying full attention to rules.

  5. I do wonder what the doctor would make of tubing!

  6. Cannot believe how crowded it is!! I guess it's a good thing we always leave Florida at the end of March and don't have to contend with the crowds on the rivers. Still, I would like to one day go tubing on the spring fed rivers as I did back in my college days - and it would need to be warm enough to enjoy it (meaning April or later, most likely). The headwaters of the spring are very pretty, from what I can see around all of the people. :-)

  7. What a fun "waterpark" for families! It so pretty:) I can only imagine just how crowded it would be in the summer.

  8. Where would we be today without people like Dr. Kelly that had the foresight to preserve wonderful places like this for people to enjoy? Maybe it's not the most natural use with all the tubes, but if it wasn't set aside, there'd certainly be all kinds of condos and other ugly structures ruining the natural beauty.

  9. Im going to guess the bear chewed on that sign. Quite interesting they just left it there.
    I've learned a lot from your post not only about the beaches in Florida but most importantly the Real Florida! with all the spring water sprouting from underneath.
    I have never swam in a river or in a spring but that spring looks so inviting. But not sure if I would swim with the crowd :)
    PS. By coming back to your post about FL you also turned back your year to 2013 :)

    1. Now that's a riot. Not sure how that can be a slip of the finger.Thanks for noticing Mona Liza I fixed it.

  10. Very popular park and activities! The water is still so clear despite all the people. That's very good; Im glad it is preserved. I bet it's absolutely over run in summer!


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