Rock Springs in Apopka, Florida

The Floridan Aquifer System (FAS) is one of the most productive aquifers on earth, and Orlando sits atop one of the most prodigious pockets of that system. Of course, with much of the activity therein occurring below ground, it’s a largely invisible superlative. At a public park just outside Orlando, however, Florida’s hydrological fortitude is on full display. 

Rock Springs is located within Kelly Park, a 355-acre park and wildlife preserve in Apopka county. The headsprings here pour 65,000 gallons of 68–72-degree water per minute. It goes into Rock Springs Run, an 8.5-mile river that’s one of Florida’s designated Wild and Scenic Rivers

The main swimming area offers a tranquil spot to wade into the run and enjoy the gently flowing water as it passes from headspring to creek. Grassy knolls above the concrete embankments offer a place to lay down a towel and sunbathe. A short stroll leads to the headspring, which emerges from a pristine cave. 

For an all-natural “lazy river” experience, visitors can launch a tube from the main swimming area and drift three-quarters of a mile downstream (about 20 minutes) to a designated landing and walk back to their resting spot (about 10 minutes). And if you work up an appetite, there’s an on-site concession stand up the hill. 

Rock Springs Run also offers some of the most scenic paddling in the state. Down the road from the park entrance, a rental service offers canoes and kayaks, which visitors can use to explore the length of Rock Springs Run. Upstream from the rental service is the Emerald Cut—a tight river segment with crystal clear waters and a soft, sandy bottom surrounded by a jungle-like landscape with several secluded swimming spots. Downstream, the run opens up into a broader waterway bordered by lily marshes where you can spot turtles, river otters, and an array of birds, from herons to egrets to bald eagles. If you’re looking for a guided tour, Get Up & Go Kayaking offers crystal clear kayak tours at Kings Landing.

For land-lovers, Kelly Park offers seven miles of trails perfect for hiking, biking, and wildlife-spotting across hundreds of acres of sub-tropical forest. And if you really don’t want to leave, the park also offers several campgrounds (some only accessible by water) which can be reserved through the Orange County website

Know Before You Go

This is a rather popular attraction and parking is limited. On weekends, cars start lining up at 5 a.m. for entry. The first 280 cars are given entry tickets, while the following 50 are allowed entry at 2 p.m. If visiting on a weekend, your best bet is to get in line early for a ticket, grab breakfast, then return when you’re ready for a swim (the park opens at 8 a.m.). Note that there is no re-entry. There is also no tube rental, so be sure to bring your own if you plan to float. 

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