Weekend Backpacker: Orlando
Wekiva or Wekiwa? Watching for street signs, it gets confusing over in this corner of Orlando."Wekiva" is the Creek word for "flowing water"; "Wekiwa" means "bubbling water." So the crystalline waters of Wekiwa Springs gives birth to the Wekiva River, which flows forth as one of Florida's most pristine river systems. Lush cypress swamps, palmetto-lined streams, soggy hammocks, and sand pine scrub characterize Wekiwa, the closest state park to the Orlando metro area. Plunge into the dense forest, however, and you'll soon leave the suburbs behind 7,800 acres of wilderness capture the spirit of ancient Florida, with two beautiful primitive campsites set along 13.5 miles of a loop hiking trail.
From Orlando: Take I-4 east to exit 49. Follow SR 434 west to Wekiwa Springs Road; alternatively, use SR 436 (Semoran Blvd) to access Wekiwa Springs Road in Apopka. Follow the signs. Driving time: 1520 minutes.
Upon entering the park, you must check in with the rangers if you intend to use the primitive camping areas along the trail. State park day-use fee applies.
The loop trails in this park are well blazed in white, blue, and yellow. A simple corresponding map of the trails is available at the ranger station, noting campsites and water sources. You can also purchase a detailed map, EC-1 Wekiwa Springs State Park Trail, through the Florida Trail Association; visit their Web site for ordering information.
A popular swimming and canoeing destination, Wekiwa fills up rapidly during the hot months. Luckily, crowds depart during the cool season, leaving the park to the backpackers. Camp Cozy, along Rock Springs Run, has better access to water but is more popular with large organized groups; if you're looking for serenity, pack in your water and opt for the quiet Live Oak Camp. Be sure to bear bag not just for the sake of the persistent raccoons, but also to stymie the Florida black bears that amble through this forest.
Orlando author and biology teacher Deborah Green has written an excellent and detailed guidebook to the park, Wekiwa Springs State Park Habitat Tour. Her book Watching Wildlife in the Wekiva River Basin also contains a chapter on the park. Both are available in local bookstores.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication