Orlando, Florida is the home of Disney World but Orlando natives are normally quick to correct people that the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ is actually in nearby Kissimmee.
Minus the theme parks and local tourist traps there is so much else to do in Orlando.
One of the best places to go with a family, as a couple or alone, is Kelly Park, home of Rock Springs. Wet n’ Wild’s Lazy River has captured the magic that Rock Springs has been bringing visitors for decades.
Kelly Park is a local state park, a reasonable distance away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Oralndo. It has areas for camping that are fairly cheap and allow people to stay longer than just a day’s visit if they want.
Although camping is available, day visits are the most common. Visitors should enter the park early (with a dollar charge per person in the car upon entering) because the park has a capacity restriction and will close off to more people by 10:30 or 11 AM.
There are so many different things to do in the park itself. Although the park is a wood area there are sand volleyball courts near the parking lot and pavilions to eat lunch. If visitors don’t pack a lunch they can buy one at the concession stand. The park also features several walking trails with explanations of the local flora and fauna in view.
However, the greatest attraction of Kelly Park is Rock Springs. Kelly Park boasts a long, winding river that emerges from a clear, cold spring right in the park. Visitors entering the park will arrive at the widest part of the springs with a large, deep pool and a shallower area for children. There are plenty of places to set up a picnic or sunbathe.
If patrons take a walk on the boardwalk alongside the river they can enter the springs at the very beginning where the water first comes out of the ground. The closer to the mouth of the springs, the colder the water will be; a refreshing feeling in the hot, sticky Florida weather.
Patrons who enter the springs will continue down, lazy river style until they reach the big pool at the entrance of the park; visitors can also bring intertubes or rent them at a nearby shop to float on. The river continues past this point and is much slower and very relaxing, because most people get out at the big pool so they don’t have to walk back to their group.
Rock Springs is a great place to cool down and relax after a day at the parks or just to have a change of pace in a busy city like Orlando. The water of Rock Springs eventually runs into one of two wild and scenic rivers in Florida, Wekiva River (the other river being the Loxahatchee).
Wekiva State Park is close to Kelly Park but is more fun for teenagers and couples. Families with young children do not usually go to Wekiva because the water is deeper.
Wekiva State Park has a spring, much like Rock Springs, except that the area around the mouth of the spring is much wider, like a giant pool. There is a swimming area for patrons, but no lazy river. Instead visitors can rent canoes and kayaks and explore miles of untouched, pristine Florida landscape and wildlife.
As a recommendation, if you do go to Wekiva and kayak/canoe, take the left fork. After about a mile there is a small island with shallow water nearby — a great place to park the boats and have lunch or just play around in the water.
Chances are that visitors going to Wekiva will see a lot of wildlife, even an alligator or two. At Rock Springs the summer months bring in a lot of visitors that create a lot of noise and disturbances so creatures usually stay hidden. However, during the spring months when it is warm enough to go swimming but no one is on vacation, the park is a lot emptier and chances are you’ll swim with an otter or two.
The common misconceptions about Orlando are that the only thing to do are the parks and that there is nothing ‘outdoorsy’ worth doing. However, Rock Springs and Wekiva will be sure to amaze with the quality of the experience and the true beauty of natural Florida wildlife.