It’s summertime in Florida, and that means temperatures reaching the mid-90s and oppressive humidity.
The good news is — there are plenty of natural, freshwater springs with constantly cool water to keep you from overheating during the hot Florida summer. And — bonus! — lot of them are within an hour’s drive of Orlando.
Tucked away among oak and pine trees, visitors to Kelly Park in Apopka can find and enjoy Rock Springs Run, which eventually leads into the Wekiva River (which, in turn, leads into the St. Johns River). The 245-acre park is managed by Orange County Parks and Recreation.
After grabbing a tube and heading to the spring head, spring-goers can float down the 68-degree run that starts out fast and then slows to a leisurely, lazy river pace.
Visitors enter the cool, 68-degree spring water at Rock Springs at Kelly Park in Apopka. (Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel)
After exiting the shade of trees, tubers can choose to float down either side of a grassy peninsula where sunbathers work on their tans.
Upon crossing under one of two bridges, the water opens up into a large, natural swimming pool bordered by places for spectators to sit and read a book or watch the kids play. A small, sandy beach is especially popular among the young ones.
At this point, spring-goers can choose to exit after a short float or continue down into a more natural part of the spring run. Be careful not to get caught on the eelgrass on either side of the water, and keep a careful eye out for birds, fish, turtles or other wildlife that may be around.
Visitors enjoy cool, 68-degree spring water at Rock Springs at Kelly Park in Apopka. (Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel)
At the end of the 30- to 45-minute journey down the Kelly Park portion of Rock Springs Run, visitors can exit the water and take a paved walk back to the main portion of the park. From there, some may opt to do it all over again. Others may choose a visit to the concession stand, a game of volleyball or a seat at one of the park’s picnic tables, perhaps even having a barbecue.
Location: 400 E Kelly Park Road in Apopka, a 40-minute drive from Orlando
Hours: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. during summer, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. during winter
Fees: $3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people; $1 for each additional person, walk-ins, motorcycles or bikes
Amenities: Concession stand, campground, kayak launch, playground, sand volleyball courts, pavilions for rent, picnic tables with charcoal grills, hiking trails
Activities: Tubing, swimming, hiking, snorkeling, kayaking, picnicking, sunbathing and volleyball
Natural factor: The free-flowing natural spring emerges from an outcropping of rocks. It later flows into the Wekiva River, which flows into the St. Johns River. Oak trees, tall pines and Southern Magnolia trees can be found throughout the park and along the spring.
Eelgrass grows along many parts of the spring, especially along the side in shallower waters. Turtles, birds, squirrels and Monarch butterflies are just a few types of wildlife visitors might encounter.
Plan your visit: It’s important to know about Kelly Park’s visitor cap. They allow 280 vehicles entry per morning. At 2 p.m., the park allows an additional 50 vehicles to enter. According to the park’s website, this results in an average of 1,350 visitors per day, which helps preserve the spring run and park’s natural beauty. Cars have been known to line up as early as 5 a.m. on summer weekend days, so plan accordingly.
What to bring: Make sure to pack a small dry bag for your phone and keys. Bringing a GoPro is a bonus!
What not to bring: Pets and alcohol are not allowed in the park.
Pro tips: Tubes are not available in the park, but they are for rent at Rock Springs Bar and Grill nearby. Alternatively, stop by a store on the way and buy your own float for $10-$20. If you choose this option, make sure you have a pump or compressor for your inflation needs. It’s much harder and more time consuming to do it using your own hot air (I learned this the hard way).
Tubes are overflowing from the back of a pickup truck at Kelly Park in Apopka. (Patrick Connolly / Orlando Sentinel)
More information: Visit ocfl.net for more information or call the park at 407-254-1902. You can call the number to find out about daily capacity and entry.