Kayaking the Weeki Wachee River is one of the best things to do in Florida.
The Weeki Wachee River is approximately seven miles long. It originates in the first magnitude Weeki Wachee Spring and eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
The width of the river varies. It is more than 40 feet wide in some areas, and very narrow in others. Weeki Wachee is generally a slow, easy paddle. There is some current but it is a good paddle trail for beginners.
The Weeki Wachee River is absolutely beautiful. The water is crystal clear, filled with sunlight and is surrounded by pristine nature. The clear and clean water is partially protected by a lack of motorboats who cannot make it up the shallow river.
The river is filled with river grass and the banks are lovely white sand in many places.
There are also sandbars and beaches sprinkled throughout the river bottom. The area surrounding the river is pristine old-Florida nature, although the lower part of the river is developed.
Part of the river is bordered by the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Management Area (WMA).
There are many different types of ecosystem, including sand scrub, hardwood forest hammock and others.
The Best Time to Go
Kayaking Weeki Wachee is very popular activity for visitors and locals alike. The river is small, narrow and shallow in many places and it can become overcrowded on weekends, especially during hot summer months when school is not in session.
The best time to paddle the Weeki Wachee is in the spring and fall on weekdays. During those times the weather is pleasant, mosquitoes and bugs may be reduced, and crowds tend to be lower.
Manatees are protected by state and Federal law. Interfering with a manatee in any way is illegal and is a serious crime. Heavy fines and jail time have been used against people who violate manatee protection laws.
The Weeki Wachee River is filled with wildlife and aquatic marine life. The river is especially important for manatees who use it to escape cold water during winter months. The 72 degree spring water is a life-saving refuge for them. Manatees can die if they are disturbed or driven away from a spring refuge because they feel frightened.
Visitors should be careful to observe manatees passively and avoid doing anything which might interfere with their natural behavior or existence.
Swimming with manatees is bad for their well being because of several reasons.
It may condition them to approach humans and boats, which can increase the odds that they get sliced with a boat propeller.
They can also become conditioned to alter their natural instincts to seek out humans, which endangers them.
Some humans intentionally injure and harrass manatees; it is best for them to be weary of all humans, and not to feel conditioned to approach swimmers, boats or paddlers.
Manatees are shy and sensitive creatures. If they are scared by rowdy splashing, swimming, or feel uneasy in any way, their only defense is to leave the area. When they feel insecure about their habitat it may discourage them from seeking shelter during cold weather, which can lead to deadly Cold Stress Syndrome.
The best time to see manatees is from November to March, especially during periods of cold weather and after cold fronts. Manatees come into the springfed Weeki Wachee River because it remains warm and a constant temperature year-round.
Dangers in Weeki Wachee
The Weeki Wachee River is a wild, natural environment, and carries all of the associated risks.
There are snakes in and around the Weeki Wachee River, including dangerous and venomous water moccasins, among others. There are also alligators in and around the river.
Dangers to the Weeki Wachee River
The river itself has a long history of being used as both a recreational area and a home to various species of sensitive aquatic life, including manatees. The river ecosystem is extremely fragile, and is suffering from over-use.
Everyone who visits Weeki Wachee should know how to minimize their impact on the sensitive river system.
One of the main dangers to the Weeki Wachee River is overuse and environmental degradation.
Erosion is a major problem on the Weeki Wachee River. Environmentally responsible visitors should not allow anyone in their group to walk in the river, jump from trees, tie craft or trample the fragile river shorelines.
River grasses and vegetation along the shores are especially vulnerable. Damage to river grass turbocharges river erosion, reduces water clarity and removes a vital food source for manatees, among other things.
The Weeki Wachee River is one of the main attractions in Hernando County. It can become incredibly crowded and attract a dangerously high number of visitors during peak periods.
There are and have been some ongoing efforts to help regulate visitor traffic on the river to preserve the health of the river. The efforts are popular among locals who love the water and want to preserve it.
Like most environmental protection efforts in Florida, there is often backlash from local business owners who profit from the river and do not want environmental protection limitations to interfere with their business.
Most of the Weeki Wachee River is natural and free from houses or development. The lower part of the river is more developed.
Like all springs in Florida, Weeki Wachee is threatened by invisible pollutants including nitrogen pollution and other contaminants.
How to Kayak the Weeki Wachee River
The launch site for Weeki Wachee is the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
There is an on-site concessionaire inside Weeki Wachee Springs State Park which rents kayaks. There are also some private vendors along the Weeki Wachee River which launch from a private boat dock.
The takeout point is approximately 5.5 miles downriver at Rogers Park. It takes approximately two hours to travel from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to Rogers Park.
Rogers Park has facilities including a boat ramp, restrooms and a swimming area.
Weeki Wachee River Paddle Trail Tear Sheet
Cover Image Credit: Fredlyfish4, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons