Legendary Weeki Wachee Springs is pure Florida magic. It’s a 1940s roadside attraction featuring live mermaids, a modern water park at a natural spring and a gateway to exploring miles of lush nature by kayak or SUP.
To be clear: the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and the Weeki Wachee River are not the same thing. You don’t have to experience one to enjoy the other.
What the park and river have in common: Naturally, the Weeki Wachee River starts at the Weeki Wachee Spring inside the Florida State Park. Also, the parking lot of the state park offers the most ideal public (fee-required) access to the river – but not the only one.
Weeki Wachee Quick Facts
Weeki Wachee Springs and River are located in Hernando County in West-Central Florida. It’s a little over an hour north of Clearwater and Tampa Bay – and a little over an hour and a half west of Orlando. The name Weeki Wachee comes from words in the Seminole language that mean “small” or “offshoot” and “spring”. The Weekie Wachee River flows for about 10 miles from the town of Weeki Wachee into an estuary of the Gulf of Mexico.
The river’s main source is a first-magnitude spring inside the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – one of America’s deepest. Every day, about 115 million gallons of fresh water rush up to the surface from a large vent at about 185-feet depth. The caves beyond that vent are even deeper…
Not to worry: the Weeki Wachee River is rather shallow and moves at a mellow speed, perfect for slowly floating down the 5.5 miles from the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park to the public (no-fee) Roger’s Park.
There are several smaller springs along the river. The water temperature at the springs is 72–74 °F (22–23 °C) year-round. In theory, there can be alligators in the river, but they’re said to be hiding away from the crowds in the marsh. You have a much better chance of seeing manatees…
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
The Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is one of Florida’s oldest roadside attractions. It was opened in 1947 by Newton Perry, who had trained Navy Frogmen to swim underwater in World War II. He conceived the entire idea of building a theater below the surface with views into the spring, where women put on a water ballet show while getting oxygen from a tube attached to a compressor instead of wearing scuba tanks. The mermaid costumes came later… as did visits by Elvis and other celebrities.
Today, the Florida State Park is divided into two main areas: Mermaid Cove and Buccaneer Bay.
Location, Contact + Other Visitor Facts
6131 Commercial Way
Spring Hill, FL 34606
The park is open year-round, from 9am until 5:30pm. Not all attractions are offered at all times. On less crowded off-season days you may have most of the water park to yourself – but there may not be a mermaid show or tube rental.
On crowded summer days, not everyone may get in. Once the park is at capacity, they will not sell anymore tickets. You can be alerted by text when they’ve sold out for the day by texting the keyword, Weeki, to 82149.
The entry fee to the state park is $13 per adult and $8 for kids 6-12. Children under 6 get in for free. If you live in Florida and/or want to support the “Real Florida,” we recommend getting the Florida State Parks annual pass.
Pets are not allowed in the park, except for service animals. You can’t bring alcohol into the park or grill food. There are concession stands for food, drinks and ice cream.
Mermaid Cove is where you’ll get to see the mermaids put on a live underwater show! The Weeki Wachee Mermaids perform inside the spring at a depth of about 16 – 20 feet. They can be viewed from a 400-seat theater that looks straight into the spring. Even if you’re not into the mermaids, it’s a very cool view into one of America’s deepest springs and a chance to watch fish and turtles swim by. In-between shows, there are opportunities to meet some of the iconic mermaids in person – out of the water and inside a small outdoor aquarium.
But this side of the park isn’t just about mermaids. From here you can also get on the guided River Boat Cruise down the Weeki Wachee River to see wildlife in its natural habitat: birds, turtles, manatees and lots of fish. Someone might even tell you the difference between an anhinga and a cormorant. The informative wildlife show is closed as of this writing (due to ongoing renovations) – but may have opened again when you read this.
The Mermaid Show, River Boat Ride and Wildlife Show are included in the general admission. Taking photos with mermaids and all the mermaid
kitsch decor around the park is free. Of course, there’s also a gift shop offering all kinds of mermaid and pirate souvenirs. Personally, we now own mermaid-themed and sparkly (!) can and bottle cozies.
Buccaneer Bay is a waterpark built around the edge of the Weeki Wachee Spring. It features several slides, separate pools for the little kids, lifeguards and tubes for floating down the river for a short distance. There is an extra charge for renting the tubes. You’re not allowed to bring your own floating devices into the park, except for children’s life vests and wings.
There are some lounge chairs and umbrellas for your comfort. But since shade is limited, it’s advised to get to the park early and claim a spot. Don’t be surprised to see a peacock and other peafowl walking around, including a white peafowl! Oh, and you will be swimming with fish!
Weeki Wachee River
The Weeki Wachee River is between 7 and 12 miles long, according to different sources. So we consider it “about 10 miles long”. It starts at the Weeki Wachee Springs State Parks, which features two springs that feed the river over 100 million gallons of fresh water everyday from an underground river. The water of the Weeki Wachee River has a temperature of about 72 degrees year-round.
The river cuts through cypress and palm forest, then marsh and finally flows into the Weeki Wachee Estuary and on into the Gulf of Mexico. There is abundant wildlife in and around river, mainly fish, turtles and otters – but also anhinga, herons, egrets and eagles. From November to March (when the gulf cools down), the manatees retreat into the river and near the springs for the 72-degree water. There can be alligators – although not seen frequently apparently. There don’t seem to be any monkeys.
Kayak, SUP or Float the Weeki Wachee River
There’s nothing quite like cooling off from the Florida heat by floating down a spring-fed crystal-clear river through a shady forest of palms and cypress trees. Paddling down the Weeki Wachee River is your chance to see what is often referred to as “the real Florida” – the natural side of Florida, away from the asphalt, cartoon characters and beach umbrellas.
While the Weeki Wachee River starts inside the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park (and you get to swim or float in a portion of the river while in the park), the true experience of the Weeki Wachee River happens outside the park.
Most popular and well known is to paddle (or just float) down the river from the Weeki Wachee State Park to the public Rogers Park. Going with the current, the 5.5-mile river trail takes about 3 hours.
The river takes you through shady woods with the blue sky above making the water appear a gorgeous turquoise blue. Several sand banks invite you to stop and linger a while. If you’re still on the water around Golden Hour (near sunset) the whole river appears to turn honey-yellow.
Getting closer to Rogers Park, there are quite a few homes and vacation rentals along the water. If you paddle through this neighborhood in the evening (as we did), there may be be lots of jolly ladies sipping wine and cheering you on as they enjoy their own Happier Place.
Fishing the Weeki Wachee River
Of course, where there is natural water, there are fish. You’ll be amazed how many you’ll see swim all around you. Now those might just be mullets. But you can also find bass, snapper and spotted sunfish in the Weeki Wachee River. Depending on your vessel (boats and wave runners can also be seen on the river), you might want to head all the way down into the Weeki Wachee Estuary on the Gulf of Mexico to try your luck and skill. Find more specific Weeki Wache fishing tips in this Florida Sportsmen thread.
How to Access the River
There are basically five options for paddling the Weeki Wachee River:
- Launch from the state park ramp with your own vessel. You still have to make a reservation here via “Weeki Fresh Water Adventures Kayaking” and pay a fee of about $10 a person. Plan ahead because reservations can fill up quickly. While this may seem annoying, it does cut down on the traffic on the river. The state recently limited the amount of paddlers per day to 280.
- Rent a kayak, canoe or SUP directly at the state park ramp via “Weeki Fresh Water Adventures” – starting at $40 a person. Click HERE to make a reservation and choose “self-guided adventure” or call 352-597-8484.
- Access the river at the public, no-fee Rogers Park (7240 Shoal Line Blvd, Weeki Wachee, FL 34607) with your own or a rented vessel. The catch: you’re going to have to paddle upstream first before coasting back to Rogers Park. Or you can probably go downstream first and then have to paddle back. It’s up to you.
- Rent a kayak or SUP and launch from the rental company’s location, e.g., Weeki Wachee Kayak Rental or Weeki Wachee Kayaking (starting at $30 per kayak/SUP). These companies are closer to Rogers Park downstream than to the headwaters near the state park, which means that you’ll probably have to do as much upstream paddling as you do just floating down the river.
- Staying in a house along the river or side canals and drop into the water from the backyard… anytime you want. Weeki Wachee rentals on AirBnB.
We’ve heard rumors that there is another launch spot near the state park rental place, from where you can launch without a reservation or fee. We haven’t tried that ourselves – so don’t want to speak to that.
If you made a reservation with the Weeki Fresh Water Adventures at the state park, then it includes a (scheduled) ride back to the state park’s parking lot. Please note: dogs are allowed on the river itself… but dogs are NOT ALLOWED to get on the river via the state park ramp. So if you want to bring your dog, you need to check into alternatives 3 – 5.
Disposable containers (e.g., plastic water bottles) are not allowed on the river. May we recommend you bring your Happier Place Double-Wall Stainless Steel Bottle and fill it with the refreshment of your choice?
An additional Happier Place Tip: a list of where you can find all the Mold-A-Matics (aka Miniaturized Plastic Injection Factories), including the kind of mold and color! Locations of Mold-A-Matic™ branded Mold-A-Rama machines!
All photos in this post were taken by Luci. With some of them, you can see a larger version (and buy a print or gift item) if you click on them. With some of them, you cannot. That’s life.
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