The state of Florida is crisscrossed with natural springs, places where cool, clear water flows directly from the earth into streams and rivers. These springs make for great exploring by kayak or stand-up paddleboard. Ask those in the know where the most spectacular place to paddle is in Central Florida, and the answer is Emerald Cut, part of Rock Springs Run, which feeds into the Wekiva River Basin.
Just 30 minutes north of Orlando, this spectacular stretch of spring-fed wilderness offers emerald waters and a stunning glimpse of pristine Florida. Look for white-tail deer, Florida black bears, river otters, turtles, alligators, great egrets, herons and bald eagles. With a variety of choices for both experienced and novice paddlers, Emerald Cut is the perfect outdoor weekend destination.
King’s Landing (5722 Baptist Camp Road, Apopka; 407.886.0859; kingslandingfl.com) is a privately owned recreation company in Apopka that offers an array of options for those who want to spend the day on Rock Springs Run. Enthusiastic paddlers can choose the five-hour guided tour, which begins a quarter-mile from the spring head and moves 8 miles down the run, passing through Emerald Cut and moving into the tannin-infused waters of the river. For a less-intense—but no less scenic—adventure, opt for the two-hour guided tour. It offers all the highlights and natural beauty of Emerald Cut, without the sore biceps. Want to skip the guide? King’s Landing also offers kayak and paddleboard rentals for self-guided paddles down the river. And visitors also have the option of bringing their own gear and paying a self-launch fee.
For a particularly memorable cruise down the river, try the after-dark kayaking experience with King’s Landing. The two-hour guided tour starts at sunset and offers a unique take on the wilderness around the springs. Watch a variety of nocturnal creatures come out at dusk, and be prepared for a take on wild Florida that’s dramatically different from the daytime version.
Stay the night
For the true outdoor experience, pack a tent and stay at one of King’s Landing’s primitive camp sites. They offer cold outdoor showers, fire pits and access to an old-fashioned swimming hole. It’s not the most luxurious stay, but it makes for a grand adventure. On Saturday nights, join the community firepit beside the river. It begins at dusk, and it’s BYO s’mores.
Need something a touch more civilized? The Ritz-Carlton Orlando (4012 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando; 800.576.5760; ritzcarlton.com) is only a 30-minute drive away. With stylish rooms, a championship golf course and a spa, it’s a luxurious place to unwind after a long day on the river. Make a reservation at the resort’s Michelin-starred restaurant, sip handcrafted cocktails at the bar—and be sure to book one of the resort’s signature massages. It’s the perfect remedy for all those sore muscles from a day spent paddling.