Tubing at Kelly Park.
Rock Springs Run
Central Florida, NW of Orlando
Ninja Level – 2 out of 5
Budget - $ (take cash)
As a lifelong Florida resident I have, sadly, not even begun to cover all the opportunities for adventure and leisure, that it has to offer. You could really spend a lifetime visiting all the unique parks, springs, towns and historical spots within the state... where to start?
Recently though we made a pledge to get off our couch, get out and explore. I'd heard a lot about Rock Springs in Kelly Park and it was close enough for a half day adventure.
I really didn't know what to expect before visiting the park, though I did a quick online search for basic information. It costs (cash only) $3 per car with 1-2 people, $5 for 3-8 and $1 for each extra person in case you've got folks strapped on the roof or something.
The springs are the perfect place to go in the HOT Florida summer (I frankly find the beaches as attractive an idea as inserting myself in my toaster oven). There are plenty of shade trees and the water is (“Rock Springs” – duh) from a SPRING... meaning it is COOL. Not so cold that you don't adjust to it pretty darn quick, but cool enough that you absolutely feel refreshed.
As we were getting close to the park we stopped just outside at an intersection with a gas station on one side and a place to rent TUBES on the other (no tube rental inside the park). To rent a tube they ask you to leave them your ID (as sort of a deposit to insure you come back), and tubes are just $5 each to rent (take cash for these too). If you have a good sized trunk the tubes will just stack in there and probably not bounce out as you only have a short distance to get to the park (though some people will just stick their hand out the window and hold the tube). Total cost for 3 people: $5 entrance, plus 3 tubes = $20 for an entire day of fun! You can bring your own tubes and floats as well... though be aware they cannot be longer than 5 feet in length (a lot of blow up rafts are 6-7 ft).
We were not planning to stay the whole day so we didn't eat in the park, but you can certainly do that. The park has BBQ grills and picnic tables scattered under the trees and, if you're just feeling lazy, you can pick up sandwiches on your way there or buy food at the park's concession stand where they have hamburgers, hot dogs, ice cream and drinks. Don't bring alcohol or beer though... it's not allowed and, with the number of kids and families there, anyone that is drunk or disorderly is sure to feel the wrath of “Florida Redneck Father” - a common, and occasionally frightening, creature best left unprovoked.
Upon arrival we grabbed our tubes from the trunk of the car and headed down to the Springs to check things out. A little tip: Lock your valuables in the car and put your car key (but not remote) on a lanyard around your neck. This way you won't risk losing the keys by having them fall out of your pocket while swimming, or have to worry about someone stealing them.
The layout of the Springs is such that you will first encounter an area that is about midway from the springs headwaters to the end of the “run.” If you just want to float around a bit, there are stairs to make it easy to get down to the water; so just go for it. Even if you are partially disabled or less limber, it's easy to get in here and you can then float to the end of the “run,” get out on a ramp there and take the tree lined sidewalk back to the midway point. This aspect makes tubing in Rock Springs great for the whole family and we saw many grandparents enjoying the water.
If you want to float down the whole length of the “run,” which is more like a slow stroll down a “lazy river,” then you can take a series of boardwalks up to the springs headwaters. Here you will find it a little trickier to get into the water if you are not limber, because the rocks are a tad slippery. I would certainly not recommend it for anyone that is disabled in any way because slipping on the rocks could leave you with a nasty injury. I did see a rather overweight gentleman manage to navigate an entrance into the water just fine, although it took him a bit of time to figure out the safest way.
The “run” itself takes you down a mostly tree shaded river surrounded by flowers and wildlife. We encountered some Ibis birds that were so intent on nabbing their insect breakfast, and so used to people, they allowed us to come within 4 feet of them. There was also a bit of drama as the park rangers briefly closed off a fork in the river when someone spotted an alligator. It was a baby gator so it was more to protect it, than the noisy humans, but from the level of excitement in the crowd you'd think it was an extraterrestrial.
If you have a waterproof camera or one of the new waterproof smart phones, bring it! You'll be able to capture some great photos of foliage, flowers and maybe even wildlife.
One of the things I liked most about the “lazy river” part of the park is that it is a combination of floating down and walking back. It takes about 25-30 minutes or so to float from the head-springs to the end of the run... and only about 10 minutes to walk back on a beautiful shady path to do it again. This makes it a perfect way to both relax AND get a bit of moderate exercise.
Another thing I liked is that they close the park when it reaches capacity... meaning, while it can get a bit crowded,it's not so overcrowded you can't enjoy yourself.
A word of warning though; you must get there early as the park often reaches capacity very quickly after opening (8:00 am opening time). We were there by 9:00 on a Monday (during summer vacation when the kids are out of school) and they had closed the park already when we left at Noon. The park is open until sunset and they do let additional vehicles in after 1 pm, IF enough of the earlier visitors have left. If you're driving a distance to get there though.. best to plan an early arrival (8-9 am) to avoid disappointment and so you won't have to wait in too long a line to get in and parked.
Kelly Park Rock Springs Run is part of Florida's State Park system and is only about 40 minutes from downtown Orlando and 45-50 minutes from International Drive, making it convenient for a day, or half day, adventure for locals and tourists alike.
Author: Sue Copening