Looking up the hull of a canoe at a woman paddling down river in Florida

Florida River Camping with King's Landing

The hidden river campsites along Rock Springs Run are an excellent way to see the wild side of Florida. We're sharing everything you need to know before paddling in to a primitve campsite with King's Landing.

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A woman relaxes in a tent at a primitive campsite in Florida

An Introduction to Wekiwa Springs & King's Landing

Paddling along the waters of Wekiwa Springs State Park, you'd think you were hours away from civilization. The overhanging palms and lush green growth on either side of the river pull your mind right out of central Florida and transplant you into an almost jungle-like setting.

But Wekiwa Springs is in fact just a thirty minute drive from Orlando.

Yet it's a destination that's sometimes easily overlooked.

Beyond the urban hustle and bustle, Wekiwa Springs State Park covers 7,000 acres, giving visitors access to the Wekiva River, the springs themselves, and several tributaries, including Rock Springs Run. Those willing to paddle their way deeper into the park can expect to see a wilder side of Florida that most tourists don't take the time to experience.

Map of King's Landing and Rock Springs Run

Our overnight canoe adventure begins just outside the western boundary of the state park, at the canoe and kayak livery King's Landing.

Their put-in on Rock Springs Run is the ideal place to start paddling downstream for the 8.5 mile journey. In the map below you can see exactly where King's Landing is located in relation to the park and the primitive campsites along the river.

Where to Camp

To fully appreciate the experience we recommend paddling downstream and staying at one of the primitive sites located right along the river, but there is an additional campground if you want to explore the water during the day and have a less rustic experience overnight.

Primitive River Campsites

There are three sites along Rock Springs Run that must be reserved with the state park - Otter Camp, Indian Mound and Big Buck Camp.

Each site can be reserved by one group, up to 10 people in size. The cost is $5 per person per night, plus tax, and reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance. To book a campsite, call the state park office at 407-553-4383.

Big Buck is located about 4.5 miles downstream from the launch at King's Landing, Indian Mound is another half mile further, and Otter Camp is another quarter mile beyond Indian Mound.

All sites have a fire ring, benches, and a food locker. There is no access to potable water or bathrooms.

A metal food locker surrounded by dense forest and palm treesA woman walking away from a canoe that has been pulled up on the bank of a river in a dense forest

King's Landing Campground

The Eagle Boy Scout Retreat Campground on King's Landing's property is your second option for primitive camping. Tent sites are reservable at $30 per night for up to eight people.

Each site includes a fire ring and picnic table and there are porta potties and an outhouse with a sink on the grounds, plus nearby spigots with potable water.

Reservations can be made online through King's Landing's website.

Rent a Canoe or Bring Your Own

The overnight fee to rent from King's Landing is $79 per canoe. They can accommodate up to 3 adults, or a total of 600 pounds of weight.

If you have your own canoe or kayak, then there's a $29 fee per vessel to launch from King's Landing.

These fees also include the shuttle service, which will bring you back to the parking area. It's important to note, however, that King's Landing does not manage the river campsites, and those need to be reserved separately through Wekiwa Springs State Park.

Close up on camping gear stacked up inside a canoe with a river in the background

Our Canoe Camping Experience

Gentle paddle strokes carry us along, breaking the glassy smooth surface of the river. The water is both tinged with a deep brown and yet clear at the same time. We can see to the bottom, watch fish and turtles move around below the surface.

We both hold our breath for a moment, focusing on something up ahead. A swaying tail. A leathery, scaly body gliding through the water not 30 feet in front of us.

Recognizing the gator, we both instinctively put on the brakes with our paddles, a skill we'll be practicing a lot over the next 24 hours. We give him extra space, hanging back to admire.

Yes, we'll go ahead and address it from the start. There are alligators in Wekiwa Springs State Park and no, they're not interested in eating you.

In fact, they're more afraid of you than anything and not interested in spending any time around you or your canoe.

Odds are they'll lazily stare at you from their sunbathing spot as you float by. If they don't like how close you're getting they'll slip into the water and disappear to get away from you.

A small alligator rests on riverside branches in Wekiwa Springs State Park in Florida

Checking In

Before our day on the water began and a single gator had been spotted, we made our way through Apopka to the dead end road where King's Landing sits.

Just as our confirmation email warned, we encountered a very long line of cars. If your visit is during high season, especially on a weekend, it's likely you'll experience the same traffic jam. These cars are waiting to enter Kelly Park, which is adjacent to King's Landing, so turn on your flashers and slowly drive around them in the left lane to continue up the road.

Once our packs were fully loaded and we'd double checked everything on the list, we headed off to load up our canoe.

Every interaction, from checking in, to being shuttled back to the parking lot, was a pleasant one. King's Landing seems to have hired some of the friendliest and most professional folks in Florida.

We were given a parking pass to leave in our van's windshield, which spent the night in front of the Eagle Scout Campground, just around the corner from the main, roadside parking.

Paddling down Rock Springs Run

With our backpacks, collapsible camp chairs, dry bags, and other gear situated in the canoe, we set off, hanging a left at the end of the launch to make our way downstream.

If you have just one day to visit and arrive early enough, you'll have time to paddle upstream first and see the Emerald Cut. The spring fed water along this stretch of the river is especially beautiful, averaging waist deep.

It earns its name, with crystal clear water and a white sandy bottom giving it an emerald green color.

About 4 hours of gentle paddling takes us all the way down to Otter Camp.

Navigating the river starts out easy in its widest sections with a lazy current. It gradually becomes more difficult, and the sharp bends and faster current will require some experience and coordination between you and your canoe partner.

Otter Camp itself sits on a particularly tricky set of turns. Regardless, we manage to keep ourselves and our gear dry.

A man pulls a canoe onto the bank of a river in a dense forest
A canoe with camping gear loaded in it rests on the bank of a river through the forestA woman walks uphill through dense forest and palm trees carrying camping gear

Settling into camp for the night

There isn't a great deal to describe about our primitive campsite, and that's exactly the point, isn't it?

A wide open clearing in the trees. A fire pit right along the water's edge, flanked by two benches. A metal food locker on the edge of the tree line.

Otter Camp is elevated slightly above the river. There's a wide tree trunk, stooped over and stretching out across the water, that invites you to step out and watch as other paddlers cruise by.

As the sun goes down, we douse ourselves with bug repellent, which does almost nothing to fend off the mosquitoes when we have to walk outside of camp and find a restroom in the trees.

Surprisingly, the bugs are almost non-existent closer to the river and fire pit.

Once the light is gone, we cozy up in our tent and fall asleep to the sounds of the forest. The occasional jet flying overhead is the only reminder that we're less than an hour away from one of the busiest tourist destinations in the world.

A man steps out onto a tree trunk overhanging a river in Florida

Paddling Out

Once we've packed up and had our breakfast and coffee, we start the last few miles of paddling downstream.

At this point we've lost count of sunbathing turtles. We've seen twenty alligators, four snakes, two raccoons, and most recently, a herd of wild boar crossing the river in front of us.

Our trip ends at Wekiva Island, where we pull our canoe out of the water at the King's Landing pick up point. Since the shuttle arrives at 4:00 PM, we've given ourselves plenty of time to relax and enjoy the weekend atmosphere.

We convince ourselves that we've earned the reward of a couple of draft beers from Without a Paddle Cafe before it's time for us to head back.

Looking down on a woman holding a cup of coffee at a campsite fire pit

When To Go

Because of the mild temperatures fall through spring, Wekiwa Springs State Park really is a year-round destination. The spring fed water here maintains a constant 72 degree temperature as well.

The summer can be hot and humid, with larger crowds. The advantage, however, of paddling this less popular side of Florida is that once you're downstream you can still expect peace and quiet. Just be sure to reserve your campsite as early as possible, especially if you're considering a holiday weekend, since they can be booked up to 60 days in advance.

What To Bring

You can have a look at our entire backpacking gear list that we take on overnight trips.

Beyond all the basic camping essentials, you'll want to pack a few special items for your night on the river.

Bug spray

Sunscreen

Dry bags

Packable towel

Packable rain jacket

Water shoes

Bathroom system

Cooler (optional)

Firewood (optional)

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A woman holding a paddle and sitting in a canoe with text overlay that says 'Florida River Camping'

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