Despite the legend of the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, taking a swig from a Florida spring may not actually make you younger, but launching offshore in a kayak and gliding along the crystal-clear water could at least leave you feeling restored. If you’re not sure where to start, check out this short list of some of the most accessible and scenic spots across Central Florida.
Blue Spring State Park
The park, also known as the Winter Home of the Manatee, is one of the best places to encounter a sea cow or have some carefree fun by tubing from the springhead to the park’s two popular swimming areas. Blue Spring also offers a unique area to kayak or canoe with its access to the St. Johns River where you’re almost guaranteed to see an alligator. Besides the blue-green water in the spring, another attraction at the park is the historic Thursby House, which dates back to 1872. After a quick self-guided tour of the house, walk along the boardwalk to the spring’s boil. You’ll see the water gridlocked with manatees keeping warm in winter, and packed with people staying cool in summer.
For your GPS: 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, FL 32763
Silver Springs State Park
Florida’s first tourist attraction offers some of the most unique sights in the state. The park is known for its world-famous glass-bottom boat tours but if you’d rather explore at your own pace, you’ll want to rent a paddleboard or kayak. Float along the shaded spring-fed river to take in charming wooden bridges and junglelike vines suspended from cypress trees. If you’re lucky enough, you may even encounter one of the park’s primates. Silver Springs is home to nonnative rhesus macaques, but you’ll also find plenty of native birds and reptiles. As one of the state’s most pristine natural attractions, Silver Springs is as pretty as a postcard, which of course, you can purchase in the gift shop.
For your GPS: 1425 NE 58th Ave., Ocala, FL 34470
Wekiwa Springs State Park
One of Central Florida’s most popular watering holes, Wekiwa Springs is a great place for beginners. Starting at the spring’s boil, the river takes paddlers through lily pad-lined waters and alongside alligators, turtles and herons resting on downed palm trees. Take a trip down the river and you’ll come across the popular bar Wekiva Island. You’ll likely hear it before you see it. Grab a cup of boiled peanuts and a beer from a local brewery and play some cornhole before you head back upstream to Wekiva Canoe Beach. The main swimming area of the park is great for snorkeling or a quick cool down.
For your GPS: 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, FL 32712
Winter Park chain of lakes
The Winter Park chain of lakes is one of the area’s best kept secrets. Venetian-style canals that are only accessible by water connect Lakes Killarney, Maitland, Mizell, Osceola and Virginia. The canals are lined with vibrant vegetation surrounding beautiful homes. From the lakes, you’ll pass some of the Rollins College campus and scenic Kraft Azalea Garden. The chain of lakes is one of the more urban options for kayaking in Central Florida, so when you work up an appetite, head over to Park Avenue from the Dinky Dock launch point to fill up after your adventure.
Launch point: 410 Ollie Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789
JB’s Fish Camp
Nestled on a small stretch of road between the ocean and the Indian River, JB’s Fish Camp is a popular hangout for people looking to relax in New Smyrna Beach. It’s known for its seafood and sunset views, but if you want to see some sea life, the restaurant and bar also offer kayak rentals. The brackish water is home to dolphins, sharks, alligators and manatees, depending on the time of year. Grab some lunch and head out for an “only in Florida” adventure. And when you’re done, cross the street and lounge on the beach before heading home.
For your GPS: 859 Pompano Ave., New Smyrna Beach, FL 32169