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One of the most iconic symbols of Old Florida tourism, Weeki Wachee Springs has been delighting guests with live mermaid shows, abundant wildlife and pristine crystal clear spring water since 1947.
Located on Florida’s west coast, Weeki Wachee Springs is about an hour north of Tampa. The spring itself is located in Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Here, clear fresh water gushes out of the Florida aquifer at a rate of over 117 million gallons per day, making this a first-magnitude spring. The underwater cave system beneath the spring is the largest known fresh-water system in the country. The refreshing 74-degree water flows into the Weeki Wachee River.
When in the Weeki Wachee area, there are a few activities and experiences you must do. Continue reading the guide below for our recommendations!
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Weeki Wachee is an enchanted spring where you can see live mermaids, take a trip on a river boat cruise, learn about Florida wildlife, and swim in the pristine waters at Buccaneer Bay. You can also embark on a paddling adventure down the pristine waterway of the Weeki Wachee River. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is one of Florida’s most legendary and unique family destinations, entertaining audiences since 1947.https://weekiwachee.com/
First things first, this is not your typical Florida State Park. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a little slice of Old Florida, mixed with a lot of tourists and crowds.
This park is notoriously challenging to get into. On a summer weekend, you MUST arrive before park opening to get in before the park reaches capacity. We recommend arriving at least 45 minutes prior to the park opening. Even summer weekdays also often reach capacity before the afternoon. Note that once the park reaches capacity, admissions will stop for the remainder of the day.
We visited on a summer Sunday and we arrived around 8:30 am. We waited in line for nearly an hour, and just barely got into the park around 9:30. The park reached capacity at 9:41 am. On a Saturday it’s even worse – the park stopped admissions at 8:37 am, before the park even officially opened.
If you plan on visiting the park, we highly suggest signing up for their text message service that lets you know each day when the park reaches capacity. If you sign up at least a week in advance, you can get a pretty good idea of what time the park will fill up on that day of the week. Text “WEEKI” to 82149.
Note that the park does not accept advance ticket purchases or reservations. No one is guaranteed to get into the park. If you are a Florida State Parks Annual Pass Holder, you will be able to wait in an exclusive shorter line, so you will have some advantage there.
The worst thing would be driving from far away or planning your day around going to this park and not getting in. It’s better to be safe than sorry – plan to arrive early during the summer! Use your time in line to eat breakfast, apply sunscreen or read about the history of the park.
Admission: $13 for adults, $8 for kids ages 6-12, kids five and under are free
Hours: 9 am – 5:30 pm daily
Address: 6131 Commercial Way
Weeki Wachee FL 34606
Phone: (352) 610-5660
Weeki Wachee Springs Mermaid Show
Update: The iconic Weeki Wachee mermaids perform two shows at 11am and 3pm in the underwater theater. Seating is first come, first serve. Plan to get in line at least 30 minutes prior to showtime to get in.
At the time of my visit, there was a 10 o’clock showtime. We got in line right when we entered the park at 9:30. This worked out well, as we were able to see it without having to plan our whole day around a later time, and we weren’t wet from the spring yet. Even at 9:30, we just barely made it into the theater.
The mermaids are very cool — they swim and perform 16-20 feet underwater, all while wearing tails! The mermaids use an oxygen tube system which allows them to breathe and control their buoyancy, all without the bulk of an oxygen tank.
Buccaneer Bay Water Park
This is the spring swimming area and natural water park area of the park. You’ll be able to splash around in the 74-degree natural swimming hole. The water ranges from shallow to over 20 feet deep and there is a dock to jump off for the adventurous people in your group. There are several lifeguards on duty to help keep everyone safe.
We recommend bringing your own chairs or umbrella if you’ll be spending the day at the park. There is a lot of grassy and sandy areas to set up by Buccaneer Bay, and you’ll be glad to have some shade and a place to sit. The picnic tables and free lounge chairs get claimed very quickly. You can also bring your own food and drink into the park, including coolers. At the very least, bring your own water bottles!
You are unfortunately not allowed to bring your own floatation devices (except life jackets or water wings for children.) There are tubes available through rentals at the park for $7.
Don’t forget your towels, snorkeling gear, waterproof sunscreen, water shoes, and dry bags!
Buccaneer Bay also has three water slides you can ride down into the water. The lines can get pretty long – around 30 minutes or longer on the busy weekends. Adventurous kids will love to test out all the slides!
There is also a natural lazy river you can float along, however you will need to rent a tube from the park for $7 per person. According to the staff, the ride takes about 15 minutes and you can go around as many times as you like for the day.
The park also has a kiddie area with a shallow pool for any younger visitors.
Note that the water park amenities close seasonally during the winter and reopen in March. Swimming is available year round except for the month of February.
River Boat Ride and Other Activities at Weeki Wachee Springs
Update: currently the Wilderness River Cruise runs daily from 9:30am to 12:30pm.
Something I wish we would have done is reserve our river boat time slot earlier. We went there right after the mermaid show and they only had 3:30 and after time slots available. You are able to reserve tickets for your group at any point during the day – however, your whole party must be present to reserve.
They also accept standby boarding if those with reservations don’t show up. We waited for two different rides, and we didn’t have any luck boarding since there were several other standby parties ahead of us. Luckily we had spent the whole day kayaking the river the day before, so we weren’t too upset over missing it.
The park also offers an animal encounter where a ranger will share information about native Florida wildlife. During my visit, the ranger brought out a snake and kids could ask questions and touch the snake.
There are plenty of options for food, gift shopping and other amenities at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. Near Buccaneer Bay you’ll find a gift shop, a bar and a snack shack. There are also a handful of picnic tables. This is also where you can rent lockers, tubes, chairs, cabanas and umbrellas.
We thought the $7 for a locker rental was completely worth it to stash our stuff for the day. Unless you have someone in your group who won’t be partaking in any of the water activities, it’s really nice to have peace of mind that your personal belongings aren’t just on a lounge chair in the open. I highly recommend using a dry bag to store your phone while you’re in the water. I have brought it to many different springs, and it’s holding up great and keeps my phone completely dry. And it works pretty good to take underwater pictures!
Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Etc.
There are only a few options for renting vessels along the gorgeous Weeki Wachee River.
Fresh Water Adventures at the state park is the most desirable, and therefore reservations need to be made at least 2 weeks in advance for weekends. The advantage is you’ll be able to launch near the headspring, and have an easy float 2.8 miles downstream to the pickup location where you’ll be shuttled back to the park. Rentals start at $40 per boat for a 4 hour trip. Launching your own boat will cost $10. Keep in mind the restrictions on items you can bring on the river. Fresh Water Adventures is located outside the main entrance to the state park, so you will not have to worry about getting in or paying admission if you just want to kayak.
Other options include Weeki Wachee Kayaking and The Kayak Shack. With both of these companies you’ll have to paddle upstream during your journey, but the prices are a bit cheaper and you’ll have all day on the river as opposed to the 4 hours through the state park. The current on the river is strong, and we found the upstream paddle to be challenging, but not impossible.
If you have your own canoe, kayak or stand up paddleboard, you could also consider launching from Roger’s Park which is a free public park. You’ll have to paddle upstream, but it is free. They also have a swimming area and picnic areas at the park.
For non-beginner paddlers who have their own vessel and are looking to spend as much time as possible on the river, I’d launch from Rogers Park, go upstream as far as you want, and then float back down to Rogers Park.
As the saying goes, the extra mile is never crowded. Wherever you launch from, the first few miles will be very crowded, especially if you start from the end of the river. There are even a few snack boats on the river where tons of people gather.
We paddled about three miles upstream from Roger’s Park before the crowds finally started to dissipate and it felt like a natural Florida river. It’s worth it to keep going to get to the beautiful crystal clear river surrounded by forest.
Remember to bring plenty of water, sunscreen and your camera! If you’re visiting in the winter or early spring, you might even be lucky enough to see manatees in the river. (Psst – looking for more ways to see Florida manatees? Check out our guide!)
Where to Stay
If at all possible, we recommend a two-day trip. It was lovely to spend the first day kayaking the river at our leisure and the second day at the state park. It would be challenging to accomplish both things in one day if you want to experience both fully.
If are only going for the day, you’ll absolutely have to do the state park first to make sure you get in. Once the park has reached capacity for the day they do not take any more admissions. The last paddle launch from the state park is at 12pm, so that would only leave you with 2-3 hours to spend inside the park. The other companies offer launches as late as 3 pm, but that leaves you with far less time on the river.
If you are staying overnight, there are a bunch of nearby hotels. We stayed in the Spring Hill area which was only about 10 minutes from the park.
Updated January 2022. The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit Weeki Wachee Springs State Park I recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their website.
Other Florida State Parks you might enjoy:
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
11 thoughts on “Weeki Wachee Springs State Park & Kayaking”
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I love that so many of these are outdoor based activities and experiences, as well as nature and wildlife. I only really knew Florida for WDW and Universal so it s great to see that there s so much more to do.
Agreed! Unfortunately many people think of Florida as theme parks and even just beaches but there is so much more to it! One of the goals of this site is to show people everything Florida has to offer! Hope you enjoy exploring!
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My grandmother Dot Fitzgerald was one of the first mermaids there in 1947. I spent many summer days on the river, visiting Weeki Wachee, and swimming at Buccaneer Bay water park. I have a lot of great memories there as I grew up in Brooksville.
That is so cool that your grandmother was one of the first mermaids! I bet the park was amazing back then. And I’m happy to hear you have great memories of the river and the park. It’s a beautiful area! I can’t wait to go back soon.
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