The Wekiva River is a piece of paradise twenty minutes from the noise, traffic and congestion of Orlando. The most popular section of the Wekiva begins at its source, Wekiwa Springs. Paddlers can rent kayaks or canoes at Wekiwa Springs State Park, or canoes only at the Wekiva Marina, a mile downstream. The ten mile paddle to Katies Landing is a popular one, and well described by another story on this website. I will take you beyond Katies Landing, to the end of the Wekiva into the St. Johns River in this report.
Katies Landing, a former private concession, is now owned by the State of Florida. Any structures that once existed are gone, only a crumbling concrete landing remains. A primitive site, motorized boats are not allowed. Limited facilities, dirt road to sandy ramp, Port-o-Let, kiosk with a map of the Wekiva. Dirt parking area. No fee is required.
One vehicle was at the landing when I arrived on Thursday, March 30, 2006: A man enjoying his lunch break. Another yakker arrived just as I entered the River. I pointed the bow to the northeast and began paddling downstream.
The Wekiva is at one of its widest points at Katies, tall grasses line the opposite, west shore. No buildings are on the west bank, part of the Seminole State Forest. The east bank has private homes for the first mile. The last structure is the Wekiva Haven Fish Camp, an alternative launch site, for a $1.00 fee. Past the Fish Camp, the Wekiva enters the Lower Wekiva River State Preserve and other than the occasional beer can, signs of human habitation vanish.
I had the Wekiva mostly to myself. At one point I glanced back and saw the woman who had been at Katies, but after rounding a few bends in the serpentine stream, I never saw her again. I passed two fishing boats. One man had just reeled in one of the biggest bluegills I have ever seen. The tall grass shore at the start of my trip gave way to palm and oak tree lined banks in some sections, vast strands of cypress in others and more sections of reeds and low lying water plants. The water was very clear. Less than 1/4 inch of rain the past month means little run off, so the majority of water in the River is from the Springs. I saw my first alligator of the day early in the journey, a decent sized fellow floating on the surface.
The clear water makes gives an advantage to anglers of all types. I saw at least 10 Great Blue Herons during my trip, intently staring at the water for a meal, flying off for better opportunities when interrupted by an approaching paddler. Blue herons, Great Egrets, cattle egrets, ibis, limpkin, red shouldered hawks, osprey, vultures, anhingas, cormorants, morhens, and ducks all were observed, and more I can't recall or identify. Two human fishermen, boats powered by electric motors, quietly moved up the River ahead of me. Due to the twisting channel, I do not think they saw me. I paddled slowly, so not to pass them, letting the current do most of the work. I heard a splash ahead, an alligator startled by the approaching boats? A short time later, the same noise. The anglers turned around, now I would see what was splashing. It was alligators alright, as I came upon one who noisily entered the River from the near shore vegetation. Others placidly ignored my presence. I saw at least 12 alligators during the afternoon, and heard another 10 or so.
The last half mile or so of the Wekiva before emptying into the St Johns is a Manatee Zone. I was not fortunate enough to see any, but appreciated the fact that their potential presence means boats have to travel without a wake. I entered the St Johns, and soon exited the State Preserve, and Manatee Zone. Large power boats zoomed along, rolling the River and rocking my kayak. I crossed the St Johns; carefully looking for traffic, and circled a small island, away from the motor madness. A primitive landing is just across the island on the east bank of the St. Johns. High Banks Landing, according to the Florida Department of Greenways and Trails, is 5 miles from Katies.
I reentered the Wekiva. Well, not right away, having missed it and paddling south, parallel to the Wekiva on the St Johns for a few hundred yards. Realizing my error, I turned around, located the Wekiva and began the upstream paddle back to Katies Landing. I have no idea how fast the current is, but laying the paddle across the beam to take a swig of water caused me to lose ground (or is that water?). This upstream paddle gives it, for me, a moderate rating.
A mile into the return trip I made a brief paddle up what I think is Blackwater Creek, a small swift flowing waterway entering the Wekiva from the west. I was unable to go very far before running into a barrier of downed trees and tangled greenery. Last spring, I paddled Blackwater from the Seminole State Forest to the Wekiva, apparently this barrier was not there at that time. Last September, entering form the Wekiva, I went around this, or a similar barrier, high water made it possible to travel well away from the Creek's channel into the cypress swamp. It also made it easy to get lost, as there was no defined channel. I heard what turned out to be the last two gators of the day while in Blackwater Creek, noisy splashes, then weeds rolling as they entered the Creek, unseen by me.
I enjoyed the twists of the River, scanning for wildlife when -- BRAAA! -- Great. Power boats. Hope the knuclekheads see me. I lifted my paddle high, yelled "HEY!" and fortunately they slowed down. 4 small boats; 15 horse engines. They then proceeded to zoom up the River, without a clue as to what lay around the next bend. . I hope the River gets lower so idiots like this damage their boats, or boats rented from Wekiva Haven, before they damage somebody else.
A tiny sandy area made a good place to stop. Others have thought the same thing, remains of a fire on the bank above the beach, a clothesline across two trees. I then noticed higher ground, and wondered if it was a midden. There are several middens along the Wekiva, I have seen 5 of them. I investigated this rise, and did not see the telltale snail shells. I did see what may be an old canal on the other side of the rise, perhaps the rise is the fill.
Back in the kayak, paddling past a cypress forest, I heard, and then saw a deer. I was able to watch it for a few minutes, I left before it did. I soon arrived back at Katies, lingered on the River a while after a 10 mile, 5 hour paddle. I finally landed, and as I put the kayak on my car, hawks screeched, owls hooted, kayakers fished, a deer poked through the reeds across the River, all enjoying nightfall on the Wekiva.
Dirt parking. Sand launch. Port-o-let.
Interstate 4 exit 101 west towrds Mt. Dora on State Highway 46. About 4.5 miles to Wekiva Park Rd, if you cross the river you went to far, right about a mile to Katies Landing. Katies is not well marked, look for stone pillars and an iron gate on your left.