Clear kayaking in Weeki Wachee is a popular one-day activity or overnight trip for Florida natives and a bucket list destination for domestic and international visitors alike. During the winter months is a special time to visit the springs because that is when you can spot manatees on the river!
After hearing continuous praise about how epic these springs are ever since moving to Florida I recently decided to take a day trip from St Pete to Weeki Wachee Springs River as well as the state park to see what clear kayaking in Weeki Wachee was all about.
This blog will go over everything you will need to know about Weeki Wachee Springs, clear kayaking tours, kayak rentals, and where to stay!
I’ll also share the pros and cons of my clear kayaking tour in Weeki Wachee with Get Up and Go Kayak and if it’s worth going or not. I’ll save the suspense and just tell you now – if you’re an outdoorsy and active person you’re going to love it!
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.
Weeki Wachee Springs FAQ
About Weeki Wachee
Weeki Wachee Springs is the deepest natural underwater spring in the United States measuring around 150 feet (46 m) in width and 250 feet (76 m) in length. Another unique thing about these river springs is the warm temperature which fluctuates between 72 to 74 °F (22 to 23 °C) all year long.
Weeki Wachee Springs are located in Spring Hill, Florida which is 50 mi (80 km) north of Tampa, 85 mi (137 km) west of Orlando, 107 miles (172 km) southwest of Gainesville, and 329 miles (529 km) northwest of Miami.
Manatees are part of the native wildlife here. They may spend time in the springs at any given month of the year but during the wintertime, specifically November 14th – March 31st, they venture into the springs because they can’t handle the cold coastal waters. If you are planning a visit this is the best timeframe to visit and book a clear kayaking tour.
The other types of animals that you might encounter during a visit to Weeki Wachee are alligators, bald eagles, frogs, snakes, lizards, turtles, otters, fish, raptors, and various types of birds.
Weeki Wachee Springs River & State Park
There are two main places to visit in Weeki Wachee, the river and the state park.
The river is the more natural option where you can go on a guided clear kayak tour, launch your own canoe or kayak, or rent one from one of many different companies situated along the river (more on this later in the guide). You can also go swimming directly from Roger’s Park but the water there isn’t as clear as in other parts of the river. To reach the clearest areas you would need a canoe or kayak.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park was built in 1974 and is still one of Florida’s most famous roadside parks. Here, you will find tourist attractions such as Buccaneer Bay swimming hole and waterpark, the famous underwater Mermaid Theatre with daily live performances, an educational Animal Show, and a Wilderness River Cruise.
You can also rent canoes and kayaks here too and there are a few different concession stands throughout the park.
This state park is open 365 days a year from 9 am to 5:30 pm. Admission to the park costs $13 USD for adults, $8 USD for kids ages 6 to 12, and free for those 5 and under.
In my opinion, the state park definitely felt touristy and the facilities were a bit cheesy and out of date but we mainly came just to swim in the springs and we did enjoy it! The water was insanely clear and perfectly cool.
We visited in early November an hour before the park closed and we were one of the few people there so we didn’t experience any crowds. But since the beach and swimming areas are rather small I would imagine it could get noisy and crowded on a hot summer day.
Weeki Wachee Kayaking
You may have seen a magical video on social media of someone in a clear kayak drifting along one of Florida’s famous springs. You might be wondering if it’s too good to be true.
Well, having gone kayaking in Weeki Wachee for myself, I am here to say that such beauty does exist! You just have to put in a little work to get there.
Kayaking is by far the most popular method to navigate the springs as opposed to canoeing or paddleboarding. If you don’t have your own kayak these are your options.
Weeki Wachee Clear Kayak Tour
If you have never been to Weeki Wachee before then going on a small group tour like the one I went on is the option I recommend the most.
First and foremost, I love them because you get to ride in a clear kayak so you see so much more than you would in a regular kayak (which is what all the nearby rentals are). A manatee literally went underneath our kayak which was super cool!
On this exact tour, you also get a Guardian Guide which is certified by the Save the Manatees Club.
They are familiar with the river and know exactly where to look for manatees plus they have a lot of knowledge about these creatures and the Weeki Wachee River so they can answer any burning questions you may have. They will take pictures of you during your tour too and send them to you for free before you leave!
Because these tours are popular it is best to book during the weekday to avoid there being lots of activity on the river. If you can only go on the weekends the earlier you can start the better. There are 3 time slots you can book, 9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm.
If you decide to take this route I recommend booking your Weeki Wachee Clear Kayak Ecotour online in advance to reserve your preferred date and time!
Your other option is to simply rent a standard kayak from one of the companies along the river and navigate it yourself. This is a great option if you don’t like group settings or want less structure.
One of the companies that do this is Weeki Wachee Kayaking. A single-seater kayak costs $35 USD, a tandem kayak costs $40 USD, and canoes cost $45 USD. It is a flat fee for the whole day so you can explore at your own pace. Life vests, paddles, and dry bags (upon request) are included.
Unfortunately none of the companies I looked at offer clear kayaks so if you want that experience you would need to go on a clear kayaking tour instead.
My Weeki Wachee Clear Kayak Tour Experience
Daryl and I chose to book tandem kayaks on the Weeki Wachee Clear Kayak Ecotour which is run by Get Up and Go Kayak. They are far and away the most popular guided tour company and the only one who offers clear kayaks. They have a perfect 5-star rating on Google!
It cost $65 USD for each of us and lasted for around 2 hours. We had two friendly and talkative guides who were super passionate about the ecosystem and shared lots of info and facts with us. This definitely elevated our experience!
Going in my expectations were high – I was anticipating seeing manatees and seeing and swimming in dreamy turquoise waters.
While it did deliver on two of those three accounts (we didn’t get to swim on the tour) it wasn’t as relaxing of an experience as I had imagined. It took some effort and shoulder strength to paddle for 2 hours but nothing the average fit individual couldn’t handle.
It was also the first time Daryl and I had tried tandem kayaking and we struggled on and off for maybe half of the tour to get our paddling in sync. The currents at the beginning were tricky and that mixed with our inexperience got us spun around the wrong way a few times.
It really took some practice and communication to keep our kayak going straight but towards the end, we were starting to figure it out more.
If you have experience tandem kayaking it definitely will be a lot easier to navigate and you’ll be able to chill out more and focus on the landscapes.
That being said, the rest of our tour experience was fantastic, and overall I can see myself booking this tour again for some more tandem practice!
Anyway, here’s more information on how our day went and what you can expect.
The meeting point for this tour is actually at the Mary’s Fish Camp parking lot in Spring Hill, Florida.
Once there we took everything we wanted from our car like sunscreen, snacks, and a waterproof phone case, and went to meet our guide at the kayak launch. Once the rest of the group arrived we quickly went over safety information and how to properly interact with a manatee if we were to come in close contact with one.
My Finding’s Fact: Did you know there is a manatee law? Manatees are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. It states that it is illegal to feed, harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, annoy, or molest manatees. However, if the manatee is the one to touch you then it is acceptable. The reason for this is that manatees are such friendly creatures and if they become desensitized to humans oftentimes they end up getting hurt or even killed for coming too close to moving boats.
The River Route
Once everyone took turns getting into their kayaks and launching we began to paddle. The beginning section had everyone a little bit worried because the water looked dark here, in a gross and eerie kind of way. Our guides told us that this part is usually like this because the riverbed is covered with plants and the reflection from the sky isn’t so pretty (especially when it’s cloudy – it was for us), so even though the water is clean and clear it doesn’t look like it.
After maybe 20 to 30 minutes of paddling through some channels and going under a couple of bridges, the river currents really started to pick up. This is where we struggled a bit and got turned around the other way.
I hate not being good at activities so this was definitely a little frustrating when the rest of the group pulled ahead but one of our guides hung around and tried to verbally help us.
This led to our guide spotting a couple of giant manatees! So we at least got a cool bonus that the others missed out on. We didn’t feel quite as embarrassed anymore.
Once we got back on track the dark colors of the river started looking more clear – this is what we came to see!!!
Over the next 30 minutes of tough upstream kayaking, we passed Hospital Hole which is one of the main hangouts for manatees and scuba divers who dive in the sinkhole here. When we passed there was at least one manatee but it was pretty crowded here with lots of other kayakers and canoes so the guides decided to skip it and try it on the way back.
It was a good move because around the next bend, there was a mother manatee and its baby!!!
Aww, look at the baby manatee!
To prevent scaring or hurting the manatees each kayak in our group took turns paddling past them. The mom literally went underneath our kayak and it felt like we were going to hit her! It was so cool looking through the bottom of our kayak as that was happening!
The baby even came up for air (they can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes) and it was so adorable. Unfortunately, the only pictures I have are screenshots from the video I took so they aren’t the greatest quality.
We spent a nice amount of time here to make sure everyone got some time with the manatees and then we headed back downstream to our starting point. Not fighting against the flow of the river was definitely a lot easier, and after seeing the manatees we felt like all of our earlier efforts were worth it.
Ultimately, we are so glad we booked this clear kayaking tour and I highly recommend it for adventurous locals or tourists!
Where to Stay in Spring Hill, Florida
If you want to stay in Weeki Wachee after your kayaking tour there aren’t a whole lot of choices right in Spring Hill and the ones available aren’t anything special but here are the top choices.
Mary’s Fish Camp $-$$$ – A convenient stay right next to the river! they have 4 campsites, 17 RV hook-ups, and 4 cabins with full cabins and kitchens that are available on a daily, weekly, or monthly rate. A campsite costs $45 USD, RV plots are $55 USD, and cabins start at $300 USD for min stay of 2 nights. This is the most unique accommodation in Spring Hill.
You can book directly through Mary’s Fish Camp’s website.
Motel 6 $ – This is the best option for budget travelers with a queen room starting at $60 USD. It is right in town next to restaurants and stores and is close to the park entrance. It’s extremely simple so don’t expect much more than a bed that is rated as comfortable.
You can book in advance on Booking.com.
Quality Inn $$ – Located just 2 minutes from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. It’s not the most updated but it’s clean and has all the basics you would need for an overnight as well as a gym and pool. It costs $106 USD.
You can book in advance on Booking.com.
Holiday Inn Express $$ – The closest thing to luxury in Spring Hill is priced at $183 USD a night. The hotel is quiet and clean with super comfortable beds and toiletries. For breakfast, there is a choice of cereal, fresh fruit, and coffee. A pool and a small gym are also available.
You can book in advance on Booking.com.
My Final Word on Clear Kayaking in Weeki Wachee
Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Our experience of clear kayaking in Weeki Wachee was a lot of fun and I hope you’ve been inspired to visit one of Florida’s best springs!
Being from the Tampa Bay area I have more content for you below if you’re planning on spending more time in the area!