weeki wachee florida state park

Weeki Wachee: Kayaking, Manatees, Mermaids, & Buccaneer Bay

Weeki Wachee is already a popular destination and is only gaining in popularity. And rightfully so. Weeki Wachee is most known for for its crystal blue water that seems to be from another planet and the manatees that live there, though there is much more to do. At the time of this writing, the state park receives 420,000 visitors per year, though that number is increasing as more people learn of its beauty. Located in Spring Hill, Florida, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park makes a great trip as its just an hour north of Tampa and under two hours from Orlando. Today, I’ll give you a travel guide so that you know what to expect for your trip. More of a video person? I have you covered there, too with this YouTube video on Weeki Wachee.

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Weeki Wachee Kayaking 

Kayaking is my favorite thing to do at Weeki Wachee, so let’s start there. I do use the word kayak a lot in this article, but just know that you can rent both kayaks and stand up paddle boards for your Weeki Wachee trip.

Kayak Rental From Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

We have kayaked the Weeki Wachee River three times and each time we have rented directly from the state park because we find it to be the most convenient and hassle free option. You literally show up and sign a waiver, then you’re in the water within 5 minutes. It’s an easy downstream paddle. I use the term paddle lightly because honestly, you hardly need to paddle at all. The current will carry you and you really only have to steer. 

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Guidelines for Paddling Weeki Wachee

If you’ve rented a kayak with Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in the past, a few things may be different since your last visit. First, the paddle used to be around 5.5 miles from the launch and the shuttle would pick you up at Rogers Park. In the last couple of years, they have shortened the duration of the paddle to 2.8 miles.

The entire paddle is now state park property. When it used to be a 5.5 mile journey, only some of the paddle was state park property. This is important because it means you cannot get out of your vessel. In other words, there is no swimming for the duration of the paddle. I really missed being able to do this from last time, though I do understand why they’d want to make the change. Weeki Wachee is not a secret anymore and with the increased popularity comes more visitors who do not always respect the lands or wildlife. Change is an inevitable part of life, and Weeki Wachee is still magical, even with these changes. If you’re interested in paddling Weeki Wachee outside of the state park, there are options to do this. You can keep reading below for additional kayak rental options that offer kayak rental for the general Weeki Wachee location, not just the state park. 

Finally, single use plastic is no longer allowed in the springs. So if you’d like to bring some water or food make sure you have a reusable packaging or a reusable water bottle. The links are to some reusable products I love, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you and the proceeds help to continue to provide this valuable content.

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How long is my kayak rental at Weeki Wachee?

Your kayak or paddle board rental is for 2 hours which is more than enough time to cover the 2.8 mile trip. If you paddle, you could do it in about half the time you’re allotted so my advice is to sit back, relax, and enjoy the incredible views.

Weeki Wachee Manatees 

The water at Weeki Wachee stays 72-74 degrees all year round. Because of this, it’s a popular place for manatees to come and stay warm in the winter months. While manatees tend to steal the show, you can expect to see plenty of wildlife. Weeki Wachee is also home to turtles, birds, and more.

Additional Kayak Options

There are two other kayak rental options and both of these would give you the option to kayak outside of the state park, meaning you could get out and swim if you’d like. I’ve not personally used either company but both have great reviews on TripAdvisor.

The Kayak Shack is an option located right across from Rogers Park. This is where the trip used to end when renting from the state park. If you rent from here, you will need to paddle upstream to get to that gorgeous blue water. There are mixed reviews about how difficult this is so it appears to depend on the day, and of course, your paddling experience. The rental gives you plenty of time (5 hours) to enjoy the river.

Weeki Wachee Kayaking will shuttle you and your vessel to their private dock to drop you off. It appears you’d also need to paddle upstream with this option as well in order to get to the beautiful blue water.

We really do love the convenience of the state park, but when we want to explore the springs for a longer period of time, both of these seem like great kayak rental options. 

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Buccaneer Bay at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Another popular attraction in Weeki Wachee State Park is Buccaneer Bay, which is home to Florida’s deepest freshwater cave in the country. Our kayak shuttle driver told us that no one knows exactly how deep this spring is because it is so deep that the bottom has not been found. Divers have been 400 feet deep and still didn’t reach the bottom. So while we know it’s at least 400 feet, no one truly knows how deep it is.

Activities at Buccaneer Bay

At Buccaneer Bay, you can take your turn down two water slides (the Cannonball and Pirate’s Revenge). There’s also a beach and a spring tied off for for swimming or snorkeling. They even have a little floating dock to jump off if you’d like. If you want to do some relaxing, you can rent an inner tube and float down the river. They have food available for purchase in the park, but you may bring your own (just no glass). Know that some of these things tend to be seasonal. So if you visit in the winter months, activities like the slide and tubing may be closed.

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Mermaids at Buccaneer Bay

Perhaps the biggest attraction, however, is the swimming mermaids. These are real-life mermaids swimming right before your eyes. I think we can all agree that there aren’t many opportunities in this world to see real mermaids!

The first mermaid show was held in October 1947. At the time, it was taboo for women to show so much skin so the mermaids became celebrities of sorts. These shows continued into the late 1970’s at which time attendance started to decrease. It was decided that the mermaid show would be cancelled, though the park would stay open. 

In 1986, the park’s first manager, Walter Williams, recruited his daughter to perform as a mermaid. The family collaborated with some other divers that had previously worked at Weeki Wachee and they created the Wolfsons. This became a new version of the mermaid show and was performed until 2001. In 2001, the theatre was renovated to what it is today and a new mermaid show was rewritten.

I loved learning more about the mermaid’s history, but my favorite part was learning how difficult it really is for them to perform. There is actually a strong current at the location where the mermaids swim. This makes it quite impressive that they can stay in one place for the show! 

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Cost and Hours of Buccaneer Bay 

Buccaneer Bay is open from 9 am to 5:30 pm, but keep in mind they do hit capacity at times. If the park reaches capacity you won’t be allowed to enter. This is good to keep this in mind when planning your trip, especially on the weekends in the summer months. At the time of this writing, entrance to Buccaneer Bay costs $13 for adults and $8 for children aged 6-12. 

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History of Buccaneer Bay

While Disney tends to get a lot of credit for their amusement park, Weeki Wachee was actually Florida’s first attraction. It has been open since 1947! A man by the name of Newton Perry, a United States Navy Veteran, founded Weeki Wachee. 

At the time, the spring was filled with junk (things like cars, refrigerators, you name it), alligators, and black bears. He cleared the springs, invented a new way to breathe underwater, taught this to the girls who would be mermaids, then put up a sign on Highway 19. This is impressive because Highway 19 back then was nowhere near as busy as it is now. It was the only paved road and was only two lanes at the time. 

The mermaid show quickly gained popularity and Weeki Wachee became one of the most popular tourist attractions. Movies were filmed there and famous celebrities visited. Eventually ABC purchased Weeki Wachee, resulting in a bigger theater with 400 seats. 

Before visiting Weeki Wachee Springs State Park myself, I had no idea it offered so much to do! This really is such a great way to learn more about Florida’s history, take in a little piece of “old Florida”, explore nature, and spend quality time with your loved ones. Whether you want to kayak, swim in the springs, or catch a show, there is something at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park for you!

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