Within the heart of Central Florida, in the town of Apopka, lies a privately owned plot of land that will transport your mind and have your body believing you are visiting a remote jungle oasis. Land once roamed by the Timucua Indians is now a recreation lover’s paradise, home to King’s Landing and the iconic “Emerald Cut.”
Just 40 minutes from Orlando, King’s Landing is just one section of Rock Springs Run in the Wekiva River Basin, which was designated a “Wild and Scenic River” of Florida by Congress in October of 2000. That is one of the strongest forms of protection for that type of ecosystem and ensures it will be preserved for generations to come. This gem is easily one of the most beautiful paddles in the Sunshine State and is only a hop, skip and jump away from Tampa.
A visit to King’s Landing begins with an online reservation, followed by a two-hour drive northwest. Arriving down a dead-end street, we were greeted by a small grass lot, an office, a gift shop, and several massive Sulcata tortoises. Known to live over 150 years, these gentle giants were a sight to behold, grazing on the dewy grass in the early morning sun. We checked in, unloaded our kayaks and dragged them to a small canal which would mark the beginning of our journey. After a bag check for prohibited items like glass and alcohol, staff pushed us off into the water for our adventure. We paddled down a muddy canal and quickly came to the clear waters of the spring, marked by a unique tree growing up from the crystal-clear water. Two options were available to us: Heading south toward Wekiva Island (making a left), we would paddle 8.5 miles through the tannic waters laden with lily pads, alongside the occasional gator. Deer, gopher tortoises and even bears roam the wilds of the river bank. That would be a journey for another day. We opted to turn right, for a shorter two-mile round trip, and what we came to see – the Emerald Cut. Kayaking against the current would take about an hour and a half to the end, or much longer depending on how many times you stop to swim and take in the scenery. We were immediately blanketed in solitude on the weekday morning, sharing the river with only a few other people. The lush hammock forest was truly jungle-like in its appearance, hugging the pristine waters of the river. Sandbars sporadically rose from the aqua depths and provided the perfect place to stop for lunch or to play. Low lying branches from age old trees delighted my boys with places to climb out over the river. Reaching the Emerald Cut, about three quarters of a mile in, was everything we hoped it would be. We stopped and swam under the two trees that stood famous in the middle of the water, one of the few deep spots on the run. King’s Landing was just as beautiful in person as in the photographs we had seen. Our journey ended at the bridge to Kelly Park, where we turned around and enjoyed an easy float back, using our paddles only to steer. Delighted yet again by the marvelous beauty of our state, we will be sure to return to explore more.
A visit to King’s Landing, one of Florida’s most beautiful springs, will reward both the mind and body alike. Take in the tranquility while adventuring and mark another destination off your family bucket list.
Kings Landing Tips:
- Reservations are required, and special after dark reservations are available as well.
- Self-launch is $10 and kayak rentals start at $59.
- Combine your trip with a visit to Kelly Park, just minutes up the road.