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The Florida summer heat is here and with it comes hordes of people flocking to all the swimming holes and beaches in the area; as a result, most of these places have been reaching full capacity quickly especially on weekends. Weeki Wachee State Park is no exception, and worst of all, after capacity for the day is met, they don't let anyone else in. I mean, who wants to drive all the way to the park just to be turned away? Well, maybe you don't have to! On my journey to Spring Hill over the weekend I think I found the hack to swimming in the clear blue waters of Weeki Wachee without needing to go to Weeki Wachee State Park.
Perhaps the best part about this "hack" is that you aren't limited to the same hours of the state park which closes at 5p.m. Not to mention, it's cheaper! However, it does take a little bit of effort.
What you'll need:
If you aren't renting a house like this one directly on the main river, you're going to have to be strategic.
So here's how it worked for me, on Saturday I used Google to check the "peak times" of Roger's Park (a park with a boat launch a few miles from the state park that's open from dawn-dusk and doesn't require reservations like the kayak launch at the headspring area) and planned to venture there specifically not during peak hours --because parking here is very limited (you can see the parking lot pictured below). I waited to go later in the day around 4-5p.m. as I am not a morning person, but others who are early birds may have just as good luck going earlier before it gets busy and staying to enjoy the entire day! The parking was $10 but it's valid for 24-hours, so the earlier you go, the more time you can spend on the water.
And the "avoiding peak hours strategy", as I like to call it, worked!
People were actually starting to pack up and leave by the time I had arrived in the afternoon and unlike the state park currently, when someone leaves Roger's Park, more people can take their spot.
I only waited about 10 minutes for another car to back out before I could take its place. Every other time I had tried to get a spot at this park on a weekend I was waiting in lines for hours.
Here's how the parking lot looked around 6p.m.:
With the first hurdle of getting a parking spot conquered, we were then tasked with trying to find water to swim in that was as nice as the water at Weeki Wachee State Park.
While you can swim at Roger's Park, the water around the park (and for a short while upstream) is not so clear and blue like you'd expect being near Weeki Wachee, but that's because the park is close to the coast that it starts to mix with the Gulf waters. You can see from the photo above that the water is quite dark around the boat launches.
We decided that our best chances of finding clear water were upstream, so, my boyfriend and I brought our 2-seater blow up kayak and spent only a few moments putting it together before heading in the direction of the headspring. I took my phone with me so we could check the GPS and make sure we were headed on the right path.
After about an hour of paddling upstream, we discovered that if you want to get to the nice areas for swimming you should be prepared to paddle at least a mile or two in the direction of the headspring.
At several points during our journey upstream, we stopped and got out of the kayak to take a dip --usually in the areas with the least amount of people we could find. As an added bonus, the farther we paddled, the better the water quality got. There were even a few trees along the river with makeshift ladders that people were using to jump in the water with:
It wasn't until we reached the state park boundary that we saw signs requiring us to remain in the vessel. But by that time we had already been paddling upstream for a couple of hours and it was starting to get late; we turned the kayak around and floated downstream with the current which made for a relaxing hour and a half ride back to Roger's Park.
We stopped at Hospital Hole, a popular swimming spot along the river on or way back which is right around the corner from the boat launch at Roger's Park, but I wasn't particularly thrilled by the water quality there. It was murky and full of people when we passed through on Saturday so I personally wouldn't recommend swimming there in place of the headspring, but it could be nice if you go without those expectations!
On another note, I have to admit that the one major downside to swimming in the river as opposed to the state park is that the river is very busy with other boaters coming and going --many of which with motors-- so if you do swim in the river make sure you're always keeping an eye out.
It seemed as though the farther upstream we went, the less people we ran into --but that meant more wildlife. During my trip on Saturday we saw a manatee and water moccasin, the latter of which swam right by us when we stopped to take a dip! Luckily I had my GoPro and phone ready:
All things considered, this was definitely a better experience overall than trying to cram into the state park first thing in the morning. It was super convenient that reservations weren't required for launching at Roger's Park and it's just a flat $10 fee for parking. I'd just say that the main key to making this "hack" work is to go either well before or after peak times and as long as you aren't opposed to a little paddling action, this too can be your new strategy to enjoy Weeki Wachee River without going to the state park!
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