Unique and Heart Racing Adventures in King's Landing, Florida
The Day Paddle
A few years ago, I saw a lovely couple on YouTube exploring King’s Landing (Emerald Cut), which is located in Apopka, Florida. From that point on, I wanted to visit this location to see what it was like. This place is considered the #1 paddling destination in Central Florida, and there is a good reason for that. My husband booked our reservation time slot online, filled out a waiver, and paid the fees. We were set to go!
For this adventure, we booked the Emerald Cut side of the springs. Emerald Cut is a stunning section of Rock Springs Run that features pristine emerald blue waters and lush tropical scenery, transporting you to a picturesque paradise. We headed out to Apopka in the middle of the week, hoping it wouldn’t be packed. It took us about 45 minutes to get there from our house. Once we arrived, it wasn’t extremely busy, thankfully. We were directed to drop off our canoe in the front section and then headed to park our van. After smothering ourselves in sunblock, we entered King’s Landing, where we were greeted by a happy turtle. The office where you can check in and get supplies is right beyond that point. The person checking us in was friendly and explained the process to us.
We took our canoe to the water, waited for our turn, and then shoved off. Immediate joy took over as we saw beautiful plants and flowers on both sides of the water. As we drifted on the water, it reminded me of a Disney boat ride, but out in nature. There was a tour group in front of us; some seemed to be struggling with their kayaks, so they moved to the side to let others pass. It was a beautiful sunny day in the high 80s, and the water was perfect and crystal clear! Once you start paddling and put some distance between you and others, it really becomes enjoyable. As we paddled further in, we saw lots of birds and turtles, along with rustic cabins that sat right by the water. Mostly, we saw plenty of small fish swimming in the clear waters, along with cute turtles of all sizes sunbathing on logs with legs outstretched.
This was a relatively relaxing activity with some light/moderate paddling along the way. The way back down is a lot easier, as the current brings you back most of the way. You can leisurely float downstream, taking in the serene and magnificent natural lazy river of Rock Springs Run. Guests were enjoying themselves, and we had a very relaxing and fun day. We really enjoyed this side, so we thought we would have to come back on another day to explore the shuttle run.
The Shuttle Run
In the middle of the week, we made our reservations, completed the waiver, and paid the fees online. The next day, early in the morning, we left to explore. We arrived around 9 am and checked in. This time, we rented a tandem kayak instead of bringing our canoe. We quickly launched (around 9:45 am) and paddled our way through the normal channel, but this time, we were told to turn left instead of continuing to the Emerald Cut. The water was lovely, clear, and everything in our surroundings was beautiful. We also passed a few people in small canoes fishing in the area.
Half an hour into our adventure, the vibe shifted, and the water was no longer shallow and clear. For some reason, I was under the impression that we would easily float down the river with grace and ease in clear blue waters. I was wrong. There was a lot more vegetation on this side of the springs, and I couldn’t see the bottom anymore. Many downed trees with big branches stuck out of the water, creating an interesting obstacle course for us. Luckily, my husband and I have paddling experience, so we maneuvered around the thick branches and lily pads. We saw lots of beautiful turtles catching rays to warm up, and then we saw our first small alligator. How cute! Let me get the camera out.
But then I started to see more of them, in every corner I looked. Panic set in, and I told my husband that he needed to paddle faster so we could push forward. I tried to relax, but with every passing second, I realized we were in the middle of nowhere with no one in sight. At the beginning of our adventure, we heard paddlers behind us, but we wanted to stay away from groups, so we paddled hard. The water was getting murkier, darker, and deeper. We then saw another alligator (about 3 feet long). A few minutes later, I looked to the left and saw a congregation of alligator babies sitting on a log. They couldn’t have been more than a few months old. My first thought was, if babies are here, the mama must be close by. This swiftly concerned my husband and me, as we know gator parents can be protective of their young. At this point, we had seen a few gators on the banks, and I can’t stress enough how much I wanted this paddle adventure to be over at that very moment. I wanted someone to pick us up in a real boat and get us out of there. Knowing that this would be impossible, we continued on our quest.
Honestly, I did not expect the paddle to be so difficult. Several times we got stuck between branches in murky water, unable to dislodge ourselves. It was a frightening experience for me, although my husband was enjoying every step of the way. I took very quick photos and videos of the wildlife while trying to get out of there as quickly as possible. I’m sure many wildlife warriors would be thrilled to see so many gators, but as for me, I did not feel comfortable being in the water at this point. We swiftly powered through it while my husband kept reminding me that we were not even halfway. My heart sank. I had failed to do the proper research, and now I had to face my biggest fears. Beam me up, Scotty!
Interestingly enough, we felt comfort and companionship with a few large birds that flew next to us in curiosity. The tiny insects that danced above the water in front of our kayak entertained and guided us. I settled down and started to enjoy the ride. I began to focus on the captivating sounds of nature and the lush tropical surroundings.
The sights and woodland creatures kept me calm as we slowly drifted by huge lily pads with lovely yellow flowers, long bi-colored seagrass. My favorite part was the playful, colorful dragonflies that landed on and near us, displaying their captivating hues of blue and green.
Three hours later (around 12:15 pm), we reached a camp called Indian Mound Camp, a place where you can get out of your kayak to stretch your legs, camp, sit by the water to eat, drink, and explore a little bit. We snacked on some chips and drank some apple juice before heading back out. We were leaving the camp when a family arrived – a father with his two sons (from New York) – who also felt the paddle was a bit difficult. I was relieved to hear that I wasn’t the only one who found it a challenging experience.
After we crossed Indian Mound, the atmosphere changed, and it felt like we were in clearer waters again. Not as clear as the Emerald Cut, but clear enough to see what was underneath us. Fortunately, we didn’t see any more gators after that, and I began to relax and enjoy the scenic route much more than before. To be honest, the alligators were pretty well-behaved. They either stood still or moved out of the way when we crossed paths. Other gators jumped in the water as soon as they heard us to find cover. My husband kept telling me they didn’t want anything to do with us. He was right, at least on this adventure. We made several stops along the way to admire the lovely purple flowers that grew in the wild. There seemed to be tons of what appeared to be cabbage on the bottom of the spring too. Manatees would have loved that buffet, but alas, the water was probably too shallow for them. Life was thriving here in these springs! We were fortunate to see a long, thick black snake slithering down a tree, which was fascinating to watch.
Around 2 pm, we started to see more people, so we figured we were close to the end of the run. You can either exit King’s Landing or head back to Wekiva (which isn’t part of the shuttle run). As we paddled back to catch our shuttle, we noticed a bar, cabanas, and people sipping drinks by the water. We reached the end where we were to dismount and catch our ride back to the main park. We were lucky that they were running multiple shuttles that day, and we caught an early one. The staff takes your vessel at that point, and you start to feel a bit of sea legs.
We were allowed to go back with a tour group that had extra seats. The bus driver was a hoot as she cracked jokes and blasted “Sweet Home Alabama” on the radio. It was a short drive back, and we were happy to be on land.
Needless to say, it was a one-of-a-kind adventure, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a challenge and isn’t afraid of the local wildlife. I don’t know if I would do this again, but it was definitely a memorable adventure. If you want to experience King’s Landing, just do the Emerald Cut if you don’t have kayaking or canoeing experience. If you are daring enough to explore the wild side of Florida, by all means, grab your partner, friend, or take a small group and head out to King’s Landing for your next unique adventure.