Explore Weeki Wachee
Weeki Wachee (pop. 8), the City of Live Mermaids is a longtime and once famous roadside attraction, centered around a first-magnitude spring. Starting in the late 1940’s, young women have performed as mermaids in the cool waters of the Weeki Wachee spring, in front of a captive audience that views the show from an underwater theater.
After a long struggle, the attraction was supposed to close in 2004. With the help of the State of Florida, it transformed itself into a new State Park with a bright future ahead. The park is definitely worth a visit with many things to do, but the spring and 7.5 mi. long river are what makes Weeki Wachee truly special.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
For those who prefer to enjoy the gorgeous spring and seek relief from the summer heat, nothing is better than a day of fun at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park or the adjoining Buccaneer Bay, a water park with several slides and beach area.
It offers a glimpse into the old charms of Florida’s rich heritage with the underwater amphitheater where its famous mermaids perform various children’s plays, while they remain underwater solely with the help of some free-flowing air tubes for oxygen.
Then there is the Wilderness River Cruise, which explores the first mile of the Week Wachee River and the Animal Encounter with features some of Florida’s native creatures.
Weeki Wachee Spring
Weeki Wachee Spring is the deepest naturally-formed spring in North America, a first-magnitude spring discharging over 100 million gallons of crystal-clear water a day. In fact, three other springs are identified near the main spring, including Twin Dees and Unknown Spring No. 3.
The main spring has the form of a large oval and is about 150ft by 250ft in diameter. Water bubbles up from a large limestone opening that leads to an extensive cave system, which has been explored by divers to a depth of several hundred feet. The bottom of the underwater caves, has areas of exposed limestone, crystal-clear blue water at a cool 72°F year-round, algae on the rocks and sandy patches.
Water from the spring forms the Weeki Wachee River and flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is mostly shallow with some deep swimming holes as it traverses through stretches of unspoiled forests; it enters an estuary-like coastal swamp as it approaches the Gulf.
Weeki Wachee River
The 7.5 mile long spring-fed river is best known for its headwater spring. Its urban location means easy, yet limited access while it meanders hidden from the eye, under canopies and along open meadows. Cypress, oaks and palm trees adorn the shores, but the road is never far away, yet when you take a break on one of its little white sand beaches, one feels completely immersed in nature. During the summer weekends, you’ll see crowds of people paddling, fishing or just tubing on the river to escape the heat; yet, quiet weekdays or off-season, are the times to immerse into this suburban wildlife preserve and explore its waterways.
On your way to the Gulf, you’ll encounter a variety of animal species. With luck, the endangered (West Indian) manatee will sneak up on you or a couple of otters will make an appearance. Alligators and the odd water snake are seldom seen, while numerous birds call this area their home. Watch for eagles, osprey, vultures, wood storks, cormorants, herons, ibis and many other feathered friends.
As the river reappears from the forest, it encounters substantial development, but soon the homes are left behind and the river enters the open coastal tidal marshes, which lead to the Gulf of Mexico, near the small village of Bayport.
The only means of transportation is a kayak or canoe; you can rent one at the state park or bring your own. Its popularity means busy and sometimes crowded summer weekends; go during weekdays or in the off-season for a better experience.