I talk a good bit about life lists-those places and trails that call out. Sometimes once is enough-been there, done that, next! But there’s always the one (or twelve) place that calls again and again. There’s one place I keep returning to, even though it’s 10+ hours away, nearly at Orlando. It’s called Disney World! I’m joking (though I love me some Mouse, I will not deny it!). It’s Kelly Park, which hosts a lovely campground, picnic area, playground and Rock Springs.
I first went when I was 6. I rode in the middle (the hump) of the back of a 2-door Pinto with no AC in JULY to visit my Uncle Hoot and Aunt Leidee (lee-eye-dee). The car was white with maroon pleather seats. My brother was 13 and had feet the size of beaver tails and my sister was 21 and had somehow weaseled in on the trip even though she was already married. My mother and Grandmother took up the coveted front seats with the actual roll-down windows.
It was Grandmother’s brother we were going to see This was in 1982, 12 years before the Interstate System was invented, so we drove 45 MPH backroads through orange groves for 4 days from Athens, Alabama until we finally arrived in Kissimmee, FL. My sister had hives (at least that’s how I remember it). I was a preacher’s kid (well, we all were, but this is my memory) and I could not say Kissimmee. It wasn’t forbidden, it just sounded dirty!
We went to Disney World for one day-Magic Kingdom and EPCOT Center. Sans World Showcase. Parking was a dollar. We probably rode four rides because what did I take away from the experience? That FL is too hot in July and DW is too packed.
The next day we went to Kelly Springs Park and while all I recall from MK is the teacup ride, It’s a Small World and standing in line for EVER to ride Space Mountain before wimping out at the last possible moment and crying because I was so scared on Astro Orbiter. Oh, and Tom Sawyer Island because my grandmother taught me how to shoulder a rifle in the fort.
While Disney was a delightful blur in my memory, the springs stuck. Everything about them was magical! The super clear water gushing right out of the ground, the swiftness of the water, the wide swimming pool. I had never seen anything like it!
In 2006, we went on our first family trip to Disney World and even before we went to the parks, we went to Apopka. I don’t think my own kids were as enthralled, but we had made the trip in 12 hours using the new-fangled Interstate system so they may have been addlepated. And it was December. We swam anyhow. A woman in a coat came over and yelled from the boardwalk as we climbed up the steps, “Y’all DO know it’s WINTER, right?” Her adorable baby was wearing a knit hat with a pom. It was 71 that day.
We went again in 2008, 2009 and 2014. The 2009 trip, I had taken the kids on a month long trip along the east coast in our tiny popup, so we camped there for the first time!
400 E Kelly Park RD
Apopka, FL 32712
The campground is okay. I liked that it was kind of private (this was October). I did not like that the bathhouse had no changing space at in the showers or that the driveways to the sites were SO LONG and narrow. I have backing issues. The pads are crushed shell/gravel, so good luck keeping that out of EVERYTHING.
We did see a huge variety of animals including gopher tortoise. The playground is really nice. And the next day we had the whole springs to ourselves.
We spent another day at the springs in early October of 2014 on our third Disney trip. Through each visit, the park has only improved. In 2006, we were mugged by raccoons who just climbed up and started eating our pizza! By 2008, they were gone. Each visit there has been more wildlife along the springs run and in the park itself. We hunted for geocaches after our swim and saw deer and turkey along the trail. It’s a beautiful area and well worth a visit! Parking has been $5 a car each time, even in 1982. But that can change! The park does fill to capacity in summer and holiday times and they do close it. So go early if fall is out for a visit.
The springs in Florida are simply amazing. Rock Springs may be my own magical oasis just because it appeared in my life at the perfect time. There are so many options, perhaps you will feel a similar affinity in Apopka. Or maybe another will tug at the back of your mind and strum the heartstrings until there’s nothing for it but a road trip.