Dos & Don’ts of Kayaking the Weeki Wachee River

Kayaking the cold refreshing spring waters of Weeki Wachee is the perfect escape from the crowded Florida beaches during the scorching months of summer. The crystal clear water made it easy to spot schools of fish and the occasional manatee as we paddled along the miles of winding river. Before setting out on an afternoon of kayaking, there are a few helpful dos and don’ts to make your day on the water more enjoyable. 

Do – Rent your Kayak from The Kayak Shack

There were many options when I was looking to rent kayaks. The Kayak Shack not only was the best price, but they have direct access to the water (no getting on a bus), and the rental is yours for the entire day (no hourly rental pricing). The bright yellow shack sits along the edge of the Weeki Wachee River, surrounded by rows of rainbow-colored stand-up paddle boards and single or double kayaks. Our kayaks were launched directly into the water, then paddled upstream for as far and long as we wanted. The upstream paddling wasn’t strenuous, but it did make for a good workout. My arms felt strong as I navigated around the clusters of stagnant boaters. 


We kayaked three miles upstream into the Weeki Wachee State Park. The employee at The Kayak Shack advised us to be back by 5:00, and paddling upstream would take twice as long as it would for us to float downstream. With this in mind, our three-mile journey took us just over three hours without stopping. On the trip back we took our time, breaking for lunch and making time to swim before we had to return the kayaks. My only regret was forgetting to buy a souvenir t-shirt when we returned. The gift shop had rows of bright tie-dyed shirts with the Kayak Shack logo and a cute manatee printed on the back. I guess that makes for an excellent excuse to return for a future trip. 

Tie-dyed shirts from the Kayak Shack in Weeki Wachee Springs

Don’t – Rent a Double Kayak

Years ago, I made the mistake of renting a double kayak with my best friend. The uncoordinated journey ran us into many tree branches and almost ended our friendship. I have never shared a kayak with anyone since. As I paddled up the Weeki Wachee River, I encountered couples gritting their teeth in frustration trying to navigate around the congested waters. Overhearing comments like, “You just want to turn around and go home!?!?” and “You’re paddling on the wrong side!” made me cringe with flashbacks of my double kayak trauma. 

I beg of you if you care about the person going with you to kayak, spend the extra money to get two single kayaks. You and your relationship will thank me. 

The views while kayaking. Waterfront house along the Weeki Wachee River

Do – Bring Snacks and Water

While the river’s water is clear freshwater, I wouldn’t advise drinking it. Just because the water is clear doesn’t mean it’s clean. Instead, bring a sizeable insulated bottle (or two) of drinking water. Paddling up the river was exercise, and the heat of the Florida sun did not make matters any better. By the time we stopped for lunch, I had finished my first bottle of water and was working my way through the second. In hindsight, I should have brought my CamelBak to hold my water and snacks. This would have been easier to access the things I needed, and I could have sipped on cool water at any time, rather than having to stop, reach for and open my water bottle.

Learn from my mistake, and bring more water than you think you need, it could be a couple liters or more depending on how long you plan to be on the water and how hard you plan to work.. 

Don’t – Relay on Just Sunscreen for Protection from the Sun

Although trees lined the river’s edge, there isn’t much shade to keep the sun off your skin. Sunscreen alone will not protect you from the hours of direct sunlight encountered along the Weeki Wachee River. In addition to a thick layer of sunscreen, these three items are a must to protect your skin: a wide brim hat, a long sleeve swim shirt/rash guard, and a towel or pants to cover your legs. This winning combination will keep you sun safe from head to toe. If you feel like you’re working up a sweat, just dip your feet over the kayak’s edge and let the 74°F water cool you down. 


Do – Get an Ice Cream and Hot Dog from the Weeki Wachee Snack Boat

The Weeki Wachee Snack Boat was an unexpected treat. A mile upstream from the Kayak Shack, nestled along the river’s edge, is a pontoon boat adorned with copper manatee decorations, serving hotdogs, sodas, chips, and ice cream. This oasis along the river is the perfect place to slow down and stop to enjoy the shady trees and cool water. I could not resist stopping by for ice cream. A hotdog or two would have made for an easy and satisfying snack if I hadn’t just eaten lunch. 

Don’t – Get out of your Kayak

This is going to be a controversial topic. I learned you aren’t technically allowed to swim in the Weeki Wachee river after I overheard a man ranting about it during dinner. As I looked over the menu, a man at the table next to us spelled out the entire drama with tourists swimming in the river. 

The Weeki Wachee River is undergoing a dredging project that removes the sand from the riverbed. The riverbed is made of limestone, the base for growing seagrass and a refuge for the local manatees to live and forage during winter. Once the dredging project is over, areas of the river will be replanted with seagrass. The issue with people swimming in the river is that kayaks are tied to the river’s edge, causing erosion.  Thousands of people repeatedly climbing on the edge of the river and trampling the seagrass restricts the amount of food the manatees have for the winter months. Those who live on the river have lost several feet of property due to the constant wake caused by jet skis and small boats. THIS news article goes a bit more in-depth if you need an official source, not just me repeating what I heard while eavesdropping at dinner. 

At the time of our visit, there wasn’t any law enforcement or signage informing visitors not to swim or to stay in their boats. I imagine after the dredging project is completed, the local authorities will start to enforce the “no exiting your boat rule” a bit more. 


Do – Eat at Upper Deck

Next door to The Kayak Shack is Upper Deck the restaurant  where I overheard the local man’s disdain for kayakers and the river’s erosion issue. Aside from overhearing that enlightening conversation, dinner at the Upper Deck was the perfect way to end a day on the water. We sat outside overlooking the Weeki Wachee River and watched the last boats of the day pass by. The sun hid behind the trees allowing the air to be comfortable as we waited for our giant soft pretzel to arrive. 

This pretzel did not disappoint. It was perfectly salted with a crispy outside and soft, warm middle. It reminded me of the pretzel I had in Helen, Georgia, last Fall (You can read my full adventure to finding the best pretzel in Helen HERE). I was careful not to fill up on the pretzel, although I easily could have. For dinner we ordered Fish Tacos (tilapia) and a Clam Po Boy Sandwich. Both dinner choices were delicious and exactly what we needed after a long day in the sun. 

The Upper Deck restaurant in Weeki Wachee Springs

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