We had been saving a return to DeLeon Springs for a winter trip. As open as Spring Garden Creek is, you are totally exposed to the sun so late fall to early spring is the best time to go. Plus that’s the time when you will see the most birds. Also, if you can arrange it, try to choose a day with little to no wind because the Creek is wide and Lake Woodruff is fascinating to explore.
The ramp is located behind the main building of the park, so be sure to tell the person at the gate you are kayaking and get directions. There is a concrete ramp with a grassy-sandy area beside it for hand launching. You can drive right up to the ramp to unload. If you have a short car then move your vehicle back outside the gate. If you have a long truck or trailer there is an area just inside the gate where you can park. Also, before your paddle, check out the little museum so you have a overview of the park’s history. It’s between the ramp and the bathrooms, so it’s very convenient!
We were ready to launch around 9:30 and first paddled up towards the top of the run. DeLeon Spring has been walled in since it was a private attraction but a beautifully crafted lime rock cascade was built where the water flows out of the spring into the creek. There is also a nice view across the water to the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.
We then turned downstream and paddled out past Spring Garden Lake and the entrance to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Woodruff was established as a refuge for migratory waterfowl and it’s a wonderful place for bird watching. Osprey, Great Blue Herons, Little Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Ibis, Limpkins, Cormorants, and Anhinga abound.
We also saw some of the largest gators we had seen in a long time. Several in the 8- to 11-foot range were out sunning on the banks and logs.
After a smooth 4-mile paddle you will reach Lake Woodruff. If it is not too windy the shore line is an interesting place to explore and you are guaranteed to see more birds and gators.
On our trip back we took a little leg-stretch break on a high spot of land on river left where the shore line was covered with snail shells and the ground sported a carpet of little violets.
We also spotted three manatee cruising the creek. One was trailing a radio beacon, the other two we spotted when they surfaced to breathe. Since Spring Garden Creek is dark and tannic it’s not a great place for manatee photos, but it’s wonderful to view them in the wild.
On the way back keep your eyes peeled on the east side of Spring Garden Lake for the whimsical statue indicating the entrance to the state park.
And of course, no trip to DeLeon Springs State Park is complete without stopping at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill for a post-paddle late lunch of stone-ground flour pancakes which you cook on griddles built into your table.
Another great paddle with a few of our YakPak members to start off the new year.