(Review added 08/29/13, last update 12/15)
Spring Garden Creek runs a little over 4 miles from the spring in Deleon Springs State Park to Lake Woodruff within Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. The spring pumps out about 14 million gallons per day. Because of the lack of launches within the Refuge, this is an out-and-back paddle. Although the current is not strong be sure to save a little energy for the paddle back upstream
There is a little museum in the park which tells us that archeologists uncovered a Native American canoe in the spring that dates back at least 6,000 years, so people have enjoyed this “Fountain of Youth” for a long time. William Williams received the area as a land grant in 1804. In 1823 Joseph Woodruff bought a third of the grant from Williams, including the spring area and Spring Garden Plantation. Woodruff planned to build a sugar mill at the spring but died in a Yellow Fever epidemic before he could get started. Colonel Orlando Rees bought the plantation in the late 1820s and built the water wheel-powered mill to grind sugar and corn. The plantation was destroyed during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and again during the Civil War.
By the 1880s the railroad had arrived and this area had become a winter resort. The “medicinal” spring was walled in and named Ponce DeLeon Spring, in spite of the fact that there is no evidence that the Spanish explorer ever visited the area. The spring sported a luxury hotel for wealthy Yankees to recuperate or escape from the harsh winter back home. In 1964, the adjacent Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge was established as a refuge for migrating waterfowl and in 1982 the private DeLeon Spring attraction became DeLeon Springs State Park. The re-constructed mill has been turned into The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant which is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a delightful place to stop for a pancake lunch or dinner after your paddle.
The boat launch is accessed through a locked gate behind the swimming area. Be sure to tell the ranger at the entrance gate that you are kayaking so you get directions to the launch area. There is a concrete boat ramp and a grassy-sandy area next to it for hand launching. There are also kayak, canoe and peddle boat rentals at the ramp and a pontoon boat river tour is available.
From the boat launch, be sure to paddle upstream just a few hundred feet to get a good view of the water as it flows out of the walled spring pool, over a nest of limerock, and into the head of Spring Garden Creek. The Mill with its water wheel paints a pretty picture on the far side of the run.
Heading down stream it’s wise to stick to the southern (left) bank due to shallow water and heavy vegetation. You’ll pass the mouth of Spring Garden Lake then enter a wide albeit narrower spring run at the Wildlife Refuge boundary. The run is approximately 300 feet wide from there all the way to Lake Woodruff. Because it is relatively wide and open to the sun, we advise that you not to paddle here during the summer and avoid windy periods. If it’s not too windy you can paddle along the edges of Lake Woodruff and explore some of the little side creeks.
Probably the best time to paddle Spring Garden Creek is during the winter and early spring when the refuge is full of both resident and migratory birds. You will see all types of wading and water birds, turtles, and alligators on the Creek and it is a favored location for bird photographers and fishing.
0.0 DeLeon Springs State Park boat launch
0.3 Swamp Booger, river left
0.7 Enter Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge
4.2 Enter Lake Woodruff
Click HERE to download DeLeon Springs Fact Sheet with mileage chart and directions to launch sites.
Click HERE to download Deleon Springs – Spring Garden Creek gpx file for your GPS unit.
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