Off The Beaten Path: Weeki Wachee Christian Camp
If you love to camp in pristine settings, you can understand how excited we were to discover that the Christian camp located directly on the aquarium-clear Weeki Wachee River is not soley reserved for this denomination’s groups, but is also open to the public. We had kayaked past it on an earlier trip, and were envious of the campers with their tents set up directly along the bank. The setting was idyllic, with gently flowing water carrying fish and even Manatee past in a parade of natural beauty! A rickety dock jutted from the shoreline, and the river cooperated by providing a natural swimming area with a deep drop just off the front of the dock. Despite the No Trespassing signs, we paddled to the bank and hopped off the kayak for a quick survey of the campground. There were no campsite boundaries, allowing tenters to set up any where they found level ground. There was a centrally-located fire pit and a few picnic tables near the water.
We noticed that there weren’t any electric outlets or running water in the camping area, so this would be a little more of a primitive camping spot compared to our visits to more developed campgrounds (We later learned that running water and bathrooms are available just a short walk from the tent camping area). The river and woods were so mesmerizing, I wasn’t even thinking about any lack of facilities as I day-dreamed of camping here. Such a beautiful campground with access to such a beautiful river makes this a perfect outdoor getaway! Who needs electric?!?
After our discovery of Weeki Wachee Christian Camp, we began to plan a group trip to return. We wanted our friends to see the Manatee. Due to the record-setting cold weather, they were retreating in large numbers to the moderate water temperatures of the Weeki Wachee. I wanted to get back there before it warmed up enough to send these large mammals back to the Gulf of Mexico. I googled the phone number, and called to check availability. This was my first conversation with the campground manager, "Jinx" Givens. He was a little gruff on the phone, but after the third time I spoke to him before our trip, we were just like old friends! Jinx is a very young 80, lives in a house at the entrance to the campground and is as "real Florida" as the campground itself! It appears that he is the only full-time employee, so you’ll most likely be dealing with him directly when you book your campsite. Tip: Jinx is very protective of his campground. He wants to maintain a family-friendly environment. A little respect seemed to go a long way with him. He doesn’t have to let you in, and you don’t want to miss it!
The Accuweather Forecast looked a little bleak the week leading up to our group camping trip to Weeki Wachee. Overnight low temeratures in the mid 30′s with north winds were going to make the weekend less than ideal for camping and kayaking. I called the campground with questions about cabins that I had learned about from their website. We were facing cold weather (for Florida), and I was looking for warmth so the group would not abandon the trip! Cabin camping is pretty far down the list of ways we like to enjoy outdoor adventures. Even though we felt that the tent area down by the river provided the most picturesque setting, we opted for warmth and booked 2 cabins for the weekend.
I’ll preface my description of the cabins by saying that they only cost 25 bucks a night. There’s an old saying that "you get what you pay for". I couldn’t tell if the cabins were pre or post WWII construction! Plenty of cobwebs on the eves and windows, cinderblock construction with a row of bunk beds down each wall. When I checked in, I learned that our group would be the only campers for the weekend. I drove through the campground and it was deserted. The rows of empty buildings with all the spanish moss hanging from the trees was a little spooky. Not Camp Crystal Lake from "Friday The 13th" spooky, but some of the buildings were foreboding enough to give the impression that, just maybe, Jason Vorhees was lurking behind a cabin door. Bring him on! At least the heat worked!
Weeki Wachee Christian Camp covers 20 acres. The grounds are mostly wooded except for a ball field, and clearing by the river. There are pavilions in front of each group of cabins with electricity and potable water. This became a functional spot for cooking and eating, with picnic tables, and even a couple of prep tables under the shelter of the pavilion. Campfires are permitted in several fire rings scattered around the grounds. There’s a hiking trail that skirts the south side of the property. Since we had the place to ourselves, we really spread out!
Breakfasts and dinners were prepared at the pavilions, but during the warmth of the day we moved down to the water and kayaked, lounged on the dock and had lunch. We had company after lunch, and both evenings. Manatee visited frequently and hung out around the dock just a few feet beneath our dangling toes!
We kayaked twice over the weekend. One of the couples in our group needed to rent a kayak, and was pleased with the service and the rates they received on daily rentals from 2 seperate outfitters. Weeki Wachee Kayak is located downriver from the campground at 5414 Darlene St. Weeki Wachee, Fl. 34607. The rental is just across the river from Roger’s Park, and next to the Upper Deck Restaurant. Their phone number is 352-610-4169. For the second day, we launched from the headsprings, at the kayak rental located inside Weeki Wachee State Park. Kudos to both operations for taking great care of my friends!
Despite the cold weather forcing us into the less than desirable cabins, the weekend was memorable for everyone in the group. Our time floating along with the Manatee was indescribable! We also "communed" with foxes, otters, very friendly raccoons, lots of shorebirds, fresh and saltwater fish, and of course Old Jinx! Bring your snorkle gear, camera and sleeping bag and check out Weeki Wachee. Set your tent up right next to the bank, and get a fishing line in the water. I think you’re gonna love this spot, so please leave a comment letting me know how your trip was, and tell Jinx I said hi!