By Sarah Sekula
The cicadas are humming. Frogs are croaking. And Justin Buzzi and Tia Lumpkin both have grins on their faces. As their paddles slice gently through the cool, clear waters of Rock Springs Run State Reserve near Orlando, nature therapy is in full effect. The only other sound is the sing-song melody of native birds and the swiftly moving 70-degree water, which, in some spots, appears Caribbean turquoise.
Oh, and the occasional woof, woof.
They have their sidekick, Maverick, along. Which, of course, is making the whole outing that much more enjoyable (not to mention, highly Instagrammable). The golden retriever is a looker. But so is the kayak. Made out of the same material that airplane windshields are made from, the transparent kayaks make it easy for you and your pup to spot fish, turtles, and otters below.
As the brains behind Florida-based Get Up And Go Kayaking, the couple gets to paddle these scenic waterways, here and all around the Sunshine State, more often than the average human. Their company provides guided kayaking tours all over, from mangrove tunnels in Naples to open ocean in Key West.
Buzzi says time spent at Rock Springs is a surefire way to put them (and their dog) in a good mood. So, after bringing the pup along one day, he thought why not let customers do the same?
Getting your dogs out here gives them the chance to do more than just play a game of fetch or walk around the neighborhood. Plus, having a pet along just makes any excursion that much more enjoyable for the pet parent.
Fast forward a few yeas and the couple now has two golden retrievers, and they are usually pretty stoked to join them on any adventure, especially if it involves water. “I think getting your dog out of the daily routine is always a good thing,” he says. “They get to use all their senses and burn lots of calories.”
Almost like meditation
The humans do, too. The first hour of paddling is upstream, so it’s a good workout. But not to worry, there are stops along the way. Jacob’s Island is a great place to let your dog hop overboard for a swim in the shallow water (which stays 70 degrees all year long) and snap some photos.
At Bonsai Bend—also known as Jurassic Park, for its wild, jungle-like appearance—you’ll want to take more photos. The gnarly branches of a massive, hundred-year-old oak tree hang just 20 feet or so above the water; it’s scenic to the nth degree.
“I always feel rejuvenated after kayaking out here,” he says. “Getting outdoors is extraordinarily powerful. It puts me into a super relaxed, almost meditative mode instantly. There are studies showing that people who spent two hours a week in natural settings were much more likely to report good health, and I believe it.”
If it’s that impactful for us humans, it must have a similar effect on our four-legged friends.
“I want to make sure our dogs are living their best, most adventurous, lives,” he says. “It’s a sign of a very good day when the dogs sleep the whole way home.”
What to know: There is no weight limit for your dog. But, keep in mind, the combined weight limit for everyone in the kayak is 425 pounds. If you bring your canine, be sure to bring a towel or blanket to put under them so they don’t scratch the inside of the kayak.
When to go: Rock Springs is less busy on weekday mornings. It’s quieter and less crowded before 10:30 a.m. The waterway is definitely busier on weekends.
Where to show up: If you go on the guided tour with Get Up and Go Kayaking, the launch point is at King’s Landing (5722 Baptist Camp Road, Apopka). Tours run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: The tour is $59 per person, and is limited to 10 people at a time. It averages between two and two-and-a-half hours and is suitable for beginner to intermediate levels.
Other locations: The company also offers tours of Rainbow Springs, Winter Park, Crystal River, Jupiter and Tampa Bay. Guests choose their own adventures, from dolphin sightings in Key West to mangrove tunnels in Naples to a rare bioluminescence phenomenon in Merritt Island (pictured on the left).