A Dozen of Florida’s Natural Springs and Recreation Areas
People have been vacationing in Florida for a very long time and it’s the beaches and weather that first attracts them, but once here many people discover that the state has a lot more to offer. Long before the theme parks took center stage many visitors and Floridians alike flocked to the states unique natural fresh water springs. Even today locals who know still take advantage of these remarkable places.
Characteristically these springs see tens of thousands of gallons per minute of crystal clear water gushing out of the Earth, usually at a constant 72°. Most locations have a large pool of water sitting above the spring outflow, called a spring head. Beneath the pool is usually a cave opening at depths that range from a few feet to over fifty feet. Water from the spring head flows down a course that then empties into a river or stream. Wildlife, just like people, are attracted to these springs and often you will see impressive numbers of birds as well as manatees that usually spend winters in these springs, along with alligators, otters and much more.
To understand why Florida has so many of these incredible fresh water springs we need to look at the states geology. The Floridian peninsula is a plateau of porous (karst) limestone that sits atop bedrock known as the Florida Platform. Because the state is relatively flat, much of the rainwater doesn’t flow out through river valleys like in most states but sits on the surface in swamps and lakes and soaks down into the ground. This water flows into the karst limestone and into extended systems of underwater caves found throughout the state and this becomes the aquifer supplying the water used by residents. In low-lying areas the pressure from the underground water gushes out of caves producing Florida’s remarkable springs. These springs are more common in North-Central Florida because the aquifer is closest to the surface there.
Years ago many of the state’s major springs were on private property and were commonly developed into popular tourist venues. The glass bottomed boats of Silver Springs and the mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs were famous Florida attractions a hundred years ago. As the interstate highways pulled traffic from state roads, family driving vacation gave way to air travel and the theme parks of Orlando and Tampa became destinations in their own right, old Florida attractions couldn’t compete and began to close.
The state of Florida stepped up and came to the rescue, partly to expand recreational offerings through the state park system but also to protect the incredible natural environments associated with these beautiful natural springs. If you are going to visit Florida don’t miss the opportunity to explore a Florida spring. If you live in Florida and haven’t taken advantage of these wondrous places – what are you waiting for?
The Best Of Florida’s Springs
1. Wakulla Springs State Park
Located just 15 minutes south of Tallahassee, Wakulla Springs State Park is the deepest freshwater spring in the world. Wakulla Springs has been the location of a number of Hollywood movies like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and “Tarzan”. Swim, dive off the high platform, stay in the famous original hotel on site and take river cruise while you’re there. GPS location 465 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs FL 32327
2. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
One of the best places in Florida to take a tube float trip. Float or kayak down the spring-fed river or hang out at head springs pond. While there take a hike to Blue Hole Spring, another great spring located inside the park. GPS address: 12087 S.W. U.S. Highway 27, Fort White FL 32038
3. Fanning Springs State Park
Located on the Suwannee River, Fanning Springs is an inviting source of cool, clear crisp water that has attracted people for thousands of years. Reached from U.S. 19 along Florida’s Nature Coast. A favorite location for launching a kayak or canoe, Fanning Springs flows into the legendary Suwannee River offering great paddling opportunities. It is only a short distance from Manatee Springs State Park located just a few miles north of Fanning Springs in Chiefland. GPS location: 18020 N.W. Highway 19, Fanning Springs FL 32693
4. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and Three Sisters Springs
Homosassa Springs is one of the best places in the state to see manatees. Visitors can get close to the animals on the springs floating observatory. Black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, and river otters can also be observed in the park. Visit Lu the Hippo while there, one of Homosassa’s most famous residents. So famous, in fact, that he was granted special Florida citizenship in 1991 by Gov. Lawton Chiles. Only seven miles away is Crystal River’s Three Sisters Springs, one of the most magnificent springs in the state. Usually the largest gathering of manatees in the state. Take a tour boat, kayak or paddleboard or walk the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk. Homosassa Springs GPS address: 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa FL 34446
5. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
The mermaids have been entertaining guests here since 1947 and the tradition continues during several regular performances a day year round. Also, in the summer the park’s Buccaneer Bay attraction, with water slides and a beach add to the appeal. The park also rents kayaks for paddling on the Weeki Wachee River, one of the most beautiful paddling trips in the state. Rent from Paddling Adventures, the park’s concession. GPS Address: 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee FL 34606
6. Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Spring’s crystal clear spring waters was Central Florida’s first tourist attraction that included a bathhouse and hotel opened in 1870. The spring head pond is only about four feet deep and is great fun for the whole family. The park includes over 25 miles of hiking trails, there are canoe or kayak rentals, where you can paddle down the Wekiva River for about a mile to Weikva Island, Florida’s best outdoor bar where you can tie up and enjoy lunch or a drink. Weekends and holidays can be very crowded so you need to get there very early. GPS address: 1800 Wekiwa Cir., Apopka $6 per vehicle.
7. Blue Spring State Park
This spring near Orange City is the largest on the St. Johns River. A popular location for manatees it is not open for swimming but there is a visitors center, settlers home exhibit and a nature tour boat. GPS location: 2100 W French Avenue, Orange City FL 32763
8. Rainbow Springs State Park
About two hours north of Tampa in Dunnellon is what is claimed to be Florida’s most beautiful state park. Hike the parks nature trails with man-made waterfalls and swim in the head springs or tube down the lazy Rainbow River. GPS location: 19158 S.W. 81st Place Road, Dunnellon FL 34432
9. De Leon Springs State Park
Another grand old resort location this spring park features The Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant where you cook your own pancakes right at the table. Located just north of DeLand, home of Stetson University, and 30 minutes from Daytona. The old resort hotel is gone but there is a nice museum, nature trails, a boat tour and swimming in the head spring with a depth of 30 feet. GPS location: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd., De Leon Springs FL 32130.
10. Madison Blue Spring State Park
Just south of the Georgia state line this is a great place to swim with crystal clear 72° water in a limestone formation on the bank of the Withlacoochee River. About 82 feet wide, 25 feet deep, with a 150-foot spring-run merging with the river. Voted the #1 swimming hole in the country by USA Today. Nice woodlands surround the spring with nature trails and facilities. Perfect picnic spot and a great way to escape the summer heat. There is also an extensive underwater cave system for those certified in cave diving. GPS address: 8300 NE State Road 6, Lee FL 32059
11. Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs near Ocala is one of the oldest attractions in Florida and Florida Parks and Recreation operates it much as it was 100 years ago. There’s no swimming at the park, but gliding along over the springs in a glass bottom boat is actually a great experience. The park features a number of nature trails along with a restaurant and museum. GPS address: 1425 N.E. 58th Ave., Ocala FL 34470
12. Juniper Springs
Clear 72° water at the spring head surrounded by palms and oaks in Ocala National Forest, this is one of the Florida’s oldest and most inviting recreation areas. Operated by the National Park Service it’s off SR 40 West of Ocala inside the Ocala National Forest Recreation Area. The use fee is $6.42 per person on week days, $10.70 per person weekends. Overnight parking $12 per vehicle. Camping $22 per site at the Juniper Springs Campground.
13. Ginnie Springs
Ginnie Springs is rated as one of the clearest and most beautiful springs in the state. It’s perfect for swimming, tubing, snorkeling and diving. Unlike all the other Florida springs Ginnie Springs is still a privately operated attraction. Adults (Sunday – Wednesday)$14.02. Adult Summer Rate (Thursday – Saturday)$19.40. Children ages 6-12 $3.73. Children 5 & under Free. GPS address: 7300 NE Ginnie Springs Rd, High Springs, FL 32643