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Cool escapes: Florida’s crystal clear springs

FloridaRambler.com

Floridians weather the heat and humidity of our brutal summers by fleeing to the state’s wealth of cool, clear, refreshing springs, which spill thousands of gallons of water out of the ground every minute.

Geologists estimate there are more than 700 freshwater springs in Florida — the largest concentration on Earth — but only a relative few are accessible for public recreation.

Parking lots fill up fast on summer weekends, so arrive early, before the gates close. Your best bet is to visit on weekdays after school starts — avoiding the inevitable weekend crush.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park, High Springs — Ichetucknee may be the best spring in the state for tubing. As such, the spring run is under heavy pressure, so you won’t be able to transport anything that can be discarded in the river. Paddling is a year-round activity, and during summer there is an in-park shuttle service. Stick to weekdays when you don’t have to dodge the tubers. Snorkeling is allowed in designated areas. The park charges $5 per person to launch your tube, and you can rent your tube from private vendors outside the park.

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Ichetucknee Springs State Park is about 40 miles northwest of Gainesville on State Highway 20.

De Leon Springs State Park, DeLeon Springs — Although Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon never really found his “Fountain of Youth”, this cool enclave has as much right as any to lay claim to the title. You certainly feel younger after you jump in and out of this spring. The spring head is impressive, a large wading pool with a spillway that tumbles into a broad spring-garden run through a chain of three lakes to the St. Johns River. Lifeguards are on duty seven days a week until school begins, then weekends through the winter. Admission is $6 per vehicle and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.

De Leon Springs State Park is 30 miles west of Daytona Beach, just off International Speedway Drive on U.S. 17 North.

Related Florida Rambler article: State park known for pancakes is so much more.

Rock Springs at Kelly Park, Apopka — This beautiful, shaded park in the northeast corner of Orange County is one of my favorites. At the spring head, the cool water spills into a series of pools at the rate of 26,000 gallons a minute. You can wade or tube for about a quarter-mile through the crystal clear run. Outside Kelly Park, Rock Springs Run rambles for more than 8 miles through state-owned wilderness. The only canoe access is Kings Landing, a private outfitter just down the road. Day-use admission to Kelly Park is $3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people.

Kelly Park/Rock Springs is 6 miles north of Apopka on East Kelly Park Road, off Rock Springs Road.

Related Florida Rambler article: Best camping near Orlando, Kelly Park

Blue Spring State Park, Orange City — The swimming hole is spectacular, sparkling in its clarity from the headspring to the end of the run at the St. Johns River. Sun splatters the cool water surface through the forested banks to give the spring run an almost surreal, jungle-like feel. Snorkeling and scuba diving is permitted, although I wouldn’t consider this a serious dive destination. But wow! What a great place to go for a swim! Park admission is $6 per vehicle and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists.

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Blue Spring State Park is 30 miles southwest of Daytona Beach and 33 miles north of Orlando, just off I-4 in Orange City.

Related Florida Rambler article: Manatees in winter, swimming in summer, camping year-round

Juniper Springs Recreation Area, Ocala National Forest — May be the most well-known spring in Florida, and the Juniper Spring Run one of the most beautiful. Dense, semi-tropical foliage not seen anywhere else, the forest provides a unique environment for picnicking, bird watching, hiking, swimming, snorkeling and paddling down the awesome spring run fed by Juniper Spring and Fern Hammock Spring. Day use is $5 per person.

Juniper Springs is on Route 40, west of the crossroads with State Road 19, about 60 miles north of Orlando.

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Related Florida Rambler article: Explore wild, vast Ocala National Forest

Alexander Springs Recreation Area, Ocala National Forest — Lying in the southern tier of Ocala National Forest, Alexander Springs is within easy reach of Orlando and DeLand, One of only 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida, this may be the best swimming hole in the state. The spring has a gently sloping beach into the spring basin. Snorkeling, off-road cycling and a 7-mile canoe trail add to the summer fun. Day-use fee is $5.50 per person.

Alexander Springs Recreation Area is between Astor and Altoona east of State Road 19 and west of the St. Johns River and County Route 445-A.

Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnelon — Florida’s fourth-largest spring, Rainbow Spring and the Rainbow River has been a draw to humans for thousands of years. Today, it is a popular destination for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking and tubing. Moss-draped cypress trees line the river banks. The swimming area is at the head spring with lifeguards on duty during summer. Be aware that the average depth is 5 feet to 18 feet, which is not conducive for small children or wading. Admission is $2 per person at the headspring entrance and $5 per vehicle (up to 8 people) at the tube entrance. Children under 6 are free.

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Rainbow Springs State Park is 23 miles west of Ocala, just off U.S. 41 north of Dunnellon.

Peacock Springs State Park, Live Oak — With one of the longest underwater cave systems in the country, Peacock Springs is a dream for cave divers, who have explored and surveyed nearly 33,000 feet of underwater passages. There are no lifeguards, and these springs are not child-friendly. Swimming and snorkeling are limited to Peacock and Orange Grove springs and is dependent on seasonal water levels.

Peacock Springs State Park is about 20 miles south of Live Oak on State Road 51.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Spring Hill –This venerable Florida tourist attraction, famous for its 400-seat underwater theater and performing mermaids, is now a state park with all the trimmings. Kids will love the waterslides and water park on Buccaneer Bay, elevating the swimming experience to theme-park fun. Admission is $13 per adult, $5 for children 6-12.

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Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is 56 miles north of Tampa, near Brooksville, just off the Suncoast Parkway (SR 589).

Note: During winter, many of these springs harbor manatees seeking protection from the elements.


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