Florida is known for many things, but did you know that freshwater springs are one of them? Because of the porous limestone underneath the Florida peninsula, freshwater collects below the surface. This has led to natural wonders in the form of over 600 freshwater springs! Many of them are small, but some are large, swimmable, and make for excellent day trips. This post will go through the five best Florida springs to visit.
This is not a complete list of Florida springs to visit, but just a selection that I recommend visiting. I plan to check out more in the future and if I find them worthwhile, I will add them to this list as well. For now, this guide lays out which are best to visit depending on the activity. I hope this introduces you to some of the best Florida springs!
The Five Best Florida Springs
If you are looking to check out the best Florida springs near Orlando, I recommend Rock Springs or Blue Spring State Park. These are both less than an hour north of the downtown area. Rock Springs has a few parks and I find Kelly Park to be the most fun area, complete with tubing. However, Blue Spring is one of the most beautiful spots I have visited and manatee sightings are frequent.
Another area with a lot of springs is Gainesville. Here I find the best to visit are Ginnie Springs and Gilchrist Blue Springs. Ginnie Springs is ideal for college students looking for a lively vibe, especially for tubing down the Santa Fe River. Gilchrist Blue Springs is a lot more laid back with a lot of nature to see.
Lastly, I love Rainbow Springs, near Ocala. This one is ideal to visit in the winter so you can see the azaleas in bloom! There are also some hiking trails with waterfalls, kayaking and tubing in the summer.
One of the most fun things to do at a freshwater spring is floating down one on a tube! Though I recommend using a float or tube for swimming in any spring, because of the cold temperatures and depth, I have found the two best Florida springs for tubing. For a long tube ride, Ginnie Springs is superior. Here, the most common tube run takes about 45 minutes to float down! Because of the shape, it is not a long walk back to the start and it is one of the warmer springs as well.
The one downside of Ginnie Springs, is that it’s part spring, part the Santa Fe River. This means the water is not as clear and pristine, and also is part of why it’s not as cold. It also can be more of a party atmosphere, as many UF gators flock here on the weekends. I do not recommend this spring as much for families or those looking to swim.
However, another winning aspect of Ginnie Springs is that you can scuba dive here. For thrill seekers, scuba diving a freshwater spring is the ultimate experience! The clear water section of Ginnie Springs provides the opportunity to see unique geographic formations and sea life. The water is a bit warmer here than most and it is easily accessible for cave and non-cave divers. The visibility is like no other and you can explore the large cave known as Ginnie’s ballroom!
Kelly Park at Rock Springs
If you prefer a clearer, yet shorter, lazy river experience, Wekiwa Springs and Rock Springs near Orlando are ideal. Here you can find Kelly Park where there is about a 20-minute tube run and then a large area for swimming. We had a blast here one day taking a few tube runs and then floating around in between.
Outside the spring, the large park is shaded by many oak and other varieties of trees. Between the tube run and this shady area, Kelly Park is on the of the best Florida springs for families. You can have a picnic and even use charcoal grills or order food from the concession stand for lunch. If anyone gets bored of swimming, kayak rentals are available, along with a volleyball court to play at.
Blue Springs State Park
The two prettiest springs for swimming are both of the Blue Springs. Blue Spring State Park is larger and can accommodate more swimmers, so it is my top choice. Located in West Volusia, it is also an excellent spot to kayak or paddleboard at, as you can paddle a section of the springs, the St. Johns River and Snake Creek. They offer guided tours who will help you find manatees, alligators, turtles and otters or you can explore on your own.
If you are an experienced cavern diver, you can scuba dive at Blue Spring State Park. Here, you will find a 120-foot-deep cavern with lots of fish, turtles, and critters to see. This one is definitely not for the claustrophobic though, as the opening is less than 20 feet and the current makes it tough to ascend. Still, this is a bucket list dive for many, and worth it, if you like cave diving!
Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park
The water at Gilchrist Blue Springs is the clearest water I have ever seen. As long as you don’t mind the cold, swimming or floating here is a wonderful experience. The one downside is it the smallest spring mentioned her and can get crowded on summer weekends.
This is also the best Florida spring for seeing natural sights. There is a small section to kayak, but this park is ideal for a hike and then a jump in the spring to cool off. We hiked the 1.8-mile loop through the shady forest and saw lots of interesting birds. If you bring a picnic lunch, there is plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the secluded nature.
If you are looking for a place to kayak or paddleboard, the best freshwater spring is Rainbow Springs. This park has all sorts of water adventures to offer. You can rent or bring your own kayak or paddleboard and explore the nine kilometers of Rainbow River. Make sure to look for manatees and other wildlife while paddling!
Rainbow Springs State Park is great for swimming and tubing as well. Even better, they have a nature trail complete with waterfalls! Though they are manmade, it still makes for a gorgeous walk.
Know Before You Go: The Best Florida Springs
You are not a true Floridian until you have experienced the wonder of Florida’s freshwater springs. Though you only need an hour or so to see their beauty, I prefer spending a day swimming and exploring when I visit the best Florida springs. Keep in mind that even though they seem like natural water parks, you do need to take some precautions when visiting! Here are some tips for having a fun day at a Florida spring.
- The cost of visiting each spring varies. Ginnie Springs and Weeki Wachee are more expensive, averaging at least $15 per person, depending on the time of year. Both the Blue Springs and Kelly Park are a lot cheaper, at less than $6 per vehicle.
- Make sure you arrive at the spring early to beat the crowds! Many close once they reach capacity and even before then there can be lots of traffic getting in.
- No matter what spring you are visiting, I recommend bringing an inner tube or float. Some of the springs mentioned here have a place to rent a tube from, but not all. If you plan to bring your own flotation device, make sure it is blown up beforehand or that you have a pump or compressor to do it for you.
- Most of the spring shave deep water sections, so you should be a decent swimmer if you plan on going in. Kids can go in, but ensure they are supervised and have a flotation device if needed.
- The Florida springs are home to all sorts of wildlife, including gators! They tend to stay on the banks away from people, but don’t be surprised if you see one. Just always be respectful of nature as you are visiting their home!
- Pets are not allowed at most freshwater springs’ parks.
- I recommend bringing a picnic lunch, as concession options are usually limited.
Have you been to a Florida freshwater spring before? Let me know which one is your favorite if you have! For more ideas for nature things to do in Florida, check out my Central Florida Outdoor Attractions guide and my 101 Things to do in Florida list.
Need help packing for your Florida vacation? Check out my Ultimate Florida Packing Checklist!