5 Reasons to Visit Beautiful Rainbow Springs State Park in 2024

Florida is home to a variety of natural, freshwater springs, all with unique characteristics. I have visited almost a dozen, but recently I went to a new one for me that had something for everyone! Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon is a true gem with so much to explore.

If you want to spend a day in nature, this park is one of the best places in Florida to visit! Not only does it have crystal clear water to swim in, but also hiking trails with waterfall views, kayak rentals, a campground, and more! In this post, I will explain everything there is to do at Rainbow Springs State Park and how to have the best day trip here!

reasons to visit rainbow springs state park

Where is Rainbow Springs?

Rainbow Springs is located in Dunnellon, Florida which is northwest of Orlando. The closest city is Ocala, which is just half an hour away. We came here while we were in Crystal River and found it to be a convenient day trip from there, as it is also half an hour away.

You will not have much trouble finding it, just off US-41. Most people will want to enter at the headsprings entrance, which opens at 8 AM every day of the year. It costs $2 per person to enter and there is plenty of parking, except for on hot summer weekend days when it fills up. There is also a tubing entrance open in the summer and the campground office if you have rented a campground.

rainbow springs florida

When is the best time to visit Rainbow Springs?

The best thing about Rainbow Springs is that you can enjoy it all year round. If you want to swim, the ideal time to visit is May through September, when the weather is hottest. This is also the only time Rainbow Springs tubing is open. However, be aware of thunderstorms if visiting then!

Another great time to visit Rainbow Springs is in the spring when the famous azaleas are in bloom. We were here at the end of February and were amazed by all the pretty, colorful flowers! February and March are the best time to go if you want to see azaleas.

No matter what time of year you go, if you visit on the weekend, it is best to arrive early. This way you can beat the crowds! The park opens at 8 AM every year and I recommend arriving by 9 AM.

rainbow springs kayak rental

Rainbow Springs Highlights

There are so many amazing things to see at Rainbow Springs State Park, no matter your interest. One of the biggest appeals to me is the nature walk. There is a 2.5-mile trail that is full of colorful flowers, oaks, and magnolias. Even cooler, are the three man-made waterfalls that make for great photo-ops along the way! You can also bring dogs on this path too.

Swimming is another popular activity here and can be done in the headspring. The swimming area is smaller than some springs but is some of the clearest water I have seen. It is 10 – 18 feet and a little brisk, so be ready for a refreshing swim!

This is also a wonderful place for kayaking, canoeing, or paddleboarding. Rentals for these start at $17 per hour or $54 for the day. You can bring your own, but keep in mind, that it is a 0.3-mile walk from the parking lot to the launch.

During the summer, you can go on a two-hour tube float down the river. This costs $20 per person, whether you rent a tube or not. After parking at the end of the river, you take a shuttle which brings you upstream 2 miles. From there, you can enjoy your float down the river.

Other fun things to do at Rainbow Springs State Park include snorkeling, geocaching, picnicking, and birding. Of all the freshwater springs in Florida, this one has so much to do!

rainbow springs waterfall

Our Experience at Rainbow Springs

If you plan to go in February as we did, here is some insight into what a day here might look like. We actually got here around noon and had no issues parking, so it might not be as crowded this time of year.

When we first arrived, we decided to take a hike and see all the azaleas. It took us about an hour to hike through with lots of stops for pictures. We were not sure if we were going to swim or paddleboard, but after walking, we decided a dip in the springs would be nice. We swam for a few but found it a bit crowded to be enjoyable.

From here, we found a nice spot on the grassy hill to relax and dry off. I really liked how Rainbow Springs State Park has this lovely area to relax on, as many other springs just have picnic tables near the parking lot. We had a snack and some drinks we brought and enjoyed laying out.

From here, we rented paddleboards for an hour. This was plenty of time to do some sightseeing and get in a little exercise. There were a lot of birds and turtles to see on the water, but we did not see any manatees. If you are up for a challenge, you can paddle all the way to the start of the river and back, but you will need to rent for about three hours to do that.

We had more things to do in Crystal River, so we left after that. However, I easily could have spent more time relaxing and hiking here. If you visit in the summer, I would account for more swimming or tubing time. I definitely recommend the nature walk regardless of when you visit!

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Hotels and Restaurants Near Rainbow Springs

If you want to visit for more than a day there are only a few hotels near Rainbow Springs. The ones within a five-minute drive are mainly motels and do not have the best ratings.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express Crystal River. This was only a 30-minute drive away and we were able to pay for it using IHG points. This is the ideal place to stay if you are looking for a hotel near Rainbow Springs.

Of course, you can always stay at the campground as well, but make sure to book it in advance!

As for restaurants near Rainbow Springs, Dunnellon has a few options. The best places to eat nearby are Swampy’s Bar and Grille and Front Porch Restaurant. Most places nearby have homestyle American food. If you want more options, the closest place is Downtown Crystal River.

rainbow springs flowers

Know Before You Go: Rainbow Springs State Park

If you are looking for a beautiful place to spend the day, Rainbow Springs State Park is a wonderful spot to do so. Between the nature sightings and the refreshing crystal-clear water, this is a Florida oasis. If you are planning to visit, here are a few things to keep in mind before you go:

  • What time does Rainbow Springs open? It is open from 8 AM to sunset, every day of the year.
  • How much is it to visit Rainbow Springs? It costs $2 per person to enter
  • When is the best time to go? The best time to go to see azaleas is in February and March. You can go tubing in Rainbow Springs State Park from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
  • Free things to do here include hiking, swimming, picnicking, and birding. You can rent a paddleboard kayak, canoe, or go tubing for an additional fee.
  • The Rainbow Springs campground costs $30 per night and requires advanced reservations.
  • Fishing is only allowed at the campground and not the headsprings.
  • Dogs are allowed on walking trails and in the grass, but not in swimming or paddling areas.
  • Make sure you bring sunscreen! My favorite is this Octinoxate & Oxybenzone Free one!

Have you been to Rainbow Springs State Park before? let me know what you liked about it if you have! For more ideas for fun things to do in Florida, check out my Ultimate Bucket List, my Central Florida Nature Experience guide, and my Central Florida Date Ideas.

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