Kayak & Canoe / Snorkeling / Springs

Best tubing in Florida: Four beautiful springs for cool fun

Tubing Ichetucknee Springs State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tubing Ichetucknee Springs State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

It takes some chilly water to cool you off during a Florida summer day, but these spring-fed Florida rivers have that to offer, and more.

These four springs are among the most beautiful spots in Florida. They have been favorite swimming holes and tubing spots for decades.

The fresh, sparkling water in Florida springs is 68 to 72 degrees year round. It gushes out of the springs, creating a current that floats you downstream as you enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.

There’s really only one problem with tubing on Florida’s springs: Everyone wants to do it.

On summer weekends, these places all fill up, often shutting out wanna-be tubers and creating traffic jams around the parks.

So, if you want to go to the best tubing spots, do your research first so that you know when and where to go and what to bring. Try to go on a weekday, or at least get up early!

A few more bits of advice: Forget the beer. These rivers are not party spots and do not permit it. In fact, to reduce litter, most do not allow any disposable containers at all. Also: Most tubing spots include contact with rocky bottoms, boardwalks or trails, so water shoes are a good idea, as are dry bags for any electronics.

Tubing Ichetucknee Springs State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Tubing Ichetucknee Springs State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Ichetucknee Springs State Park, White Springs

It’s hard to beat tubing at Ichetucknee. The gorgeous river stays crystal clear for its entire run through the undeveloped state park. It is narrower than some of the other tubing rivers and passes through cypress forests with gnarly knees lining the shore. It also offers a long tube run. If you arrive early and launch from the northern end (limited to 750 people a day), your float can take three or four hours.

Fortunately, there are options for people who aren’t waiting at the gate when it opens in the morning to get those first 750 spots. More people are allowed to launch from the mid-point for a 90-minute ride. And the shortest run – about an hour— has no limit and can be done repeatedly. (Even this no-quota run can be out of reach if the overall park reaches capacity and closes to entrants.)

See all the details in this Florida Rambler guide to the Ichetucknee River.

Incidentally, outside the summer season, the Ichetucknee is among the most beautiful kayak routes in the state.  Our guide has details on that too.

Clear water sparkles blue green in the sun on the Rainbow River near Dunnellon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The well-equipped KP Hole Park along the Rainbow River is one of two put-in spots for tubers and kayakers. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon

Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon is just as popular for tubing as the Ichetucknee.

It too will stun you with its water clarity and heavenly blue color. While the Rainbow isn’t a wild river – there are houses along the west bank the entire run – it is an aquatic preserve and is full of wildlife. It is wider than the Ichetucknee, where you feel like you floating through a forest.

The Rainbow is Florida’s fourth largest spring. There are two locations where tubers can enter the river – the state park’s tubing entrance, which gives you about a two-hour float, and a county park called KP Hole Park, from which there is a four-hour float. (There are also some outfitters who rent tubes and facilitate one-way floats from Dunnellon.)

The Rainbow also has daily limits on the number of tubes allowed down the river, so, as elsewhere, the early bird gets the tube.

Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to the Rainbow River.

As with the Ichetucknee, kayakers love this river outside the summer season, when it is less crowded and you have a good chance of seeing otters. (For details, see the above guide.)

The water in the Rainbow River is so clear you see th bright-green eel grass waving in water. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The water in the Rainbow River is so clear you see the bright-green eel grass waving in water. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Rock Springs Run/Kelly Park, Apopka

Rock Springs Run/Kelly Park, Apopka (Photo via Flickr Rain0975)

Rock Springs Run/Kelly Park, Apopka (Photo via Flickr Rain0975)

Kelly Park has a simpler tubing system, requiring no shuttle service. You jump in at the springhead, float down the shallow river for about 25 minutes, and then walk back along a boardwalk to do it over again.

This spring is clear and cold– it’s 68 degrees compared to the 72 degrees you’ll find at Ichetucknee and Rainbow. The spring gushes out of a rock outcropping and creates a swift stream that flows through a beautiful jungly landscape.

At Kelly Park, you bring your own tube or float or rent one from vendors outside the park. (They can’t be longer than 5 feet. For this shorter, shallower tube run, you can get by with a smaller tube.)

Like the other tubing spots, Kelly Park fills up quickly and if you don’t arrive by 10 a.m., you may be shut out. Lake County limits visits to 280 vehicles in the morning and 50 more cars that must wait until 2 p.m. for entry. (These afternoon passes go to the next 50 cars in line in line in the morning.) That’s about 1,350 people a day—and it is doesn’t begin to quench the desire to tube in the populous Central  Florida area.

Compared to other parks, where rentals and shuttles can make each tuber’s cost about $25, Kelly Park is a bargain. Entrance is $3 per vehicle for one or two people; $5 per vehicle for three to eight people.  You don’t need to pay for a shuttle and, on this short run, cheap pool floats and noodles work well.

Florida Rambler on camping at Kelly Park, one of the best campgrounds in the state.

Information from the park website.

Rock Springs Run/Kelly Park, Apopka (Photo via Flickr Rain0975)

Rock Springs Run/Kelly Park, Apopka (Photo via Flickr Rain0975)

 

Blue Spring State Park, Orange City

This is the shortest tube run, and it earns it spot on the list by being such a splendid swimming hole.

Blue Spring is home to hundreds of manatees in the winter, when it is closed to swimmers. In the summer, though, the park often fills to capacity with people splashing, swimming and tubing.

To go tubing here, you can rent a tube at the concession stand near the parking lot (or bring your own) and then carry it up the boardwalk to the access point just below the spring boil. From there, it is about a quarter mile float to the main swim dock, where you get out and do it again.

Blue Spring is wide and slower moving than other tube runs, making it a leisurely float. Tubing here is also a good way to see and observe the many smaller springs in the wide turquoise pool.

Florida Rambler guide to Blue Spring State Park.

Resources on exploring Florida springs

Florida springs where you can swim, snorkel and dive

Florida Rambler guide: Florida springs are pools of life

Cool escapes: Florida’s refreshing springs

 

 

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Kelly Park
Rainbow Springs State Park
Blue Spring State Park
Ichetucknee Springs State Park

 

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