Floridians survive the heat and humidity of brutal summers by turning to the state’s wealth of cool, clear, refreshing springs.
Geologists estimate there are more than 700 freshwater springs in Florida — the largest concentration on Earth — but only a few are accessible for public recreation.
Below is our roundup of the best Florida springs for swimming, snorkeling, diving and paddling canoes, kayaks and float tubes. Some have camping, some don’t.
It’s been said that Florida’s springs were the lure for Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon’s search for the elusive Fountain of Youth. Could one of these springs have been his destination?
RAMBLER TIP: Arrive early. These springs fill fast on summer weekends. When parking lots fill, gates close, and you may wait in line for hours. Best bet is a weekday before 10 a.m. The pressure eases after mid-August, when kids return to school.
Table of Contents
- Central Florida
- Ocala National Forest
- Northeast Florida
- Northwest Florida
Rock Springs at Kelly Park
Swim, tubing, paddle, camp
This beautiful, shaded park in a quiet corner of Orange County is one of my favorites. When I pitched my tent there one winter, I was only planning to stay one night, but I was compelled to stay an extra day.
At the head spring, the cool water spills into a series of pools at the rate of 26,000 gallons a minute. From the spring, you can wade or tube for about a quarter-mile through crystal clear water down picturesque Rock Spring Run.
Rent tubes outside the park at the Rock Springs Bar & Grill and bring them into the park. Kayaks, canoes and paddle boards may be launched at Camp Joy at Kelly Park, which has a separate park entrance, or go downstream to Kings Landing, a private outfitter at 5722 Baptist Camp Road.
At Kings Landing, you can rent kayaks or canoes for the 8-mile paddle to the Wekiva River, or launch your own and arrange for shuttle service.
Alternatively, you can paddle and hour upstream through the incredibly scenic Emerald Cut to the Kelly Park boundary. This may be the most beautiful section of Rock Springs Run. Emerald Cut is also accessible from Camp Joy.
Kelly Park opens at 8 a.m.
Kelly Park at Rock Springs, 400 E. Kelly Park Rod, Apopka, FL 32712. Phone: (407) 254-1902. Park Admission: $3 per vehicle for 1-2 people; $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people; and $1 for additional person/walk-ins/motorcycles/bikes. No pets and no alcohol. Camping is available and reservations are accepted online up to 45 days in advance.
Kayak/Canoe/Paddle Board Launch at Camp Joy: $3 for 1-2 people; $5 for 3-8 people; and $1 for additional person. Launching hours are between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m.; guests must return no later than 5 p.m. Kings Landing (Private):
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Swim, paddle, camp
What I like about Wekiwa Springs State Park is the broad lawn area that sweeps downhill from the parking area.
When I visited, three groups of students and a few families had spread blankets on the lawn area, where they could picnic and keep an eye on the broad, pond-like head spring and pool below them where children splashed and played.
It was really peaceful when I was there, birds chirping and an occasional splash of water to break the silence, but this spring gets quite boisterous with the laughter of children on busy summer weekends.
In fact, the park warns visitors to get there before 10:30 a.m. on summer weekends or be shut out. The gates will close when it reaches capacity.
If there are too many people at the spring head, then follow the footpath downstream to the kayak and canoe concession in the headwaters of the Wekiva River. From there, you can paddle north and explore Rock Spring Run or paddle east towards the St. John’s River. These paddle trails are nicely shaded, and the cool water from the springs adds to a cooling experience.
This park also has more than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails.
The campground is newly renovated and set apart from the swimming holes. The only downside to the campground is nearby development that takes away somewhat from an otherwise wild setting.
Wekiwa Springs State Park is about 20 minutes north of Orlando, off I-4 at Exit 94.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circult, Apopka, FL Phone: 407-553-4383. Admission: $6 per vehicle. Canoe and kayak rentals are available at park concession. For information on rentals and fees, go to Nature Adventures or call 407-884-4311. Camping: $24/ night plus $7 daily utility fee, tax, and a nonrefundable $6.70 reservation fee for RV, cabin, bungalow, boat and yurt units. Primitive camping $5 per person. Make reservations online at reserve.floridastateparks.org.
Swim, paddle, camp
This mineral spring at privately run Wekiva Falls is capped, forcing water up through a concrete flue and spilling over a “falls” into a large swimming lagoon with great fanfare.
The kids will love this watery playground with its double water slide while their parents lounge on the concrete apron that surrounds the lagoon.
Dad can wander downstream to fish in the shade on the Wekiva River.
The whole family can launch their kayaks, canoes or small motorboats at the marina on the spring run that leads to the scenic Wekiva River and the mighty St. John’s River.
Wekiva Falls RV Resort is west of Sanford. Take Exit 101-C off I-4 and follow SR 46 west to Wekiva River Road, which is 50 feet past the bridge over the Wekiva River. Follow Wekiva River Road south 1.4 miles to the entrance. Swimming, snorkeling, kayak, canoe, camping. Kayaks and canoes for rent. Day-use admission is $9 for adults. $6 for children (2-11). The campground has 800 sites, including tent sites in the shade along the spring run, $60 and up for RVs and $43 an up for tent sites.
Lithia Springs County Park
Swim, paddle, camp
Lithia Springs Conservation Park is not a state park, nor is it very well known, so it’s off the radar for most Floridians, except those who live nearby. It is very popular with residents of Hillsborough County.
It is so popular, in fact, that swimmers are divided into two groups of 300 daily — 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 pm. until 6 p.m. — during summer months. Only 200 swimmers are allowed in the spring at once. Campers are allotted an additional 45 slots. Contact the park at (813) 744-5572 for details.
I visited during winter to check out the campground, and was surprised by the size of the spring, its white-sand beach, and adjacent picnic areas that slope away from the main pool.
The water is not as clear here as other springs I’ve visited, although it is crystal clear around the spring head. As it flows into the run to the Alafia River, underwater vegetation introduces a faint green tint, while a definitive tannin color takes over near the Alafia.
I really loved the campground.
Lithia Springs Park, 3932 Lithia Springs Rd, Lithia, FL 33547. Phone: 813-744-5572. Entrance: $2 per vehicle (up to 8 people per vehicle.) Swimming: $2 per person (Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult) Lithia Springs Park, operated by the Hillsborough County Parks Department, is about 20 miles east of Tampa, off the Crosstown Expressway and County Road 640 on Lithia Springs Road.
RAMBLER TIP: Alligators are common in Florida’s freshwater rivers, lakes and springs. Swim only in designated areas, never swim at night, always exercise caution and swim in groups, especially with small children and pets. Note that almost all of the springs in this list do not allow pets.
Ocala National Forest
Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Swim, snorkel, paddle, camp
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.
Alexander Springs Recreation Area, 49525 CR 445, Altoona, FL, is between Astor and Altoona, east of State Road 19 and west of the St. Johns River and County Route 445-A. Phone: 352-669-3522. Swimming, scuba diving, camping. Day-use fee is $5.50 per person.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Swim, snorkel, paddle, camp
May be the most well-known spring in Florida, and the Juniper Spring Run one of the most beautiful.
Dense, semi-tropical foliage rarely 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.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area, 26701 State Road 40, Silver Springs FL, is about 11 miles west of Astor and 60 miles north of Orlando. Phone: 352-625-3147. Day use is $5 per person. Swimming, snorkeling, camping.
Salt Springs Recreation Area
Swim, paddle, boating, camp
A large swimming area is cordoned off for swimmers at the spring head before the water flows into a broad spring run that offers a scenic paddle all the way to Lake George.
The fishing here is world-class, and the campground is the largest in Ocala National Forest.
The presence of potassium, magnesium and sodium salts give the waters in the spring a slight salinity. There are no lifeguards.
The privately run Salt Springs Run Marina rents paddle boards, kayaks, canoes, skiffs and pontoon boats for cruising the spring run and Lake George.
Salt Springs Recreation Area, 13851 North Highway 19, Salt Springs, FL, is on SR 19, north of State Road 40, which crosses the state from Ormond Beach to Ocala. Phone: 352-685-2048. Swimming, scuba diving, camping and cabins. Day-use admission is $6 per person.
Read More: 6 Things to Do in Ocala National Forest
DeLeon Springs (Volusia)
Swim, snorkel, paddle
Although Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon never really found his Fountain of Youth, this cool little 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 very impressive, a very large wading pool, encircled by a low concrete wall, and a spillway that tumbles down into a broad, scenic spring run through a chain of three lakes to the St. John’s River.
A beautiful, shady picnic ground is adjacent to the swimming area, and canoe and kayak rentals are available at the park concession for paddling the run, which flows into the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Lifeguards are on duty at this popular swimming hole seven days a week until school begins, then weekends only through the winter.
De Leon Springs State Park features a popular pancake house, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant, where visitors have been making their own pancakes since 1961.
The restaurant will be under new management in October 2022 but is expected to retain the same “unique dining experience.” For the transition, restaurant will close on September 12, 2022, and reopen under new management on October 1.
Breaking News: Old Spanish Sugar Mill to close next month in De Leon Springs, Fox35 Orlando, 8/9/2022
DeLeon Springs State Park, 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd., De Leon Springs FL 32130. Phone: 386-985-4212. Park Admission: $6 per vehicle. The Sugar Mill Restaurant is open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays, serving until 4 p.m.
Blue Spring State Park (Volusia)
Swim, snorkel, dive, paddle, camp, cabins
I really like Blue Spring State Park for everything it has to offer: camping, kayaking, swimming and easy access to Orlando (33 miles) and Daytona Beach (32 miles).
The swimming hole is absolutely spectacular, sparkling in its clarity from the headspring, running downstream more than a quarter-mile to the St. John’s River. Sun splatters the cool water surface through the subtropical forest to give the spring run an almost surreal, jungle-like feel.
You can rent tubes for a slow float, and 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!
The campground has 51 sites ($24/night), but I found them cramped and uncomfortable in a tent. There are six two-bedroom cabins ($95/night) in a shady stand of oaks.
The spring and spring run are closed to swimmers during winter, from Nov. 15 through March 1, to accommodate herds of manatees that seek refuge in colder winter months. Another site to see.
Although there are no kayaks or canoes allowed in the spring run, you have access to some terrific paddling trails on the St. John’s River, which passes through the park. There is a concession in the park, or you can launch just outside the park entrance. (Follow the unmarked gravel road about two miles to the river, where there’s a nice launch and plenty of parking.)
Blue Spring State Park is 30 miles southwest of Daytona Beach and 33 miles north of Orlando, just off I-4 in Orange City.
Blue Spring State Park, 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, FL 32763. Phone: 386-775-3663. Park Admission: $6 per vehicle. Camping is $24/night plus a daily $7 utility fee, taxes and a one-time $6.70 reservation fee. Cabins are $95/night plus a daily $7 utility fee, taxes and a one-time $6.70 reservation fee. Reservations can be made online at reserve.floridastateparks.org.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Tubing, swim, dive, paddle,
Ichetucknee Springs State Park may be the best spring in the state for tubing.
Canoeing and kayaking is a year-round activity, and during summer there is an in-park shuttle service, but if you want to paddle, stick to weekdays when you won’t dodge as many tubers. Snorkeling is allowed only in designated areas.
Picnic areas with tables and grills are available throughout the park, but they fill up fast, and the concession offers food and refreshments.
There are three hiking trails at the north entrance of the park, one of which leads to Blue Hole Spring, the largest spring in the park. Blue Hole is popular with scuba divers, who dive only from October through March.
Swimming is allowed year-round at both Ichetucknee Spring and Blue Hole, but there are no lifeguards and only experienced swimmers should consider Blue Hole because of the depth and strong current.
As the state’s most popular tubing destination, the Ichetucknee River is under heavy pressure, and you will not be allowed to transport anything that can be discarded, including food and drinks, fishing, alcohol, tobacco products, etc.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park, 12087 SW US 27, Fort White, FL 32038. Phone: 386-497-4690. Day-use admission: $6 per vehicle. Tram and shuttle service is offered by park concessionaire. Tubes are available for rent within the park.
Rainbow Springs State Park
Swim, tubing, camping
Florida’s fourth-largest spring, Rainbow Spring and the Rainbow River have attracted humans for thousands of years. Today, Rainbow Springs State Park remains a popular destination for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking and tubing.
There is a newly renovated 105-site campground with full hookups about 1½ miles downstream from the main head spring and day-use area.
Campers can launch their own canoes or kayaks on the river near their sites, and you can rent them at the concession at the head spring for the 5.6-mile paddle along the Rainbow River to the Withlacoochee River at Dunnellon.
Tubing is not allowed at the head spring, but there is a tube launch on the river 1.4 miles south of the campground and you can rent tubes at the park concession.
Moss-draped cypress trees line the river banks, offering a spectacular tour of Florida’s backcountry. The swimming area at the head spring, where the water maintains a constant 72-degree temperature, is very busy from late spring through fall. Lifeguards are on duty during the busy summer season.
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. Camping is $30 per night. Rainbow Springs is 23 miles west of Ocala, just off U.S. 41 north of Dunnellon.
Rainbow Springs State Park, 19158 SW 81st Place Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432. Phone: 352-465-8555. Admission to head springs for swimming: $2 per person. For tube rental and shuttle fees, call 833-945-2925. Camping: Campground is on the Rainbow River, separate from the main park entrance. Reservations can be made online at reserve.floridastateparks.org.
Scuba diving, limited snorkel and swimming
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.
This park has two major springs, a spring run and six sinkholes, all in pristine condition. All divers must provide proof of certification, and there are several restrictions on when, where and with whom you can dive.
Swimming and snorkeling are limited to Peacock and Orange Grove springs and is dependent on seasonal water levels. When we visited in May, Peacock was not an appealing as a place to swim. (There are lifeguards and the springs are not child-frieindly.)
Hikers can get an above-ground view of the winding underground passages with photographs and trail maps that show you what’s below your feet. A new interpretative trail offers boardwalks and interpretive kiosks for hikers.
Admission is $4 per vehicle (up to 8 people per vehicle) and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists. Peacock Springs State Park is about 20 miles south of Live Oak on State Road 51.
Peacock Springs State Park, 18532 180th Street, Live Oak FL 32060. Phone: 386-776-2194. Admission is $4 per vehicle (up to 8 people per vehicle) and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists. Peacock Springs State Park is about 20 miles south of Live Oak on State Road 51.
Swim, tubing, snorkel, dive, paddle,
Ginnie Springs is a magnificent, privately owned 200-acre recreation area that includes seven springs feeding the Santa Fe River just outside of High Springs, near Gainesville.
The river is a paddler’s dream as it lazily flows towards the Suwannee.
A major attraction is scuba diving into the 50-foot deep head spring and its underlying network of caves with about 1,000 feet of subterranean passages. Certified cave divers have access to another 30,000 feet of passages in the Devil’s Spring system.
One of the big attractions at Ginnie Springs Outdoors is the private campground. There are 90 sites water and electric hookups, and another 300 tent sites scattered about the park, many waterfront.
Day-use admission for divers or paddlers is $12 ($3 for children). Ginnie Springs is about 9 miles west of High Springs on State Road 340/236.
Ginnie Springs Outdoors, 7300 Ginnie Springs Road, High Springs, FL 32643. Phone: 386-454-7188. Admission: Adult, $15-20; Children 5-12, $5; Children 4 & under, free. Diving: $24-32. Camping: Adults, $25-30 each; Children 5-12, $8; Children 4 & under, free; Utilities (water, electric), $11. Tube, snorkel and dive rentals, canoes, kayaks and paddle board rentals.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Swim, snorkel, water park, paddle, mermaid shows
Weeki Wachee Springs is a venerable Florida tourist attraction, famous for its 400-seat underwater theater and performing mermaids, is now a state park with all the trimmings.
For your summer escape, enjoy the 72-degree crystal clear water as it feeds Buccaneer Bay. Kids will love the waterslides and water park on the Bay, elevating the swimming experience to theme-park fun.
There are also boat tours available, canoeing and kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving (no lone dives).
Weeki Wachee Spring
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee FL 34606. Phone: 352-610-5660. Mermaid shows are offered daily at 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. Seating is first-come, first-served. (August 2022) Admission is $13 per adult, $5 for children 6-12. Weeki Wachee Springs is 56 miles north of Tampa, near Brooksville, just off the Suncoast Parkway (SR 589).
Fanning Springs State Park
Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking
This park is small for a state park and known mostly by locals. The spring itself has swimming-pool clear water and is a dazzling blue in the sunlight. In has been a popular summer swimming hole for a century.
Its water is a brisk 72 degrees year round. Snorkelers and scuba divers come for the underwater view and winter visitors occasionally get lucky and spot visiting manatees.
Fanning Springs State Park is on U.S 19/98 in the town of Fanning Springs, near the intersection of State Road 26, west of Gainesville
Fanning Springs State Park, 18020 N.W. HWY 19, Fanning Springs, FL 32693. Phone: (352) 463-3420. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking. Day-use admission is $6 per vehicle. Primitive camping for paddlers, hikers and cyclists only: $5/night plus tax. Cabins are $100 a night, plus $7 daily utility fee and a one-time booking fee of $6.70.
Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking, camping
Manatee Springs is an exquisite sight, with clear blue-green water ringed by cypress trees and knees, all draped with Spanish moss.
Extensive boardwalks give you many good views of the spring and spring run and there are 8.5 miles of hiking trails in the park.
The spring is a quarter mile off the scenic Suwanee.
The spring has a well-developed swimming area and a concession, where you can rent canoes, kayaks, small motor boats and snorkeling gear.
Manatee Springs State Park is located at the end of S.R. 320, off U.S. 98, six miles west of Chiefland. Phone: (352) 493-6072. 11650 NW 115 Street, Chiefland, FL 32626
Manatee Springs State Park, 11650 NW 115 Street, Chiefland, FL 32626. Phone: (352) 493-6072. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, kayaking, camping. Admission is $6 (2-8 people per vehicle), $4 for a single, $2 for pedestrians and bicycles. Camping at one of the park’s 86 campsites is $20 per night. All sites have water and electric; dump station on site.
Morrison Springs County Park
Swimming, snorkeling and diving
This crystal clear aqua spring pumps 48 million gallons of water into a 250-foot wide pool popular for swimming, snorkeling and diving, producing an estimated 48 million gallons of crystal clear water each day and has been recorded to produce up to 70 million gallons a day.
Three cavities allow Morrison’s frigid waters to surface from the underground aquifer. The deepest of these cavities, at approximately 300 foot in depth, eventually terminates in an underground chamber of unknown dimensions.
The surrounding 161-acre park, managed by Walton County, offers picnic areas and restroom facilities, and a wheelchair-acccessible boardwalk links the springs to a floodplain along the spring run.
Morrison Springs is one of the most popular diving spots in northwest Florida and well-known throughout the southeast.
Morrison Springs is in South Walton County at 874 Morrison Springs Road, Ponce de Leon.
Morrison Springs, 874 Morrison Springs Road, Ponce de Leon, FL 32455. Phone: (850) 892–8108. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving. There are no entrance fees.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
Snorkeling, swimming, fishing
At 68 degrees, the 14 million gallons of water that flow out of this spring every day can chill the soul.
The spring bowl is crescent-shaped with depths averaging five feet, partially surrounded by a stone wall with a shaded picnic area.
Two hiking trails follow the spring run.
Virtually abandoned in winter, this popular swimming destination is bursting at the seams during the hot summer months, so get there early.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, 2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Road, Ponce de Leon FL 32455 Snorkeling, swimming, fishing. Day-use fee is $4 per vehicle, $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists (honor system).
Wakulla Springs State Park
Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving
One of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, the swimming area has a grassy beach, a 22-foot diving platform and floating docks.
Snorkeling is allowed within the boundaries of the swimming area only. Water temperature is a constant 69 degrees, making it one of the coolest springs in the state.
The spacious picnic area has a playground, and in winter months, attention shifts from the spring to miles of nature trails.
Glass-bottom boats thrill visitors with views of ancient mastodon bones when the water is clear. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear. Call before you go.
Wakulla Springs State Park
Wakulla Springs State Park, 465 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs FL 32327. Phone: 850-561-7276. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving. Day-use fee $6 per vehicle ( 2 – 8 occupants); $4 per vehicle with single occupant; $2 for pedestrians or bicyclist. River boat tours: $8, 13 years and up; $5 for ages 3 to 12 years; Free for ages 3 years and under.
RAMBLER TIP: During winter, many of these springs harbor manatees seeking protection from the elements and are closed to swimming. Read More: Where to see manatees in Florida waters: Try these 15 spots
Notes from the editor:
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.