Florida is blessed with hundreds of crystal clear springs, representing the highest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth.
Many, like Blue Spring in southwestern Volusia County, have been set aside for public use and protect habitat for wildlife that depend on them for survival.
Blue Spring State Park is on the eastern edge of a vast basin of preserves, state parks and wildlife refuges that make up the watershed of the north-flowing St. John’s River.
This park is an ideal launching pad for paddling in the wild, or swimming in refreshingly cool water on a hot summer day.
The spring and spring run are closed to swimmers in winter to accommodate gangs of manatees that flock here to escape the winter weather.
For more about manatees at Blue Spring State Park, read: Best places to see manatees in Florida
Swimming, tubing and diving at Blue Spring State Park
During the summer months, humans converge on Blue Spring en masse to enjoy the cool spring and its chilly, quarter-mile run to the river.
A fabulous swimming hole with multiple access points from a boardwalk that also allows you to hike through the woods along the run to the spring itself.
You can rent tubes, buy souvenirs or get a snack at the concession stand at the beginning of the boardwalk at the far end of the parking lot.
Tubers carry their tubes up the boardwalk to an entry point just below the spring. The takeout is a quarter-mile downstream.
Scuba divers must register at the entrance to the park and provide proof of up-to-date certification, and you must have a partner.
Get there early during summer or you could get locked out, especially on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays on hot, sunny days often see capacity crowds.
Canoes, kayaks and other things
Blue Spring Run and the St. John’s River provide a wilderness environment for paddling.
The adventurous can paddle upriver into the scenic Wekiva River basin or to Hontoon Island State Park, where you’ll find 12 primitive campsites, 40 boat slips for boat campers, and six rustic, one-room cabins with bunk beds, a ceiling fan, a single electric outlet and screened porch.
There are two boat launches at Blue Springs State Park, one inside the gate at the canoe concession on the St. John’s River and another outside the gate in the event the park is overcrowded. Go past the park entrance on a shell rock road that dead-ends at the river.
If you plan to rent a kayak or canoe, then going inside the park is your only option. Rent kayaks and canoes at the main concession on the river. An added bonus: this concession also operates a tour boat that will take you out on the river with a guide.
Camping and cabins at Blue Spring State Park
Not my favorite campground, largely because I felt closed in by the underbrush crowding my tent. On the other hand, there was plenty of privacy. At dusk or dawn, you could hear the critters scampering around the thicket, and you never knew what would pop out on your picnic table. During the day, it was difficult to escape the sun for the lack of trees and shade.
An RV would have been infinitely more comfortable, and I’ll be bringing mine on my next visit to this park.
There are a total of 51 campsites, $24 per night, and six two-bedroom cabins, which rent for $95 per night. A $6.70 reservation fee applies to each booing.
The cabins, on the other hand, are terrific, nestled in a shady grove of oaks. One bedroom has a double bed and the other has twin singles. There is also a sleeper sofa in the living room that converts to a double bed. Each cabin has central air, a bathroom, fully equipped kitchen, a screened porch and outdoor grill with a picnic table.
Each of the 51 campsites has water and electric hookups, a picnic table and a grill. There are no sewer hookups, although there is a dump station available to campers in the park. Pets are allowed in the camping area. Maximum RV length is 40 feet.
The campground is near the spring, and a path that will take you there.
Another option for tenters and boat campers is to paddle from Blue Spring State Park to the adjacent Hontoon Island State Park, which also has cabin rentals.
Hiking and biking at Blue Spring State Park
There is a four-mile nature trail through pine flatwoods and a marsh (wear boots in summer) and an oak hammock with four primitive campsites.
The trail is off-limits to bicyclists, but there are other areas available for biking, mostly on park roads.
Blue Spring was an important steamboat landing along the St. John’s River, dating back to the mid-19th Century. The boats would load agricultural goods and tourists at the landing for transport “down” the St. John’s to Jacksonville and beyond.
You can see evidence of that era by touring the historic Thursby House, built at the height of the steamboat era in 1872 by settler Louis B. Thursby. Thursby also built the landing.
The state didn’t take it over until the late 1960s, and faced a daunting task to clean up after visitors had abused the spring, driving their cars and parking on the banks, littering and dumping garbage in the woods.
During the 1970s, boardwalks and other improvements were gradually added and the area cleaned up, returning it to its near-pristine state today.
If you drive through Orange City, you’d barely know Blue Spring State Park is there. Watch closely for signs, and then turn off U.S. 17 onto two-lane West French Avenue, which takes you through a typical suburban neighborhood until you reach the park entrance.
Blue Spring State Park, 2100 West French Ave., Orange City, FL 32763. Phone: 386-775-3663. Open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Day use admission $6 per vehicle, $2 for pedestrians, bicycles. Camping and Cabins Reservations: Call 800-326-3521 up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Pets: Yes.
Go a little more than two miles south on 17/92 to the traffic light at French Ave.
Turn right and go two miles through a neighborhood of modest homes to Blue Spring State Park.
If you are going to launch your own boat, you can continue past the park entrance on a shell rock road to the free boat launch at the end of the road on the St. John’s River.