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.
In Central Florida, springs offer the best tubing in Florida in four of the most beautiful spots in the state. 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.
In the Panhandle, there are two spring-fed rivers known for their pure-white-sand bottoms and sandbars that have become very popular tubing streams.
There’s really only one problem with tubing in Florida: Everyone wants to do it.
Planning tips for best tubing in Central Florida
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 find the tubing in Florida, 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, 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.
The most beautiful section of the river — and the most sensitive — is closed to tubers, so you no longer can tube through the whole park. (That’s a terrific kayak trip to make outside of tubing season.)
Tubers can start at the midpoint, where 3,000 people a day are allowed. From here, it’s a 90-minute to two-hour ride to the last take-out spot. A shorter run – about an hour, starting at Dampier’s Landing — 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.
Tubing 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 are 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.
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.)
Tubing Rock Springs Run/Kelly Park, Apopka
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 early, you may be shut out. Summer hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In past years, Lake County has limited visits to 280 vehicles in the morning and the next 50 cars get a pass good for entry after 1 p.m. for entry. 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.
In addition to closing because the park is full, the swimming area has closed in the past because of bacteria levels. Get up to date information from the park website here.
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.
Florida tubing at 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.
Two Panhandle rivers that are tops for tubing: Blackwater River and Coldwater Creek
Near Pensacola, people flock to the Milton area for these chill tubing spots. What’s special about rivers here is that the same white quartz sand that makes Panhandle beaches so dazzling white also lines the shores and bottoms of rivers, creating magical sandbars. Both rivers have refreshing chilly water and few alligators.
The rivers are popular as paddling destinations year around, and the oufitters who do kayaks and canoes also offer tubing rental and livery service in summer. Each river has about a four-mile tubing trip, which takes about two or four hours, depending on how much time you spend on sandbars.
You’ll find details on costs and hours at each website, but the area’s prices for tubing range from around $18 to $23. per person.
In addition, you’ll find a few other tubing outfitters:
Resources on exploring Florida springs
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.