Orlando is a known tourist destination, mainly for the multitude of theme parks. It’s hard to compete with Mickey Mouse and the Disney princesses. But many visitors do not realize just within an hour radius Florida offers beautiful state parks with crystal clear springs. Growing up on the Space Coast I have been fortunate to visit many of our springs in Central Florida, ranging from the east coast to the west coast. Here are our favorite top 5 Florida Springs you can visit in a day trip whether you are local or visiting from out of state.
Wekiva Springs is the closest, located in Apopka, just 20 min north of Orlando. Here you can swim, bike, hike, and canoe. They also offer a full-facility campground and concession stand where you can buy snacks and cold drinks. Plenty of grills and picnic tables are located near the swimming area for a fun afternoon BBQ.
Blue Springs is located in Orange City, nestled just north of Debary and south of Deland. This spring closes for swimming between mid-November through mid-March when hundreds of manatees take refuge here (highly recommend to witness). But during our hottest months, this spring makes for a great swimming area. Tubing is also available for a short eighth of a mile run (have not experienced yet). The springs natural beauty is something in itself to delight in.
De Leon Springs is located just north of Deland. The best part of visiting this spring is the Sugar Mill Restaurant. After a nice refreshing swim, make your way up to the 100-year-old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill. Here you can make your own pancakes with griddles built right into the tables. A memory that will last with the whole family. During the summer months, this is one spring where a lifeguard is on duty.
Juniper Springs is located in the Ocala National Forest. One of the most scenic springs, this park offers swimming, picnicking, camping, hiking, and canoeing. I highly recommend renting a canoe and paddling down the 7 mile Juniper Run. A constant flow of the water makes for easy paddling. If your not up for the canoe trip definitely hike around the park to discover more beautiful springs (these ones do not allow swimming) before dipping into the main head springs.
Rainbow Springs is the furthest drive but my favorite state park. Located in Dunnellon it’s about a 2 1/2 hr drive from the space coast and a 1 1/2 drive from Orlando. A unique aspect of this park is the winding trails that lead you through beautiful landscapes and waterfalls. Yes, I said waterfalls! Back in the 1920’s (before Disney), Rainbow Springs was a major tourist attraction with a zoo, rodeo and glass bottom boat tours. About 10 min away Rainbow Springs offers a full facility campground that books up quickly. At the campground, they offer tubing on the Rainbow River (with shuttle service!). This trip takes about 2 hours to complete and well worth it! The water is crystal clear making this river a great snorkeling and diving area.
*Please click on the links for a full description of each park. The links will provide exact directions and a list of all the activities each park offers.
**All of these parks fill up quickly on the weekends. Plan accordingly, arrive early and be prepared to be turned away if the park has filled to capacity for the day.