Our 15 Favorite Freshwater Florida Springs
Author: Authentic Florida
Date: May 17, 2019 12:00 am
Category: Where to Go
Region: Central East Florida
If You Go
When Florida's summer temperatures begin to climb, aren’t you ready to take a refreshing plunge into a cool Florida spring? If you're looking for ways to cool down, check out this list of our 15 favorite freshwater Florida Springs.
Gilchrist Blue Springs, High Springs
Florida has many springs to choose from for a summer “cool down” where shimmering shades of aqua blues and emerald greens reflect with dazzling intensity.
Lucky for us, Florida is blessed with more than 700 springs, the largest collection on earth. From deep within the underground aquifer eight billion gallons of water flow from Florida’s springs each day at a constant 72-degrees.
Most of the springs are located in the central and northern parts of the state and many of Florida’s springs are found within state or national parks. This offers visitors an array of recreational opportunities while providing a level of protection for these essential natural resources. The entry fee to most parks is very reasonable, making the experience not only loads of fun, but a bargain.
Here are 15 cool, bubbly springs that will help you “chill out” this summer:
Ichetucknee Springs, Fort White
Northwest of Gainesville, near Fort White, the Ichetucknee Springs and River have long been a destination for campers, college students and Floridians seeking the delightful experience of floating down the six-mile river before it empties into the Santa Fe.
Floating down the Ichetucknee River is one of Florida's most beloved waterways
From Memorial Day until Labor Day, the Ichetucknee Springs State Park resembles a bustling summer camp. Families and larger groups “raft up,” tethering their tubes as they float down the river. Alternately, there will be some areas where you will have the river all to yourself. And one thing is certain for all who go – everyone on the river gets to enjoy one of Florida’s most authentic pleasures.
To maximize your Ichetucknee experience, go early, and if possible, go on a weekday. Holidays and weekends are crowded.
Gilchrist Blue Springs, High Springs
This crystal blue “Shangri-la” just west of High Springs was recently purchased by the Florida State Park system. Blue Springs is situated in a quiet rural 250-acre area and pumps out 55 million gallons of fresh water daily, eventually emptying into the Santa Fe River. Reminiscent of a “Central Florida” summer camp, swimmers jump from a huge wooden diving platform into the crystal clear bubbly water; families picnic under the shade of the sprawling oak trees; paddlers launch kayaks or paddle boards along the spring run. And no trip to Blue Springs is complete without a short walk on the rustic wooden boardwalk to the scenic Santa Fe admiring more springs along the way. Turtles sun on the logs below and a variety of fish including bass, mullet, red bellies and catfish swim below.
Ginnie Springs, High Springs
Not far from the Gilchrist Blue Springs, northwest of High Springs, Ginnie Springs encompasses 200 acres of natural Florida with shady trees lining the banks of the Santa Fe River.
Known for its camping amenities it is also one of the most popular diving springs in the state. Water gushes from seven natural springs, forming spring runs and grottos. With a sandy limestone bottom reflecting light from above it’s a beautiful new world down under awaiting swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers.
Tubers enjoy a two-mile stretch along the Santa Fe for a day of aimless drifting, and it is also a great place for a kayak, canoe or paddleboard. Laughter and fun is everywhere on this stretch where all can enjoy the serenity of the Santa Fe River.
Madison Blue Springs, east of Tallahassee
Madison Blue Springs State Park lies east of Tallahassee and the town of Madison. As you enter this state park there is an “other worldly” feel and something magical about this first-magnitude crystal clear spring. It is easy to imagine fairies flitting through the trees and sprites peeking at you in the greenery.
The spring is a translucent blue hole among a forest of green surrounded by hardwoods and pines along the Withlacoochee River. There are several paths that lead to the spring and plenty of rocks to sit upon for spectacular viewing as the spring runs 100 feet over limestone to the tannic Withlacoochee River.
A wooden platform with steps provides easy access for swimmers and divers and this spring also has underwater caves.
For more information: Visit Tallahassee
Wakulla Springs, south of Tallahassee
Fourteen miles south of Tallahassee Wakulla Springs State Park is where the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world (yes, the world) bubbles up and flows into the Wakulla River. The spring is also home to Florida’s deepest and most extensive underwater cave system making it a destination for scuba divers and home to a popular swimming hole and wooden jumping tower at the main spring attract throngs of folks.
Be sure to check out the Wakulla Springs State Park Lodge, a 1930’s Mediterranean revival old hotel with a spectacular lobby and a restaurant with an excellent menu.
Consider the ranger-guided Jungle Cruise that covers a loop through the wildlife sanctuary –riding over the Wakulla spring that includes see pristine “real” Florida. While on the cruise, you’re likely to see alligators, manatees (in season) turtles and an amazing array of birds.
Wekiwa Springs, North of Orlando
North of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs State Park is a delightful retreat with an “Old Florida” feel. Wekiwa is an Indian word for “bubbling water” which perfectly describes the freshwater spring. The emerald green freshwater pool sits at the base of a grassy amphitheater with steps leading to the swimming area.
The 7,800-acre Wekiwa Springs Park is a part of the Wekiva Basin ecosystem. Nearby neighbors such as the Rock Springs Run State Preserve, the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park and the Wekiwa Springs State Park make up the full basin.
Consider renting a kayak or canoe to see more of the park. An easy paddle on the Wekiva River and up the Rock Springs Run will confirm its designation as a National Wild & Scenic River. Florida wildlife is everywhere and you might want to be on the lookout for some early morning otters and birds feeding near the water’s edge.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
North of Orlando and west of Orange City, Central Florida’s Blue Spring State Park is home to the largest spring on the St. Johns River. The circular translucent hole percolates with tiny bubbles rising to the surface, also known as a boil –but it’s not hot. Like other Florida springs, it’s a consistent cool temperature. Blue Spring is popular with swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers, especially for the extensive underwater cave system.
A half-mile boardwalk along the bank of the Blue Spring Run begins at the bubbling spring and ends at the St. Johns River. The boardwalk is filled with panoramic views of picturesque “old Florida” and interpretive displays provide history about the park. Moss-draped oaks lining the blue-green river and fallen trees along the banks are ideal elements for composing prize-winning photographs. During the winter, Blue Spring is another popular gathering area for manatees and one of the best places for viewing these gentle giants.
North of Tampa and west of Orlando, along Florida’s Gulf coast, is the community of Crystal River, which is known as Florida’s “water lover’s paradise” for the abundance of freshwater springs throughout the region. Each winter, from November through March, visitors delight while observing the largest known gathering of manatees in Florida as they congregate in the relatively warm 72-degree water of Crystal River.
Three Sisters Springs, Citrus County
In the summertime, Citrus County bustles with those who want to cool off in that same, but now relatively cool water. Crystal River is a first magnitude spring system, originating in Kings Bay, and encompassing more than 40 springs flowing into the river as it meanders six miles westward to the Gulf of Mexico.
To see this spring system, you’ll have to go by boat. Local outfitters will take you to visit the springs where a beautiful world, on or below the water, awaits. The largest spring in Kings Bay is Kings Spring. It spans 75 feet across and is 30 feet deep at the entrance to a 60-foot cave. This is very popular for swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers. But there is one more that stands out above many others:
Three Sisters, the Crown Jewel of Kings Bay
Three Sisters Springs is considered one of the most beautiful springs in Florida. Local outfitters transport swimmers and snorkelers to the roped-off spring where they can swim into the area to get a closer look. It’s an enchanting spring and thanks to local caring citizens, it has been preserved for future generations.
Weeki Wachee Springs flows into the Weeki Wachee River
Since 1947, Weeki Wachee Springs has been home to the famous mermaid show, amusement park, river cruise and first magnitude spring. Fish-tailed human mermaids delight audiences with synchronized underwater ballet performances. Spring water flows up from subterranean caverns while visitors watch through huge glass windows in a submerged theatre.
The Weeki Wachee Springs Amusement Park beach area and flume ride provide a family swimming area in the cool water. The spring water then forms the Weeki Wachee River and flows more than seven miles to the Gulf of Mexico. The translucent water and sandy bottom create a dazzling experience on one of Florida’s best rivers.
To discover more of the beauty and nature on the Weeki Wachee River, consider a slow, easy, five-mile, three-hour kayak or canoe paddle downstream. Begin at Paddling Adventures located adjacent to the Weeki Wachee State Park. They provide all the equipment with tips to make it enjoyable for the one-way trip, downstream. Paddle under the shade of cypress and oak trees while enjoying wildlife everywhere – look for the bald eagle’s nest, turtles sunning on submerged logs, a plethora of birds, otters and manatees.
Rainbow Springs State Park is home to the main headspring
Rainbow Springs State Park, located southwest of Ocala near Dunnellon, is home to the headspring of the Rainbow River and one of the most beautiful and beloved waterways in the state. This river has enjoyed a reputation as a scenic and popular playground since opening in the 1930’s as a family-owned attraction. Years later, in 1990, the spring became part of the Florida State Park System. At the main park spring, swimmers can enjoy a large roped off area for swimming with a dock and stairs for ease of entry to the spring.
Rainbow River could be called Florida’s natural swimming pool. The white sandy bottom lies between areas of smooth limestone creating a “pool–like” effect. But in this swimming pool you will share the water with turtles as they sunbathe on fallen logs, along with blue herons and white ibis feeding along the riverbank.
Starting at the popular KP Hole outside the state park, children and adults can float downstream in inner tubes stopping often to jump off ropes tied to over-hanging tree limbs. The gentle current of the river dictates the pace as smaller springs bubble up and feed into the river, thus creating plenty of areas to get out and swim.
Major Springs of the Ocala National Forest
Four major springs, Juniper, Alexander, Silver Glen and Salt Springs, are collectively called the “jewels of the Ocala National Forest.” They offer refreshing retreats during the summer when swimmers bathe in the cool 72-degree water.
Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest
The headspring, Juniper Spring, is the site of the main swimming hole. A limestone wall surrounded by a lawn and picnic tables, originally built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, encloses the park’s spring. Swimmers and campers delight in the beautiful deep blue spring. An old historical mill, also built by the hard-working conservation corps to provide electricity for the park campground, is adjacent to the swimming area and includes a historical and informational exhibit center for park guests. The adjacent Juniper Springs Run is considered one of the most scenic kayak excursions in Florida.
Silver Glen Springs, Ocala National Forest
Available for day use, this vibrant turquoise spring contrasts with the surrounding green oaks, cedar and pine trees. Connected to Lake George, it attracts a mix of fresh and saltwater fish and during the winter manatees often congregate here seeking respite from the cooler St. John’s River.
Alexander Springs, Photo credit: Chuck O'Neal
A shallow pool and sandy beach meet the crystal blue Alexander Spring making it popular for family swimming and diving. The seven-mile Alexander Creek flows from the spring to the St. John’s River with easy access for boating. Adjacent to the spring, the Timucuan Trail is ideal for a short hike surrounded by semi-tropical vegetation. Interpretive signs share cultural information about the indigenous Timucuan people who once inhabited the area, and also identify live vegetation used by the natives in their diet.
Fed by nine vertical fissures rising out of the earth, Salt Springs, named for its slight salinity from various minerals and sodium salts, was believed to have medicinal value by early tourists. A boat ramp and marina provide easy access to Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida, with prime fishing, a spacious campground and RV hookups.
Enjoying our springs is one of the joys of living in the state, and most would agree we all have a responsibility to preserve and care for them, not just for their beauty, but also for their importance as a fresh water supply. It’s no secret that Florida’s springs are in jeopardy, especially as Florida’s population increases, adding more environmental impacts to the state aquifer. So, while enjoying these natural delights, each of us can play a role in reducing groundwater pollution and decreasing water consumption.
At home, you can install low-flow plumbing fixtures, landscape with native plants and reduce or eliminate the use of fertilizers in the yard. You can also take action to support local land planning initiatives designed to protect springs.
AuthenticFlorida.com was named Best Travel Blog at the 2018 Sunshine Awards.
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