Have you ever imagined a place where emerald and turquoise waters glisten in the sun like a fairytale? That’s the pitch I gave to my three teenage daughters hoping it would entice them to wake up bright and early on a Saturday morning. My family and I, along with a convoy of five vehicles stuffed with kids, neighbors and picnic gear headed out early to get to Rainbow Springs State Park. With a 2.5 hour drive from Orlando to Dunnellon, we wanted to be sure to get into the park. That’s right…if you are not there early chances are you won’t get in. During the summer, most Florida State parks will close once they reach capacity, so getting up early is a MUST and I promise it’s worth it. Our family and friends headed to the tubing entrance of the park which is located a short drive from the main entrance to Rainbow Springs. The ride down the river takes about 2-2.5 hours to complete depending on the current. My family and I tied our tubes together, just to be sure that no one floated away. The river is deep, and you should not get out of your tube unless you know how to swim. Also, you are NOT allowed to bring anything that is disposable onto the river. This is strictly enforced and the water is patrolled by Police, so be smart as to what you pack. As you float down this pristine aquatic preserve, you drift past massive Oak and Cypress trees. Since Rainbow Springs is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, you are likely to see several native birds like; the Great Blue Heron, Anhinga, Snowy Egret, Hawks and Eagles. After our tubing adventure, we hopped back into the car and headed to the main “headsprings” for a picnic.
Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring with over 500 million gallons of fresh water produced daily. As we walked in, a friend of mine told me all about the parks “glory days”. From the 1930’s through the 1970’s Rainbow Springs was a theme park complete with sub-boats that took visitors underwater, a zoo, rodeo, and a monorail. Several waterfalls were built into the phosphate walls and lush gardens surrounded the park. In 1972, the park was designated a National Natural Landmark. Sadly 2 years later in 1974, Rainbow Springs closed their doors due in part to the more popular theme parks that were built in Orlando. In the 90’s an organization called Friends of Rainbow Springs reopened the park. This group of volunteers physically cleared the once abandoned pathways and brought the gardens back to life. As my daughter Alexis and I walked through the park, we could see the remnants of its former life, stone cages that use to house animals have crumbled to the ground and the pathways now just meander through the property. It was nice to see that the waterfalls still exist, and while they are man-made, they are very relaxing to sit by. This part of the park is very quiet and almost eerie, there was no one in sight and while I wanted to keep exploring…my daughter did not.
On our trip back we discovered that the best view of the water is right at the park’s entrance, just past the souvenir shop and the outdoor café. The view from up there is amazing, the turquoise and emerald water looks so inviting. I have been to many springs in and around the Central Florida area and none have been as clear, or as beautiful. It was time to go swimming…it was quite comical watching each of my girls brave the year around 72-degree temps, in their own way. My youngest jumped right in, and my other two daughters slowly inched their way in. I have to admit, it was really cold! Like, take your breathe away cold, but once I was in and I was swimming around I did get used to it. So…what sets this park apart? It’s the water! It truly is breathtaking, and the bottom is soft and sandy, no yucky grass to get caught around your toes. It’s deep so you have to use a pool noddle while in the water as no other floatation devices are allowed. Rainbow Springs is definitely a park that you are going to want to spend the day at. Large grassy areas with shady pavilions are wonderful for full day picnicking. Many people pack grills and large tents so they can claim their perfect spot beneath the massive Oak trees. If you are looking for more adventure, you can rent kayaks or canoes and take them down the Rainbow River. The park has everything you could possibly be looking for on a hot summer day. For more information on this wonderful State Park, please click here.
#1 Comfortable water shoes
My gear: Columbia Power Vent Water Sneakers
My gear: Sunbum SPF 50 Original Sunscreen
#3 Water in a re-useable bottle
#4 Hat or visor
My gear: Columbia Bora Bora II Booney
#5 Underwater camera
My gear: Nikon Coolpix W300
This is not a paid advertisement for any of these products. These are just products that over the years I have used and loved. They hold up well in all weather conditions and are my go-to products on most of my adventures.