These destinations bubbling with adventure make Florida the ideal hot spot to cool off.
Move over salty seas and sandy shores – Florida also has a refreshing array of springs and waterways to discover away from the beach. This summer, whether travelers are looking to hop around freshwater and natural springs, attend seasonal events, or just catch the freshest bit of seafood possible, Florida has it all covered.
From Northwest Florida moving south, here are some of the best springs and freshwater experiences to check out across the state.
1. LAKE CITY
Lake City, Florida’s Springlands, bubbles with over 350 miles of rivers, 1,500 miles of trails, aquatic caves, nine state parks, waterfalls and 300 documented natural springs that offer cave diving, tubing, paddle boarding, kayaking, hiking, birdwatching and spring hopping that can’t be found anywhere else in the United States. Float on one of the nine blue-green springs that make up the six-mile Ichetucknee River at Ichetucknee Springs State Park, a wholesome playground perfect for swimming, kayaking, tubing, paddling, and scuba diving. Part of Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Blue Hole Spring is a world class cave diving destination. The complex cave system spans over 600 feet, and is a frequent favorite of certified divers and amateur snorkelers alike. A slice of North Florida perfection, Rum Island Spring and Park offers a 200-meter swimming hole, named after the illicit moonshine stills hidden in the area during the early 1900s. Today, visitors can swim, snorkel and relax in the spring which is relatively untamed, offering a truly natural environment. The water flows out of a mysterious cavern in the shape of a flying saucer, and an eroded 3-foot bank provides easy entry into the shallower parts of the pool.
For natural parks and springs that feel far from the hustle and bustle but are centrally located and easy to visit, the top ecotourism destinations of Ocala/Marion County should not be missed. One of Florida’s largest and best-known springs, Silver Springs churns out over 500 million gallons of water per day. Known for its world-famous glass-bottom boat tours, Silver Springs State Park has captivated visitors since the 1870s. The glass-bottom boat tours are one of Florida’s first attractions and still run today. Rainbow Springs State Park is home to Florida’s fourth largest spring churning out over 450 million gallons of water per day. The lush greenery and sparkling blue waters have attracted visitors for over 10,000 years.
There’s also Ocala National Forest, boasting over 387,000 acres of varied terrain, from highlands to coastal lowlands and is the southernmost forest in the continental US. Juniper Springs, one of the oldest recreation areas, offers swimming, a picnicking area, camping and a nationally-recognized canoe run tucked away in the lush canopies. The Silver Glen Springs recreation area features a beautiful freshwater spring run and an important archaeological site, letting you experience the wild natural landscape with a taste of significant Florida history. Salt Springs is a recreational jewel named after the naturally occurring minerals that rise to the surface from deep natural fissures in the earth, providing a slight salinity not found in the other nearby springs. Plenty of outdoor activities keep visitors busy, including swimming in the springs, fishing, snorkeling, boating and hiking.
Tripadvisor announced the winners of its coveted Travelers’ Choice® Best of the Best Things to Do Awards last summer, with the Explorida Manatee Swim Tour in Crystal River, Florida, voted the No. 10 Top Bucket List Experience in the world. It’s the only U.S.-based experience to make the top 10, likely because it’s the only place in the country where visitors can swim with manatees. Another new experience accessible via QR code, the Step Into Awareness AR experience transports viewers to an underwater world where they can see manatees and witness the incredible strides made to conserve the habitat of these gentle giants, all from their smartphone.
4. NEAR ORLANDO
Natural springs near Orlando feature crystal-clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling, kayaking, tubing, swimming and encountering Central Florida wildlife. Blue Spring State Park in Orange City is known for its manatee sightings, refreshing 72- degree waters and kayaking opportunities. De Leon Springs State Park is a Florida gem with an expansive history and beautiful clear waters open to all visitors. Wekiwa Springs State Park is a nature-lovers dream – the park includes camping locations, walking trails, canoe rentals and several family-friendly play areas. Finally, Kelly Rock Springs is the best spot for a hot summer day – the park features a free flowing natural spring where visitors can tube, have picnics and enjoy the playground.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is located on Florida’s Adventure Coast about an hour north of Tampa. This natural wonder is home to one of Florida's most famous roadside attractions: the Weeki Wachee Mermaids. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park offers visitors a chance to escape the heat and enjoy the crystal-clear waters of Buccaneer Bay. Located inside Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Buccaneer Bay features two water slides into natural Weeki Wachee Springs. Weeki Wachee Springs is home to a crystal-clear freshwater spring that stays a refreshing 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. You can rent a tube, or just jump in and swim around. The water is so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom, and there are plenty of fish and other wildlife to spot. There is also Lil’ Mates Caribbean Cove, an exciting water play area and wading pool created especially for children 6 years and younger. Beyond the spring, the Weeki Wachee River is a popular spot for kayaking and paddleboarding. The water is calm and clear, and there are plenty of spots to stop and take a swim or have a picnic along the way. You can rent kayaks or paddle boards at the park or bring your own.
For more information, please visit VISIT FLORIDA’s guide to natural springs and more.
About VISIT FLORIDA
VISIT FLORIDA is the Sunshine State’s official tourism marketing corporation and travel planning resource for visitors across the globe. As Florida’s No. 1 industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming over 137.6 million visitors in 2022, the highest number of visitors in the state’s history. VISIT FLORIDA promotes tourism through sales, advertising, promotions, public relations and visitor services programs, and serves more than 13,000 travel industry partners throughout the state. To learn more about VISIT FLORIDA, follow @FloridaTourism on Facebook and Twitter, or go to visitflorida.org. For inspiration in the Sunshine State follow @VISITFLORIDA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit www.visitflorida.com. For media resources, visit www.visitfloridamedia.com.