When you think of Florida, what comes to mind? Nightlight in Miami? White sand beaches? NASCAR and historic car shows? Disney and Legoland? Crazy Florida man stories on the news? Those are some of the Florida highlights that we think of. However, Florida is also full of mossy swamps, crystal-clear springs, and mind-blowing natural wonders that look like they belong in the Caribbean.
Today, we are diving into Rainbow Springs State Park. Located half-hour from Ocala, Florida, Rainbow Springs State Park offers an incredible world of clear spring water that has been celebrated for 10,000 years. With over 1,400 acres of property, people visit from all over the world to snorkel in the crystal clear water, see the blooming azaleas, and camp next to the Rainbow River.
History of Rainbow Springs in Florida
For centuries, the natives of this land (now known as the Seminole and Timucua tribes) lived in the area and used the springs for freshwater, transportation, and fishing. After European colonization in 1839, the city of Ocala was formed and named after Native Chief Ocala. In the early 20th century, the area was mined for phosphate and shortly after, the towns of Juliette (which no longer exists) and modern-day Dunnellon was founded.
Rainbow Springs was actually a private theme park in the 1930s and waterfalls, a zoo, rodeo, monorail, and gift shops were constructed. After the major highway development in Florida led to the park’s closure in 1974. In the nineties, however, the park reopened as part of the Florida State Park system.
5 of the Best Things To Do at Rainbow Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs State Park is centered around the headsprings of the Rainbow River, which produces hundreds of millions of gallons of water a day! This family-friendly park is a worldwide tourist attraction that offers so much to do and see, including swimming, picnicking, tubing, camping, and ecological exploration.
1. Get ON the Water
If you have not figured it out already, the fresh springs at Rainbow Springs are the main attraction at this Florida park. There are prime opportunities for paddling — whether it’s kayaking or canoeing, the park has you covered with canoe and kayak rentals. Tubing the river is also another exciting way to enjoy the beauty of the park.
2. Get IN the water
With an average year-round water temperature of 72 degrees, the crystal clear headspring waters are the perfect swimming spot. The natural swimming area ranges in depth from 10 to 18 feet. If snorkeling is more your speed, bring your snorkel and discover the underwater oasis in the designated snorkeling area. A pro tip to keep in mind is that Florida state law requires every snorkeler to have a dive flag.
Take leisurely walks through beautiful gardens layered with gorgeous azaleas, magnolias, and oak trees. Mossy hammocks surround the area and provide shaded nature trails to explore as you meander past three human-made waterfalls. The main trail stretches close to 2.5 miles from the visitor center and is a mix of brick, concrete, and asphalt surfaces.
It is highly encouraged to camp overnight at Rainbow Springs State Park if you get the chance. The campground is actually located a few miles away from the river headspring and day-use facilities. The campsites all provide electric (20, 30, and 50 amp) and water hookups for your convenience. Additional perks include ADA-accessible restrooms and a dump station. Because of this park’s popularity, reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.
Because of the lush vegetation and ecological abundance, Rainbow Springs State Park is the ideal place to birdwatch. You will see communities of sandhill cranes who live here. There is also a chance you may see manatees. A trip to the park’s butterfly garden is also highly recommended!
Since the Rainbow River is an aquatic preserve, please pay attention to the guidelines put in place to preserve its beauty and precious ecosystems. During your trip, be sure to grab a bite at the famous Swampy’s Bar & Grille, located near KP Hole Park just minutes from the main entrance of Rainbow Springs. Another favorite restaurant in the area is the Blue Gator Tiki Bar & Restaurant.
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