11 of Florida's Best Springs for Swimming, Kayaking, and Wildlife Spotting
Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
Because the state of Florida sits atop an aquifer, fresh water bubbles up from below ground all over the state, primarily in its midsection, resulting in a smattering of springs and swimming holes across the peninsula.
With more than 700 glorious springs - in which visitors can swim, dive, or just splash around, an adventurous alternative to the Sunshine State's beloved beaches - Florida boasts the largest collection of freshwater springs on Earth. Since all of them are crystal-clear and remain a crisp 72 degrees year round, choosing a favorite can prove a challenge, but read on for our top picks.
Here are 11 of the best springs in Florida.
Related: More nature travel ideas
For visitors in pursuit of pure Florida, it doesn't get much better than Ginnie Springs. Located within a two-hour drive of major hubs like Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tallahassee, it's off the beaten path yet easy to reach. While there, you can float in an inner tube or enjoy one of the most beautiful freshwater dives in the world - or if the water's just a bit too nippy for you, enjoy it all sans immersion by kayaking, paddle boarding, or canoeing.
Because Ginnie Springs is a privately-owned park, there is an admission fee to access.
North of the small city of Dunnellon, Rainbow Springs is located within Rainbow Springs State Park, home to thousands of years of history and even a few waterfalls. Canoe and kayak rentals are available, but visitors can also enjoy tubing, paddling, swimming, or simply hiking the trails.
Though Rainbow Springs once attracted Native peoples through mossy hammocks to its cool waters, in the more recent past, it was home to a mining operation and a privately-owned tourist attraction. Work up a sweat in the park and then cool off in the springs for a perfect summer day in Florida.
Madison Blue Springs
Situated near the Florida-Georgia border, Madison Blue Springs sits on the west bank of the Withlacoochee River and is home to one of Florida's 33 first-magnitude springs. (Spring magnitude is determined by the volume of flow per unit of time, and first-magnitude springs are the largest, discharging at least 65 million gallons of water per day.) With underwater caves, sapphire waters, and a lush forest surrounding, it's a swimmer and scuba diver's paradise.
Devil's Den Prehistoric Spring
Devil's Den is an underground spring inside a dry cave, formed by a karst window, which means that the ground over a subterranean river collapsed, exposing the water to the world above.
Located near the town of Williston, Devil's Den is a pretty remote spot in Florida but visiting is more than worth it, especially for scuba divers and snorkelers. Not only is it one of the world's most unique and beautiful places to explore underwater, it's also shrouded in ancient history, since many extinct animal fossils (dating all the way back to the Pleistocene Age!) were found here.
Various amenities are available onsite, including equipment rentals for those eager to explore.
Located about 20 minutes north of Orlando, Wekiwa Springs State Park is easy to tack onto any Florida vacation. With dense hammocks, wildlife-spotting opportunities, and tons of adventures on offer - think horseback riding, biking trails, kayaks, fishing, snorkeling, and more - Wekiwa Springs is practically a theme park in itself, but celebrates nature rather than man-made wonders.
And in fact, this attraction has been here longer than its famous neighbors. It was discovered in the 1860s; by the 1890s (more than 70 years before the opening of Walt Disney World!), Wekiwa Springs had a hotel and bathhouse complex to accommodate visitors, making it one of the first tourist attractions in central Florida.
A breath of fresh air in an otherwise commercialized region of Florida, a day at Wekiwa Springs feels a bit like stumbling upon an oasis. Note that entrance costs $6 per vehicle.
Three Sisters Springs
Head to Crystal River on Florida's west coast to experience one of Florida's most precious jewels. Three Sisters Springs - accessible via private boat or kayak launches on Kings Bay - feels a bit like entering another world. For easy access aided by a local's know-how, book a tour with Get Up And Go Kayaking Crystal River for an unforgettable clear kayak adventure into the springs. You'll be amazed at how much you can see through the clear kayak and even clearer waters beneath you. Go during manatee season (November through March) for an up-close encounter with Florida's favorite gentle giants.
Located in northern Florida's Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Ichetucknee Springs sports emerald waters from eight major springs that bubble up and join together to create the six-mile Ichetucknee River. Visitors can kayak or float lazily under lush tree canopies, snorkel the blue hole, or keep their eyes peeled for wildlife such as beavers, otters, and wild turkeys. Note that entrance costs $6 per vehicle.
Florida's Panhandle is where you'll find some of the most picture-perfect beaches in the state, but wander away from the crowds a bit and find yet another wonder to behold: Wakulla Springs is the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world.
Adding to the enchantment of this spot is the fact that the springs are surrounded by an ancient cypress swamp and contain hundreds of years of history. Even Hollywood filmmakers found Wakulla Springs worthy of prime time: "Tarzan's Secret Treasure" (1941) and "Creature from the Black Lagoon" (1954) were filmed here. Today, visitors can swim, scuba, take a boat tour, and show off their best dives into the 70-degree waters from a raised platform.
Note that entrance costs $6 per vehicle.
Weeki Wachee Springs
All the springs in Florida house a variety of wildlife, but Weeki Wachee is undoubtedly the only one home to mermaids. An Old Florida icon, Weeki Wachee Springs is a natural tourist attraction where visitors can catch underwater mermaid performances by real-life sirens, take a trip on a river boat cruise, kayak, and even swim in the deep blue waters themselves, tails or not.
Named by the Seminoles, "Weeki Wachee" means "little spring" or "winding river" and legend has it that the bottom of the spring has never been found - indeed, it's one of the deepest naturally-formed underwater caverns in the country.
Ocala National Forest Springs
Located smack-dab in the middle of the state, the funky Ocala National Forest is home to four major springs that are among Florida's most popular: Juniper, Alexander, Silver Glen, and Salt Springs. Each of them provides the kind of mind-blowing blues and greens that Florida's springs are known for, as well as perfect visibility beneath the surface of the ultra-clear waters. Best enjoyed on a blazing-hot summer day, swimmers enjoy taking dips in the chilly but pristine 72-degree waters as well as exploring the springs via kayak.
Gilchrist Blue Springs
Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park - which only became a state park in 2017, making it Florida's 175th state park and still its newest - contains six natural springs, the most prominent of which is Gilchrist Blue. Gilchrist Blue produces about 44 million gallons of water per day and has outstanding water clarity, so it's no surprise that paddling, snorkeling, and swimming are the main draws here.