A quick look around this beautiful park makes it easy to see why it was billed as the fabled Fountain of Youth back in the late 1800s. Sprawling giant live oaks festooned with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns arc around the spring pool. The main spring vent causes the water to “boil” above it, rippling the surface.
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant anchors one corner. This very popular restaurant not only serves great food — you can even cook your own pancakes right at your table. The cooking surface is built right into the center of the table. But first you might want to do some exploring to build your appetite.
The spring pool and its immediate surroundings account for maybe 8 of the park’s 600 acres. I encourage you to explore further, both by land and by water. By land the park offers several miles of trails through various habitats. Some of this is wheelchair accessible, including the trail to Old Methuselah, a 500+ year old cypress tree that mysteriously escaped the clear cutting of the early 1900s. There is a WonderMap below from my hike out here — just click on a waypoint flag for a picture of that location.
After a nice hike you can come back to the spring pool for a refreshing dip, then head to the restaurant to refuel. You should be feeling pretty good. It’s a great time to relax under a shade tree before checking out Spring Garden Lake and Spring Garden Creek. De Leon Springs gush nearly 20 million gallons every day over a beautiful spillway into the lake and the creek beyond.
When you cross Spring Garden Lake and enter Spring Garden Creek, you have De Leon Springs State Park on one side and Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge on the other. There are miles of uninterrupted wilderness just chock full of wildlife. Raptors screeching, soaring and diving. Herons, turtles, fish, alligators, woodpeckers and more.
Sounds good, right? Now you can choose how to explore these paradise waters. Rental canoes, kayaks and even peddle boats are available. There’s also a pontoon tour boat called The Fountain of Youth Eco/History Tours. Or you can launch your own craft, anything from stand-up paddleboards to Airboats. There’s a WonderMap below for my kayak paddle up Spring Garden Creek.
You could, in fact, travel hundreds of miles by water from De Leon Springs State Park. These waters are connected to Florida’s longest river, the St. Johns. And the St. Johns has some amazing tributaries, such as the Wekiva River, a National Wild & Scenic River. The point is, there’s much more to De Leon Springs than the central 8 acres.
WonderMap: Paddle from De Leon Springs to Spring Garden Creek. Tip: Click on waypoint flags to see photos.
WonderMap: Hiking the trails at De Leon Springs State Park. Tip: Click on the waypoint flags to see photos.
PS: I didn’t complete the Persimmon Trail Loop, because of poor planning — insufficient battery power for my mapping program. I hadn’t checked my location before the battery warning sounded and daylight was waning, so I made the decision to turn back. As it turned out, I had almost completed the loop. Returning was actually longer than if I’d kept going. Go figure.