Florida is the world capital of springs, boasting the most active system on the planet with over 1000 known freshwater springs pumping more than 8 billion of gallons of water daily. Some of the best outdoor recreational opportunities in Florida revolve around the springs, like swimming, tubing, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddling, photography and wildlife watching. Many of the best springs are found in Florida State Parks — here are the Top 10:
10. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Spring Hill; 164,717 Visitors: Weeki Wachee is widely known for its mermaids, those beautiful creatures who have been performing here for us humans since 1947. Well, not the same ones, of course. Paddling, snorkeling, scuba diving, a sandy beach and boat tours are also enjoyed by thousands of delighted visitors each year. Did I mention mermaids?
9. Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, Wakulla Springs; 199,310 Visitors: Even though this is Florida’s 7th largest spring in terms of flow, the main spring is the deepest and largest on earth. Glass bottom boats still ply the waters here, though no paddling is offered. Swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving are popular during the warmer months, then many people turn to the miles of multi-use trails available as the weather cools.
8. Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Fort White; 204,586 Visitors: Ichetucknee boasts 8 major springs along its 6-mile route through primal forests and wetlands before joining the scenic Santa Fe River. The headspring is a National Natural Landmark and one of Florida’s 33 first-magnitude springs. Strict measures are in place to ensure this pristine environment remains pristine. Visitors enjoy swimming, tubing, paddling, snorkeling, scuba diving and hiking the park’s 3 short trails that showcase widely diverse ecosystems.
7. Silver Springs State Park, Ocala; 237,894 Visitors: This former privately owned tourist attraction, famous for its glass-bottom boats, became a state park in 2013. Many Hollywood films have been shot here, including several Tarzan movies and the Sea Hunt television series. More than 550 million gallons of water erupt from this collection of springs daily, making the Silver River the largest tributary of the Ocklawaha River. Yes, the glass-bottom boats are still running and paddling is as popular as ever along the river’s 5.4-mile route. Hikers and bikers can enjoy 15 miles of trails that wind through wetlands, pine forests and oak hammocks. Horse-lovers can enjoy equestrian trails, too. No horse? No worries — Cactus Jack’s has you covered.
6. Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka; 250,762 Visitors: Located on the outskirts of Orlando, this popular spring draws more than a quarter of a million visitors each year! Headwaters of the nationally-designated Wild and Scenic Wekiva River, this is a very popular paddling spot, along with its nearby tributary, Rock Springs Run. Here you’ll enjoy all the amenities that make Florida State Parks the most awarded park system in the country. Miles of trails delight hikers, bikers and equestrians with a wide variety of flora and fauna. Camping is popular in both developed and primitive campsites…even equestrian camping is available. Out here it’s hard to believe one of Florida’s major cities is just a stone’s throw away.
5. Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon; 262,387 Visitors: Florida’s 4th largest spring has been popular with humans for nearly 10,000 years! Formerly a privately-owned attraction, this is one of the few places in Florida where you can enjoy waterfalls and cascades, albeit man-made. Swimming at the headspring, along with tubing and paddling the Rainbow River are very popular activities. A beautiful 2.5 mile nature trail follows the river, then winds back through uplands and past a former phosphate mine…a great little hike to enjoy before a refreshing dunk in these clear, cool waters. The campgrounds are newly renovated and the gardens are a sub-tropical paradise.
4. De Leon Springs State Park, De Leon Springs; 275,369 Visitors: Home of Ponce De Leon‘s fabled fountain of youth, this park features a sheltered swimming area below rolling hills decorated with ancient live oaks whose branches are festooned with Spanish moss and resurrection ferns. Paddling and pontoon boat tours are popular along Spring Garden Lake and Spring Garden Creek. These waters connect with Lake Woodruff, Lake Dexter and Florida’s longest river, the St. Johns. The Sugar Mill Restaurant is famous for its pancakes that diners make themselves right at their tables. More than 4 miles of hiking trails wind through wetlands and forests where hikers can visit Old Methuselah, a 500+ year old cypress tree that somehow escaped harvesting.
3. Fanning Springs State Park, Fanning Springs; 285,016 Visitors: Located due west of Gainesville along the world-renowned Suwannee River, this spring is a major stop along the incredibly scenic Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, one of the state’s premier paddling trails. Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and primitive camping are also popular here. While vehicle parking is not available for primitive campers, cabins are available. Flow has decreased here since the 1990s, dropping this spring from first to second magnitude; however, Manatee Springs is located 7 miles downstream and still produces about 100 million gallons per day, making it a first-magnitude spring, though not as popular…except with manatees.
2. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Homosassa; 291,247 Visitors: As the name makes clear, this park is all about the wildlife. Here visitors can see and learn about Florida’s most iconic creatures, including American alligators and crocodiles, bobcats, black bears, manatees, otters, a Florida panther named Yuma, and even red wolves (who were once part of Florida’s fauna). There’s also a children’s learning center with hands-on experiences, a shore bird aviary, a beautiful boardwalk and a pontoon boat ride on Pepper Creek. Swimming, paddling and other water sports are NOT offered here.
1. Blue Spring State Park, Orange City; 523,235 Visitors: More than half a million visitors flock to Florida State Parks’ most popular spring every year! Many come to view the hundreds of manatees who call this spring their winter home. The largest spring on Florida’s longest river, the St. Johns, is also very popular for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and paddling during the warmer months when the spring and spring run are open to human recreation. Pontoon boat tours and paddling are available on the St. Johns River year-round. Beautiful boardwalks run the length of the spring run, providing excellent viewing opportunities. Camping, cabins and concessions are available also.
Florida State Parks Top 10 Springs are based on Florida State Parks Annual Attendance for FY 2010-2011.
2017 Update: We may have to revisit this list when we see attendance records for the state’s newest purchase, Blue Springs in Gilchrist County: http://www.wcjb.com/local-news/2017/06/state-buys-blue-springs-park
Here’s a list of major Florida Springs by County.
Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dno1967b/10615253273/in/photolist-hb2WYa-6kbgDL-nVQB7d-nVEuez-nVR7AJ-9v6Tag-dDWaM8-arZXuA-nDtxdh-nVXL9a-nVXUwT-nDt9sM-mLMrUp-nVQH7j-nVSvzQ-nDthXT-nXKACB-nDtQmW-nXKdjP-nDtpnA-nDtsW1-nVF1Lr-nDtBrh-nVEVKK-nDtJKy-nVEyy6-nXKfcM-nTVr4d-dz5zZd-nXK6rk-nVSE1h-nVY4Re-nVEy3M-nDtC7U-nXK5oP-9v6Tec-nXK5ZP-nDtphN-5eBKzr-nVQUM3-nVEuUc-nVQAjS-egPsw4-egPsVB-egPtKe-egVdRW-egVfNG-egVfDh-egPs1D-egVepw