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Last updated: May 30, 2022 • Traveling Around the World

Hidden Gems of the Sunshine State: Florida’s Freshwater Springs

As a kid growing up in rural north-central Florida, leisure time activities were few and far between. The small town where I spent my childhood was home to fewer than 3,000 residents, and most of the surrounding towns were even less heavily populated. The nearest shopping mall was over an hour away, as were most of the other pastimes popular among city dwellers. 

This being the case, we had to look for other, more holistic hobbies to keep ourselves entertained. I took up canoeing and made the swampy lowlands of the Suwannee River Basin my second home; others went hunting and fishing, or took up other pastimes in nature. We all passed the time in different ways, but there was one thing almost all of us enjoyed: the springs! 

Manatee Springs was closer to my house than the nearest grocery store. You could bike there in 30-40 minutes, pay the $2 entrance charge and be treated to one of the most magnificent sights you’d seen in your life. It was the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day, and a great place to hang out even when swimming was out of the question due to the weather. Some of my best memories feature this spring and the time I spent with friends and family there.  

Why visit one of Florida’s springs? 

manatees crystal river florida hot spring

Nostalgic memories aside, you may be wondering what there is to do when visiting one of Florida’s many natural springs. These sites are without a doubt among the most beautiful landmarks in the state without question, but are they worth a special detour from your grand Florida vacation? I’m inclined to think exactly that! 

For starters, the springs are a great place to swim. If you enjoy this aquatic pastime as much as I do, you’re going to love Florida’s springs. With a plethora of beautiful and mysterious nooks and crannies to explore on the surface and below it, you can spend all day paddling around whichever spring you choose to make the site of your visit. 

Those who enjoy scuba diving will also be enthralled, without a doubt; the springs are often dozens of feet deep and are crystal clear, making them the perfect place to go exploring. If you’re experienced and have been practicing this activity for some time, you might even want to take on the challenge of exploring the cave network that makes up the water table. It’s risky if you don’t know what you’re doing, but for those who do it’s a pure adrenaline rush. 

Then there are the areas surrounding the springs. Most springs in Florida are state parks, so you can expect an expansive network of walkways, fishing spots and vantage points. You can observe the manatees, or you can sink a line and kick back while you wait for the fish to bite. There are often places to kayak or canoe as well; that’s always been one of my favorite ways to pass the time! 

However you choose to spend your time at the Florida springs, I’m confident that you’ll find that they’re well worth any detour you had to make to see them. While it’s true that they don’t have the fast paced thrills you’ll find in a big city like Miami or Orlando, they’ve got a unique beauty and charm that puts them far above these tawdry attractions in my book. 

Best springs to visit in Florida

arched wooden footbridge over blue water

At this point, I’ve talked up the springs quite a bit. I’ve shared some of my fondest memories of them, and told you why you should visit them. I’ve even given you some ideas as to how you can spend your time at any one of these springs! But I have yet to share one crucial detail: which springs you should visit first! Care to take a wild guess as to what I’m going to talk about in this next section? 

Rainbow Springs – Marion County, FL

Seated right in the heart of Marion county is one of the most beautiful springs in the state: you guessed it, I’m referring to Rainbow Springs! While it’s a bit out of the way of most of Florida’s more touristic areas, it’s well worth a detour. There’s so much to see here it’s truly an incredible experience to take part in! 

For starters, you’ve got the beautiful Rainbow River in close proximity to the spring. Unlike many of the larger and faster rivers in the state of Florida, the current in the rainbow river is relatively weak, leaving the water crystal clear and virtually free of silt and other contaminants. If you’ve never gone canoeing or kayaking on water as transparent as this, you’ve got to try it! 

But Rainbow Springs isn’t just a great place to paddle around; it’s a great place to free dive as well! With a relatively shallow depth, more experienced swimmers can actually swim down to the mouth of the spring and peer into the inky blackness beyond it.  What’s inside? Come back with scuba gear and find out! 

Manatee Springs – Levy County FL

manatee crystal river florida usa

If you were deterred by the relatively isolated location of Rainbow Springs, we’ve got something a bit closer to the main road: Manatee Springs! Located just a few miles off of route 19, this spring is perfect for anyone who isn’t looking to make a huge detour in order to visit one of these magnificent landmarks. 

Despite its relatively central location, Manatee Springs still keeps that naturistic feel and relaxed vibe that makes its more rural counterparts feel so inviting. I’ve spent dozens of hours swimming here, fishing here, canoeing here and just hanging out, so take my word for it; there isn’t a single Floridian spring better than this one. 

Perhaps the coolest thing about this spring is also where the place gets its name: the manatees! In the spring and the Suwannee river into which it feeds, you can see pods of gentle manatees swimming back and forth without a care in the world. They’re a bit imposing, but don’t worry. They wouldn’t hurt a fly! 

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Crystal Springs – Pasco County FL

crystal clear natural springs fl

You might not realize it, but you’ve probably had a bottle of water or two from this spring! As the primary source for Zephyrhills spring water, Crystal Springs has garnered a great reputation for how good its water is; but how is the spring itself? As it turns out, it’s actually a great place, and the perfect place for a day trip with the family! 

As one of the most popular springs in Florida, Crystal Springs is heavily geared towards tourists, specifically those with children. One of the reasons for this is its unusually shallow depth, which makes it perfect for anyone who isn’t an experienced swimmer. If you’ve got kids and want them to join in on the fun, give this one a try! 

Crystal Springs is also home to a beautiful wilderness preserve, complete with well kept walkways and aptly positioned vantage points that allow you to take in the full impact of the area. With hundreds of different varieties of flora and fauna on display, you can explore for hours without running out of things to do! 

Moving to Florida 

blue new florida home

Once you pay it a visit or two, you’ll quickly realize that there’s a lot more to this state than meets the eye. It’s got its rough edges, sure, but once you look past those you’ll see a beautiful state populated by beautiful people. If you give this place a chance, you might just fall in love with it. So, have you considered moving to Florida? 

There are quite a few reasons why you might want to make this move. From a practical point of view, Florida is home to a rapidly growing economy, and one of the fastest growing commercial centers in the world (Miami). Property values are rising steadily, and the job market has never looked better. No matter what your profession, you’re sure to find work here! 
If you’re interested, you should find a real estate agent in the area you’re considering moving to and inquire as to what the housing situation is like there. This skilled real estate professional will gladly answer any questions you may have, and do all they can to have you moved in and settled in no time. Before you know it, you might just be Florida’s newest resident!

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