Birds chirping, squirrels scurrying around to hide food, the sound of a lazy river rolling by with people laughing on a warm day, these are some of the things that draw us to the great outdoors. Maybe you need a lazy afternoon free from the worries from work, where you just float slowly down a river. Your hand dangles in the water creating little ripples behind it, while a nosy dragonfly lands on your knee to see what you are doing. This could be you. All you have to do is visit Rainbow Springs State Park in central Florida.
For our first trip this summer we wanted to do something outdoors. We were staying in Central Florida so we decided to visit the nearby Rainbow Springs State Park. The main headsprings and Visitor’s Center is located at 19158 S.W. 81st Place Road in Dunnellon, FL 34432.
Rainbow Springs State Park is open from 8am to sunset every day year round. The park costs $2 per person to enter, but those under 6 are free. They also rent covered pavilions on a first come first serve basis. On weekends, the main entrance offers concessions such as sandwiches. The park closes to visitors once the parking lot is full. Once full they will not admit you even if you are registered campers or rented a pavilion for an event.
Where Can I Find...?
Tubing at Rainbow Springs State Park
The tubing entrance, located at 10830 SW 180th Ave. Road, offers tubing daily from 8am-3:30pm Memorial Day through Labor Day. Between the first Saturday in April and Memorial Day and between Labor Day and the end of September they offer tubing on weekends only. The park closes the tubing for the winter season, October through March. You must pay the park fee as well as a tube rental of $20 per person. All participants must be at least 5 years old. 5 and 6 year olds are required to wear life jackets, but over the age of 6 life jackets are optional.
We viewed beautiful vacation homes, fish, crystal blue water, and lots of birds. We enjoyed the relaxing nature of the experience. You may spot river otters on your journey, however, we missed out.
Things to know: At this entrance you will be taking a tram to the actual tubing area. The tubing experience takes you on approximately a 2 hour journey on a lazy river back to the parking area. You may not bring anything with you in the tube. You will get wet. Although there are plenty of shady areas, you will mostly be in the sun. Therefore apply plenty of sunscreen ahead of time. Leave your clothes, etc. in your car. The tubing office will get your name and hold your keys for you. You can leave your shoes by the office door. Also, during summer months go earlier in the day to avoid sunburn and dehydration.
Here are some sponsored links for reef friendly sunscreens:
Rainbow Springs State Park: Manmade Waterfalls
Rainbow Springs has a fascinating history. For centuries the Indians used the Rainbow River for transportation. Later, archeologists found mastodon and mammoth fossils here. Then in the early 20th century the area was a phosphate mine.
After that in the 1930s, the area became a private theme park. The park offered the classic glass bottom boat but with a lower level which was completely underwater. During this time they built the 3 waterfalls on piles of phosphate tailings. The park also included a zoo and rodeo, remnants of which you will find along the trails.
Swimming at Rainbow Springs State Park
The water temperature at the headsprings is a cool and refreshing 72 degrees year round. Rainbow Springs does not allow rafts, tubes, or balls for the safety of other swimmers. Also, the park does not have a lifeguard so you swim at your own risk in water over 10 feet deep. Only a certain number of swimmers are allowed in the area at a time so you may have to wait a while especially on weekends when the park fills up quickly. This is a great place to try snorkeling. However, they allow snorkeling only within the buoyed swimming area or from the campground and boats once outside the headsprings. Snorkelers need to use dive flags as required by state law.
Kayaking, Canoeing, & Paddle Boarding
View river otters and wading birds from a kayak or canoe as you paddle through this aquatic preserve. You can rent a kayak or canoe at the main headsprings. Kayaks and Stand up Paddle boards hold from 1-2 people and cost $16 per hour or $50 for the day. Tandem or Canoe rentals fit a maximum of 3 people and are $22 per hour or $60 for the day. All participants are required to have a life jacket with them. 5 and 6 year olds must wear theirs at all times. All participants must sign the park waiver.
Visitors have the option to bring their own canoes and kayaks to the headsprings launch area. However, there is no vehicle access to the launch area so you would have to carry your equipment approximately 1800 feet from the parking lot to the launch area. Therefore, I strongly recommend paying the nominal fee for a rental so you can enjoy your day more thoroughly.
However, if you are one of those people who like having their own equipment these sponsored links will help you find something to your liking:
Hiking at Rainbow Springs State Park
View azaleas, oaks, and magnolia trees in the shaded gardens. The walkways which are a mixture of brick, concrete, and asphalt are lined with benches so you can sit and enjoy the nature. These pathways take you past 3 manmade waterfalls. However, these are similar to landscaped waterfalls you will find in a backyard. While peaceful and beautiful to look at, they are no Niagara Falls.
From these manmade walkways you will find a dirt footpath that will lead you through native woodlands. Here you will view the river and phosphate pit. On the 2.5 mile nature trail from the visitor center you will see the remains of the old horse stable, remains of an old zoo, plus hike through natural oak hammock. However, use caution, as they constructed the trails before ADA guidelines and can be steep or uneven at times.
Rainbow Springs is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. So if you are a birdwatcher you will have the opportunity to view and hear woodpeckers, hawks, songbirds, and owls. On the 2nd Saturday each month the park offers a guided bird walk except during the sweltering summer months of June, July, and August.
The campground is located at a separate facility from the headsprings. This facility has a camp store, showers, restrooms, playground, and laundry facility. Here you can access the river for fishing, swimming, paddling, or snorkeling. The camp store rents canoes and kayaks.
I chose these additional sponsored links for camping gear to help you plan your trip:
Camp sites have water and electric plus sewer hook-ups. RVs must be 103 feet and under. You can find the dump station between the upper and lower campgrounds. Pets are welcome to camp, but not to enter buildings or swimming areas. You can make reservations at the Florida State Reservations website.
This is one of the many Florida State Parks. With weather allowing for outdoor activities year round you will find something to do no matter when or where you go.
Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.
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