Last year we decided to hit the road and explore some of Florida's celebrated springs in the northern and central area. We were looking for a weekend getaway in our home state, and after seeing some of the incredible pictures of divers and swimmers in Florida's springs, we knew we had to make the trip!
If you know anything about Florida's aquifer system, you know that the majority of Florida's water is supplied by an underground series of waterways that sometimes leak up through openings in the crust. When the water does break through and forms or joins a river, we call this a spring!
Because the water is filtered through the limestone rock, it runs crystal clear, and makes for some really incredible swimming holes and rivers for its visitors, and all at a comfortable 74 degrees year round!
Florida is home to nearly 800 stunning springs within the aquifer system. Most of them are on private land, but the State of Florida was smart enough to grab many of the best ones for public use and turn them into state parks.
You can see a map of all the springs to visit on the link below!
As you can see by the map, many of the springs are located close by each other. You could easily see two, three, or even four springs in one weekend!
After doing some research, we decided to visit three locations over two days: Alexander Springs, Devil's Den, and Rainbow Springs. We even had a chance to stop by Silver Springs, but only just for an hour or so.
Here is a review of the places we visited. Scroll to the bottom to see a map of our itinerary!
Alexander springs was the first stop on our road trip. We left at about 8 am and arrived around noon. This was plenty of time to enjoy the park and do a little swimming, snorkeling, and free-diving. This park is located within the Ocala National Forest and is run by the public lands department, so it costs $4 to enter. The park is huge, but you'll most likely head straight for the spring.
The spring is a large, open space with a small beach and picnic tables. It is a relaxing place to picnic, relax, and swim.
The water is a little cold at first (Florida oceans average 80 in the summer!), but on a hot summer day, the 74 degree water is very refreshing! On the surface of the spring, it looks mostly clear to the white sand below. But look towards the back corner, and you can just barely see a little turquoise blue-tinted water calling your name!
This back corner is the real star of Alexander Springs. This is where the actual spring discharges the water from the Earth! You can actually see the water gushing out between rocks! It is pretty incredible. The depth of the spring, at a good 14-feet, combined with with clarity of the fresh water, makes this spring an awe-inspiring snorkeling and diving spot.
It was an incredible day. I highly recommend this spring. After spending about 5 hours there, were back on the road. Although they do have camping and RV spots in the park, so you could opt to stay here instead of heading out, we decided to head to our next destination.
Bonus!* Before leaving, make sure you stop near the exit and admire this long row of pine and cypress trees within the Ocala National Forest!
We opted to stay in an AirBnB nearby Devils' Den (message me for details!) so that we could get up the next day and head straight for the underground spring. I read time and time again that getting to the den early was the best plan.
Devil's Den is a privately-owned prehistoric cave-spring that has a collapsed roof similar to those cenotes found in Mexico and other areas of the world. Because of the soft limestone, the roof of the underground cave, formed through Florida's aquifer system, collapsed from weathering and erosion.
The spring itself is not very large. But thankfully they only allow a certain number of people down at a time. The staff at the spring has things running pretty smoothly these days, with a ticket system at the entrance, asking if you are snorkeling or diving (if you say you're only swimming, you are not allowed), and then giving you an entrance time. The earlier you show up, the more likely you'll get into the spring! In high season, some people could wait up to three hours to get into the spring!
Since only snorkelers and divers are allowed, my biggest tip to you is to BRING YOUR OWN GEAR! If you do not bring a snorkel, you will have to rent one from them. On top of the entrance fee ($15-20 pp), the price really starts to add up!
If you do get stuck in the large wait time, they do have gardens, picnic tables, and sandy spots nearby for you to relax and wait for your time to be called. We only had to wait 30 minutes, so we were in an out of Devil's Den in a couple of hours. This means we were back on the road to our next destination, Rainbow Springs, by about 11am.
We spent the second half of our day in Rainbow Springs. This colorful spring is very family-oriented, with a diving platform and ladder to climb into the springs. The swimming area is shallow and wide. It's also great for kayaking and canoeing. There wasn't much snorkeling here. Honestly it felt like a huge, natural swimming pool! But there were a few fish and the park itself is lovely to walk around. It's a little more built up than Alexander Springs, so it did feel a little more theme-parkish. However, it was still a great experience! They have gardens and a waterfall to explore as well.
So are you heading on a road trip across Florida this weekend or what?!
You could make the trip from the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach area, like I did. Or maybe you're staying in the Orlando area and need a break from the tourist parks and crowds! Being centrally located, the springs are only a few hours away from most locations in Florida.
And while I've only visited three of the many springs in Florida, I already have several on my list, most notably Crystal River for their manatee breeding grounds and Ginnie Springs for its deep water.
Have you been to these springs or are looking to go? Let me know in the comments below!
Emily & Jet: Our travel is modest, but packed with adventure. Cheap, but not hostel-cheap. Romantic, but exciting and memorable. We take little, but grand, adventures together to grow in love and life experience.