Hipcamp Journal

A Local’s Guide to Florida Springs

Explore the Sunshine State


When thinking of the state of Florida, you may thinking of countless theme parks or the idyllic beaches that surround our peninsula. Rarely, however, do you hear about the mythical, natural springs that sprinkle the state. From just north of Tampa, across Orlando, through Gainesville and dotting the panhandle, springs of various magnitudes exist in tiny nooks in the countryside—usually in the most unexpected locations.

If you’re a fan of scuba diving, snorkeling, manatees, or exploration in general, read on for some must-see springs in the Sunshine State.

 

Blueberry, the adventure dog, near an unmarked spring in Gainesville, Florida


Central Florida 


Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Weeki Wachee, FL


 

About this Spring: Known for their world famous real-life mermaids, this first magnitude spring has more amenities than most —from an underwater theater (where  mermaids perform), to a small scale water park, and an adjacent kayak service that gives you access to the Weeki Wachee River—which is as crystal clear as the spring itself. If you’re lucky, a curious manatee might swim up to you to say hello!

Good For: Families, mermaid enthusiasts, swimming, snorkeling, and kayakers!

Getting There: This spring is located on the Gulf Coast of Florida, about forty-five minutes north of Tampa, at the intersection of US-19 and FL-50. There is lots of parking, but it gets extremely busy from April to early August.

Insider’s Tips: After spending time at the spring, kayak down the Weeki Wachee! The majority of the paddle is through clear, shallow waters, and it gives any guest a more intimate look at Florida’s natural landscape. Springtime is best, as there will be fewer people on the river and at the spring.Afterwards, head to ZigZag Scallop, a local restaurant with incredibly fresh seafood, for shrimp tacos and some drinks!

 

Three Sisters Springs

Crystal River, FL

 

About this Spring: Accessible exclusively via kayak or canoe, Three Sisters Springs is the best spot  to meet some manatees during the cooler winter months. Since central Florida springs are about 72- 74 degrees year round, manatees come by the dozen to warm up when the temperatures drop. Make sure to check the status of the spring before heading over—sometimes they close off access to give the manatees some space!

Good For: Manatee fans, kayakers, swimming, and anyone who wants a more rigorous workout to get to a spring.

Getting There: Take US-19 north from Weeki Wachee Springs for about 30 miles, until you reach Crystal River. From this point, you can go to the Three Sisters Springs Boardwalk (off of the highway) if you want to see the spring from land!  If you want to have a more hands on experience, it is recommended to reserve a kayak at least a week in advance, particularly during the summer months. The best time to see manatees in the spring is from January to early March.

Insider’s Tips: Each January, the town of Crystal River throws a Florida Manatee Festival, celebrating the beloved gentle sea cows who inhabit our gulf. Check it out for great artists, food vendors, and general manatee festivities!

Oh, and fun fact: this spring was rated as the number 9 best swimming hole in the United States in 2015!

 

North Florida 

 

Ginnie Springs

High Springs, FL

Dogwood Spring, a spring found within the Ginnie Springs park


About this Spring: A privately owned park, Ginnie Springs allows for campers to settle in for a couple nights to enjoy the ambiance of Florida’s finest natural surroundings from the comfort of their tents or campers. Set on the Sante Fe river, come early to float down the river and stay to play in the many springs this park has to offer. Bring your volleyballs, because sand courts are included!

Good For: Snorkeling, Camping enthusiasts, river tubing, wildlife viewing, diving,  and general adventuring!

Getting There: Fifteen minutes west of I-75, this spring (and many others) is located conveniently in High Springs, Florida. 13 miles north of Gainesville, take exit 399 onto US-441 north, which will bring you into town!

Insider’s Tips: Stop by Publix for pub subs, get plenty of snacks, and have a picnic at the park! Between floating down the river and playing in the springs, you can easily spend a full day at Ginnie Springs.

 

Rum Island

For White, FL

 

About this Spring: A lesser known spring, this little gem has no admissions and is close to other springs - perfect for a day of spring hopping! Rum Island holds a special place in my heart personally because it generally has smaller crowds and the water is a particularly stunning shade of blue. The waters are shallow enough that reaching the base of the spring isn’t particularly difficult!

Good For: Swimming, floating (though not down river, unless you want to be taken by the current!), fishing, boating, snorkeling, and exploration.

Getting There: This spring is a bit off the beaten path, so I suggest mapping directions to it:
1447 Southwest Rum Island Terrace Fort White, Florida 32038

Insider’s Tips: Watch out for gators! A lot of people fish in this area, so it wouldn’t be surprising if a scaly friend popped up on the banks of the Santa Fe River, which this spring feeds into.

 

Madison Blue Springs State Park

Lee, FL

 

About this Spring: Rated as the number one swimming hole in the United States in 2015 by USA Today 10 Best,, this spring is the closest you’ll get to a fairytale. Though the water is noticeably chiller here than most springs, it is well worth getting into and freediving. Even beneath the surface,  the water is incredibly transparent -  it feels entirely otherworldly.  There is a rocky path in shallow water adjacent to the spring that leads you to the  Withlacoochee River. It is well worth the drive, regardless of where you’re coming from. I think it is one of the best kept secrets in the state of Florida.

Good For: Swimming, snorkeling, freediving, diving, floating, picnicking, and exploration.

Getting There: Located in north Florida, close to Georgia, you can get to Madison Blue Springs by getting off at exit 460 on I-75, then follow FL-6 W for 12 miles until you find the park!

Insider’s Tips: This is truly a special place, in ways that are hard to articulate. If you have a soft spot for natural landscapes, make a point to visit this spring. There is a small concession stand on site, but I would recommend bringing snacks along, as well as goggles and flippers to fully appreciate this treasure.

 

Honorable Mentions


This is far from an exhaustive guide to springs. The springs  listed below are as visually stunning and worth exploring as those mentioned in this story!

  1. Fanning Springs(pictured above)
  2. Rainbow Springs State Park
  3. Silver Glen Springs
  4. Manatee Springs State Park
  5. Juniper Springs
  6. Wekiwa Springs State Park
  7. Royal Springs
  8. Little River Springs
  9. Devil's Den Prehistoric Spring—where you can camp 5 minutes away at this Hipcamp! (Pictured below)


A  Local’s Guide to Florida Springs
A  Local’s Guide to Florida Springs

 

 

A  Local’s Guide to Florida Springs

Jessica Campbell is a PhD student during the week and a spring hopping, nature goddess on the weekends. Passionate about all things outdoors in the South, Jessica spends most of her free time hiking and exploring with her adventure dog, Blueberry. 

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