Northwest of Orlando we went to seven different Florida springs. Florida Springs have crystal clear water that boils up from limestone caverns. In all cases, the water started as rainfall that seeped into the limestone rock formations only to come back to the surface sometimes after spending hundreds of years underground.
Crystal Clear Water
Water that spends lots of time underground emerges crystal clear. That is the number one reason Florida Springs have such clear water. Rain that soaks into the ground and quickly rises to the surface typically has tannic acid from decomposing plants giving it a tea color.
Until this visit to the Florida springs, my favorite picture of crystal clear spring water was in Oregon. You can see the picture above, but to find out the location you can follow this link. Tamolitch Falls
Even though it was originally thought that the water was flowing from underground rivers, this is not true. Nearly all the water in the springs started as rainfall near the springs. The largest Florida Spring is Spring Creek Springs south of Tallahassee. At this location, the spring discharges over a billion gallons of water a day which directly runs into the Gulf of Mexico.
Spring Creek Springs is a submerged spring near the town of Spring Creek. Because it is below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico it doesn’t feed into a river but goes directly into the gulf. Still, you can’t ignore a spring that puts out a billion gallons of water a day even if you can’t get a picture of it. For me, this sounds like an underground river.
The largest recorded spring that we saw, and for us, the least attractive spring is also south of Tallahassee. The reason that our pictures don’t show the beauty of this spring was that we visited it on an overcast rainy day.
Wakulla Springs is one of the springs that was developed as a road trip destination that includes a lodge and dining room. Guests have stayed here for nearly a hundred years. Our time in Tallahassee was short due to our (self-imposed) schedule and we couldn’t wait for a pretty day. There are a few other springs near Tallahassee that really deserve investigating. One notable one is Wacissa Springs to the east of Tallahassee.
We visited most of our Florida Springs while staying at Manatee Springs to the west of Gainsville. We used this stop at Manatee Springs to scope out different locations for a more extended stay. Really we could spend about a week at each of the springs and still not do a good job covering them all.
We didn’t get to see any manatees while we were at Manatee Springs. This was disappointing. The weather warmed and the warm weather allowed the manatees to go out to the main river. So we didn’t see any. During cold spells, manatees will swim up to the Florida springs and congregate because the water coming out of the spring is warmer than the surrounding river water. The best manatee viewing will be during the coldest time of the year.
One of the things we found was vultures. It seems that black vultures make central Florida a winter destination. We saw large flocks of vultures at all the Florida springs that we visited.
Just to the north of Manatee Springs is Fanning Springs. It is much smaller than most of the other springs that we visited but still had the crystal clear water that we came to expect at every Florida spring.
Both Fanning Springs and Manatee Springs flow into the Suwannee River. The Suwannee River cuts across most of northern Florida starting near Fargo Georgia.
My favorite Florida spring is at Rainbow Springs north of Dunnellon. This massive spring creates the Rainbow River that flows into the Withlacoochee River. The picture at the top of this post is part of the Rainbow River as it exits the spring. Rainbow Spring also has a campground.
Rainbow Springs State Park has several entry points. The north-end boat launch was closed and so was the tube rental location. The kayak launch and campground are about a mile south of the spring.
The Rainbow River joins the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon. It would be an easy half-day trip to launch at the north end and then float all the way to town.
Santa Fe River Springs
To the northwest of Gainsville, there are three springs close to each other. Gilcrest Blue Springs, Ginnie Springs, and Ichetucknee Springs. They all feed the Santa Fe River. Ginnie Springs is a private location with a campground. The campground at Gilcrest Blue Springs (State Park) is very attractive for an extended winter stay with three springs nearby.
Cave diving is a huge attraction at Ginnie Springs. Divers come from all over the world to explore the limestone caves for themselves.
Near Ginnie Springs there is another private spring that we didn’t get to visit called the Devils Den. This one is unique because it is underground. The limestone roof above the spring collapsed exposing the spring to the sky.
Crystal River Springs
Crystal River Springs is the second largest one of Florida Springs and is an ideal winter refuge for manatees. We saw one manatee while we were kayaking at Crystal River. This same manatee was seen by about a hundred other kayakers and swimmers.
Tour boats bring these tourists to the manatee and to my astonishment they all swim over in an attempt to get up close and personal. It was so crowded that we backed off and explored the Crystal River area (without the crowds or the manatee ).
This was our second visit to Homosassa. Nearly ten years ago we visited Orlando and made the drive to Homosassa Springs. This spring is also home to some manatees and some other animals including a very active hippopotamus. All the animals at Homosassa are rescue animals that couldn’t survive in the wild. Homosassa is kind of like a water zoo.
I mentioned that I want to explore these Florida springs. The springs are known as Florida swimming holes to the locals. At each location, water exits the ground at about 72 degrees, and at all the large springs the water then forms a river flowing (sometimes for miles) heading out to the ocean. Especially on summer weekends, the springs will be crowded with swimmers bobbing along in floats. For us, I don’t expect to visit in the summer but rather explore with our kayaks and maybe even do some fishing.