When I was a little girl and we visited my grandparents in Apalachicola, inevitably, on hot summer days, we would visit Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. The natural springs maintain a constant 72-degree temperature, and the water is as crystal clear as you could imagine.
My family would board the glass bottom boat and glide through the springs; the highlight of the boat trip was to watch a fish named Henry “jump” a log. Of course, Henry was simply swimming around the log, but for a little girl, that’s a memory that lasts.
With the arrival of spring in Florida, and the summer heat on its way, we thought it would be fun to take a look at six of the more than 600 natural springs in Florida that you can spring into any time of year.
On Florida’s panhandle, just south of Tallahassee, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is not only one of the natural springs in Florida, but the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. A Tarzan movie and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were filmed here, and the springs have been drawing visitors for thousands of year. Historically, the springs were home to Native Americans who lived in shoreline villages, and a 1930s-era lodge still stands and provides accommodations to park visitors.
In addition to glass bottom boat tours, the springs are terrific for swimming, snorkeling and SCUBA diving – just remember the water’s a constant 70 degrees! As far as wildlife, keep an eye out for manatees, alligators, turtles and fish. On land, whitetail deer and wild turkey can be seen, and in the air you may spot migratory birds passing through.
Ponce de Leon Springs
If you’re looking for the Fountain of Youth, you may just find it when you jump into the 68-degree waters at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park in Northwest Florida. Fourteen million gallons of fresh water flow through the springs daily, which makes a terrific habitat for the catfish, largemouth bass, chain pickerel and panfish who make their homes in the springs. Outside of the water, hiking is a popular activity, and if you find yourself on the trails in the morning, you may hear and even see migrating birds passing through.
The cave diving capital of the world is at Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park outside of Live Oak in Northwest Florida. Here, cave divers explore one of the longest underwater cave systems in the continental U.S., with nearly 33,000 feet of surveyed passages. In addition to SCUBA diving, the springs are terrific for swimming and snorkeling to cool off on hot Florida days, or take refuge in the shade of the 1.2-mile interpretive trail that traces the paths of the underwater caves and through mature forest stands.
Incredibly, visitors from the north would arrive into Silver Springs State Park near Ocala by steamship, and in the late-1870s, Phillip Morrell attached a piece of glass to the bottom of a rowboat and the glass bottom boat was invented. Today, visitors to Silver Springs can experience the park in a glass bottom boat, in a canoe or kayak, by mountain bike or horseback, or hiking any of the park’s five designated trails. Birders will be interested to know that the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail’s east section runs through the park. Camp sites and cabins are available for longer stays.
Between Orlando and Daytona Beach is Blue Spring State Park, the largest spring on St. Johns River. One hundred million gallons of fresh water are pumped into the river every day, and it’s a fantastic spot for outdoor recreation. Popular with manatees in the winter months, the park is popular with people the rest of the year. Discover the natural spring on a boat tour, or hop into a canoe or kayak and chart your own course. Swimming, snorkeling and SCUBA diving are terrific ways to cool off in the 72-degree waters, or plop into a tube and float your way through the natural landscape.
Three Sisters Springs
About an hour or so north of Tampa is Three Sisters Springs, part of the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge. To access the springs, you will need to launch a kayak from one of the nearby public launches and paddle in, or join a snorkeling tour offered by local outfitters. Three Sisters Springs is very popular with manatees during the winter months, and it is one of the only places in the world you legally snorkel with the sea cows.
Have you visited any of Florida’s natural springs? Which is your favorite?
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