When many people think of Florida, their minds go to straight to the ocean –– wide sandy beaches, barrier islands, the Florida Keys. All these attractions are worth the hype, but some of the state’s most beautiful aquatic landscapes are nowhere near the coast.
Central and Northwest Florida are dotted with freshwater springs. Like gems in the forest, they are azure blue or emerald green, and they are naturally crystal clear. They all emerge from the Earth’s crust at 72 degrees, even in the dead of winter, so swimming can be pleasant all year round. These springs are vital to Florida’s ecosystem, and they are home to unique flora and fauna. Many are managed by the Florida State Park System.
The following 10 springs are some of Florida’s best. Visitors can swim, paddle, float, hike, and even scuba dive at many of them, so next time you’re in Florida, don’t forget to look inland!
- Rock Springs at Kelly Park: Tucked into a dense tropical forest, Rock Springs looks like something you would find in Jurassic Park. Float down the 0.75-mile run on an inner tube or take a swim and you just might run into some of the local otters! It’s an easy destination to get to, only 40 minutes from Orlando.
- Blue Spring: In addition to boasting a large swimming and diving area, Blue Spring State Park features a nearby 51-site campground and a 3.6-mile nature trail. It famously serves as a manatee sanctuary from mid-fall to early spring –– and they congregate in the hundreds. While swimming is prohibited during this time, you can still visit and enjoy the animals from the boardwalks.
- Ponce de Leon Springs: Named after the fountain of youth, this emerald spring system pumps out 14 million gallons of water every day. The swimming area is partially enclosed in a stone wall, creating a wide, sandy swimming area beneath hanging cypress trees. Scuba diving is not permitted.
- Silver Springs: The crown jewel of Silver Springs is Mammoth Springs, one of the largest freshwater springs ever discovered. While this spring's system does not allow swimming, visitors are welcome to kayak or canoe, or even take a tour on a glass bottom boat. The water is beautiful, but keep your eyes on the trees, as well; there’s a population of non-native rhesus monkeys in the area!
- Three Sisters Springs: Another springs system famous for manatees is Three Sisters Springs. Supervised swimming is allowed here, so you can see the manatees up close! There are also boardwalks for viewing them from the surface.
- Gilchrist Blue Springs: The newest addition to Florida State Parks, Gilchrist Blue Springs has long been a favorite of locals and visitors. It’s large size and lush aquatic vegetation draws crowds from all over, and it’s just down the road from Ginnie Springs.
- Ginnie Springs: This is one of Florida’s most famous springs systems. With three main spring vents, there’s plenty to explore for everyone. Float down the Santa Fe River, or swim above the underwater ravines –– if you’re a cave diver, dive into them!
- Ichetucknee Springs and River: One of Florida’s most iconic state parks, Ichetucknee has multiple springs to swim in and the opportunity to float down the crystal clear Ichetucknee River. This popular float can take from 45 minutes to 3.5 hours depending on where you choose to put in. Be sure to arrive early! It reaches capacity quickly.
- Troy Spring: Troy Spring is unique in that it has an underwater cliff face that plunges 70 feet. This makes it a popular spot for scuba divers and freedivers, but it’s fun for anyone interested in swimming over its depths or splashing around in the shallows.
- Royal Springs: This springs system is located in a remote area on the Suwannee River. Royal Springs reaches a depth of 42 feet, so feel free to dive straight in from the 10-foot diving board above the water. There is also a rope swing and wading area.