Rainbow Springs - A Trip Worth Taking
Florida has 174 state parks. They are perfect for all sorts of outdoor activities. Camping, hiking, canoeing, tubing, snorkeling, fishing, bird watching, and beautiful beaches highlight the activities available. Of course, each park has its own amenities. Twenty-seven state parks have natural springs. One of the largest springs in Florida is Rainbow.
489 million gallons of water flow from the spring to form the Rainbow River. The state of Florida has established a rambling state park named Rainbow Springs State Park to accommodate the millions of people who visit annually. Over 1400 acres adjoin the springs designated as a National Natural Landmark by the US Department of Interior.
Views are What Pictures Are Made For on Your Day Trip
As you walk in the main entrance from Rt. 41 the stunning beauty can take your breath away. The park is located north of Tampa, Florida about 88 miles in a small town named Dunnellon, Florida. Fees vary, but $2 will get you just to view the head of the springs. There are additional reasonable fees for other activities.
Rainbow River cascades south for five miles before emptying into the Withlacoochee River. The crystal-clear cool water invites tubers, kayakers, paddle boarders and boaters (limited) to enjoy the trip down the river. Arguably, this five-mile stretch of Rainbow River offers more fun than a person should have in such a small distance!
Historically, the river basin has supported human life for over 10,000 years. The Timucua Indians called the river Wekiwa Creek. In the 1930s the area was developed into a tourist park with glass bottom boats, attractions, a lodge and reptile exhibits. By the 1960s, other more formidable tourist attractions drew crowds away from Rainbow Springs.
State of Florida Takes Over
In the ’70s Rainbow Springs was recognized as a National Landmark. The park had gone into sad disrepair. In 1990 Florida purchased the area. Funding was incomplete, but people recognized the natural importance of the area. Volunteers cleared underbrush, removed debris, uncluttered the waterway and restored the natural surroundings. In 1995 the park opened much like it is today.
Rainbow Springs offers as many, if not more, activities than most state parks. There is a swimming area at the head of the springs. Canoe, kayak, tubing and paddleboard liveries dot the banks. Picnic grounds, camping areas and hiking trails surround the park. The obligatory snack shop and store adjoin the entrance.
Visitors Take Advantage of All Activities
The park is always busy since it is the perfect Florida day trip from all over central Florida. However, the pure number of things to do in Rainbow Springs State Park keeps crowds separated. Many hop on board a kayak, tube or paddle board for the trip down the river. Many choose swimming in the protected area. Others head into the woods for birding, hiking and picture taking. Mother Nature offers squirrels, otters, alligators, hawks, herons, egrets and various waterfowl for your pleasure.
The park limits visitors on busy weekends. Rainbow Springs’ management suggests calling ahead for the best times to visit.
Dunnellon is a relatively small town running along the Rainbow River. The joining of the Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers occurs just on the south side of town. One place you may want to get a bite to eat is Swampy’s. The restaurant is located next to the river. The food is good, but the views of people slowly passing in front of you on various floating craft is absolute fun!
Rainbow Springs State Park is a perfect day trip from Tampa. It is the same road trip distance to Orlando and only a 45-minute day trip from Gainesville. A day trip from The Villages, Florida is about an hour away. Crystal River, Florida is about a 30-minute day trip.