Crystal clear water. Towering palm trees. People lounging around on multi-colored towels. While this may sound like one of Florida’s many popular beaches, in truth it is something much better.
Perfectly blue freshwater springs.
These freshwater springs are interconnected by an underground freshwater aquifer that spans just over 100,000 square miles, covering all of the state of Florida as well as parts of Georgia, Alabama and other southern states. This freshwater system supplies drinking water for nearly 10 million people, including much of the population in northern and central Florida.
Obviously this aquifer, specifically called the Floridan aquifer, is important for many facets of people’s lives in the Southern United States. But besides being the primary source of water for drinking and agriculture, it also creates an amazing place to spend a hot summer day: enter the many springs dotted around the state of Florida.
There are around 824 total springs in the Southern US, with 751 located in Florida alone. And these springs can range from the highly commercialized, to the more natural. In the end, you can pretty much find whichever type suits you (as you might expect we prefer the latter).
While the options abound on what springs to visit, in the end some are just better than others.
Three Sisters Springs
The first one we highly recommend is located on the western side of the state of Florida, this spring is a must for people wanting to interact with “sea-cows” otherwise known as manatees. You can take a tour or grab a kayak or snorkel gear and head out on your own, though you have to enter through Kings Bay and head over on your own to the spring.
Either way, the clear aquamarine water, friendly wildlife and proximity to the coast (where there is even more fun to be had) is one of the reasons Three Sisters Springs is a great place to spend the day or an entire weekend.
Rainbow Springs State Park
The oldest spring in the state, with evidence pointing to people accessing it for over 10,000 years, Rainbow Springs SP is one of the best places to see “Old Florida” or what it looked like before the amusement parks and turnpikes. Think moss covered cypress trees, deer darting between bushes and clear water just begging for someone to jump into.
Take a dip in the sapphire blue water or hike around to the other beautiful water features, including a couple man-made waterfalls. Or if you really want a great view of both the water and verdant green land, grab a tube and slowly meander your way around.
Silver Glen Springs
Located in Ocala National Forest, this spring is best for the fish enthusiasts - or anyone wanting to have a fun snorkel without flying all the way down to the Caribbean. Once again the water is crystal clear and an enthralling shade of turquoise, but what makes this spring stand out is its resident schools of fish, including striped bass, tilapia, bluegill and different types of sunfish.
De Leon Springs State Park
Once used to turn a sugar cane mill, followed by a grist mill during the Civil War, this spring today is quite similar to many others - clear water, multitudes of wildlife and an amazing atmosphere perfect for a scorching day. But what sets it apart is the food offerings. And no we are not talking hot dogs and bags of chips.
Think homemade, decades tested and perfected, delicious pancakes. Yes pancakes. Located in the aforementioned mill, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant is the perfect way to begin a day on the water. There you get to cook your own pancakes, with the restaurant's two homemade mixes, and add whatever toppings you’d like (we loved the banana and chocolate combo). Come early as the place fills up fast.
"With so many springs to choose from in and around Florida, you honestly cannot go wrong. It just depends on what king of experience you are looking for."
Other springs that we enjoyed or are hoping to check-out are Blue Springs State Park, another great manatee viewing spot, Ichetucknee Springs, for a great day of tubing around 9 different springs, and Madison Blue Springs State Park, perfect for the nature lovers and photographers (Instagram included).