ABOVE: A manatee observation deck at Blue Springs.
Nestled in Central Florida’s oaks and pines, scenic freshwater springs provide refreshing outdoor activities all year. Whether you’re interested in dipping your toes in the water, enjoying nature or partaking in a kayaking adventure, here’s what you need to know about the top seven scenic springs in Central Florida:
KELLY PARK AT ROCK SPRINGS
ABOVE: Tubing at Kelly Park (Photo from Orange County Parks)
Tubing, snorkeling, picnicking and lounging at the beach area are favorite activities at this Orange County park. Although there are no rentals of canoes or kayaks, guests can bring their own and use the primitive launch ramp at neighboring Camp Joy. The park’s hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer months and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter. Admission is $3 per vehicle for 1-2 people and $5 per vehicle with 3 to 8 occupants. Admission is $1 for walk-in. Call the park in advance to check the availability of the spring’s tubing and swimming waterway, along with its pavilion and playgrounds during COVID-19 safety protocols. Located at 400 E. Kelly Park Road, Apopka, FL
ABOVE: Blue Springs (Mount Dora Buzz photo)
Known as a designated manatee refuge, this 2600-acre park has the largest spring on the St. Johns River. . During manatee season (mid-November through March), the spring run is closed to all water activities. Visitors can also enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the clear 73-degree water during the designated swimming season. Picnic tables are available and fishing, canoeing and boating can be enjoyed on the St. Johns River. A self-guided tour inside the historic Thursby house, built in 1872, can also be experienced. Guests that want to stay longer can reserve a campsite or cabin. The park is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to sundown. Entry Fee: $6 Located at 2100 W. French Avenue., Orange City, FL
This popular recreation area in the Ocala National Forest offers swimming and lounging by the refreshingspring pool, picnicking, a 1.1-mile hiking loop on the Timucuan Trail, plus kayak and canoe rentals that allow guests to get up close and personal to Florida wildlife. Entry fee is $6 per person on weekdays and $10 per person on weekends. Located at 49525 County Rd 445, Altoona, FL
This 7,00-acre park provides miles of trails that range in different lengths to hike, bike and horseback ride or view the wildlife beneath the springs by snorkeling and swimming. This park also contains the headwater of the Wekiva River. Camping is available onsite with water and electrical hook-up along with areas to lounge and picnic. Entry fee is $6 per vehicle. Located at 1800 Wekiwa Circle Apopka, FL
ABOVE: Silver Springs glass bottom boat (photo from floridastateparks.org)
Guests can head out for a paddling adventure or float down the river on a glass bottom boat or head out on land to enjoy walking and biking the park’s scenic trails. This Marion County park dates back to the 1870’s and is home to the Silver River Museum. It offers space for weddings, family gatherings and reunions. There is also a colony of non-native rhesus monkeys which were introduced to the park in 1938 by a tour boat operator to enhance his "Jungle Cruise" attraction. The entry fee is $8 per vehicle. Located at 1425 NE 58th Ave. Ocala, FL
WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS STATE PARK
Besides “live mermaids,” visitors can explore caverns and caves or slide down four of the park’s water slides in the park’s Buccaneer Bay. Canoes and paddleboard rentals are available to explore the Weeki Wachee River. Enjoy tree jumping, rope swinging or kayaking through nature. The entry fee is $13 for adults, $8 for kids ages 6 through 12 and free for kids 5 and under. Located at 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee, FL
View wildlife and take the family to meet America’s oldest, 60-year-old hippo named, “Lu.” The park features a variety of other captive animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingoes and whooping cranes that serve as ambassadors for their species, Experience the water by boat, tube or surfboard and adventure on land by shelling or mountain biking. The entry fee is Adults 13 and up $13, kids ages 6 through 12 are $5 and kids 5 and under are free. Located at 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. Homosassa, FL
Outdoor activities at the springs provide more than just fun in the great outdoors--they can also benefit people’s mental and physical health. Florida’s bountiful sunshine can give boost to vitamin D levels which supports the immune system.
“Although the sun helps with vitamin D synthesis from UV light, there is great variability in its production from person to person.'' said Amy Reyes Arnaldy, MD, an Internal and Geriatric Medicine Physician at AdventHealth in Tavares who encourages people to have their Vitamin D level checked by their doctor.
Florida’s springs are very popular, so early arrival is the best way to ensure entrance into the park. During COVID-10 safety precautions, visitors are encouraged to call in advance to confirm which part of the springs and what amenities are open.
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