Rainbow Springs is the fourth largest spring in Florida and is the head of the Rainbow river at Dunnellon, just off U.S. 41.
Of all the springs we have been to, this is the most beautiful, in a chocolate box way. The water is the clearest we have seen and appears a vibrant blue. There is a large grassy picnic area forming a natural amphitheatre to the headsprings, nestled along the tree line at the edge of the grass are picnic tables and grills.
The swimming area is a roped off part of the headspring with step access. By using a mask you can see from one end of the swimming area to the other and beyond as the water is so crystal clear. Small fish populate darker areas under the tree growth, but mainly the deep swimming area is sandy bottomed with few fish. To spend any length of time in the swimming lagoon you will need a pole or float of some kind – particularly for children – because they will not be able to put their feet down!
Just down from the swimming lagoon is a rental shop for kayaks and canoes and a trip down river must be on the to do list. We rented two kayaks for two people and paddled downriver. Once out of the National Park area one can swim, snorkel or even fish. One side of the river is full of docks for private houses and it is lovely to sneak a peek at the backyards of these lucky people. On the other side is an untamed wildness that probably hides all sorts of critters like gators, black bears and other scary things. All we saw was plenty of turtles! We did hear a report from passing canoeists that a pair of otters were playing down river, but we were not lucky enough to see them. The river flows strong enough to just drift down river whilst we took turns to snorkel and swim. Snorkelling over the weeds to discover a hidden gap full of fish, stationary against the flow,opens up a whole new world and gives such a different perspective to the flatness of the river’s surface. We saw turtles sunbathing, or swimming underneath us as we gently bobbed downriver. It was a little harder to paddle back up, but we easily managed it within our designated 2 hours, and this was the highlight of our trip. At Wekiva Springs we have used canoes, but the kayaks are much easier to manoeuvre, so we will use these in future.
Away from the headsprings are landscaped gardens with man-made waterfalls dating from the turn of last century when the gardens were the main attraction. The water for the falls is pumped from the headsprings and there is a solid path all the way through. The gardens make for nice walk out of the sun. We saw a sign for a butterfly house but we gave that a miss.
Rainbow Springs is a good hour and a half from the Orlando area if you take the main roads, but taking a picnic and renting kayaks makes it more than worth the journey.
We love the state parks in Florida and have developed our own rating system for swimming, snorkelling and even the quality of the grilling facilities! We really want to see other parks in other states – where is your favourite state park and what do you do there?
19158 S.W. 81st Place Road
Dunnellon, Florida 34432