Orlando, Florida, is a major travel destination for people from all over the world. And, as you would expect, most go for a glimpse of the top mouse at Disney, but there are some families who may want to break out of the theme park thing and experience a park of natural wonders. There are 10 natural spring state parks within 90 minutes of downtown Orlando.
Cool, Refreshing Springs
The water temperature of Central Florida's springs holds steady in the low 70s year-round, providing locals and tourists with a place to cool down in the hot Florida summer. The springs are also home to manatees during the winter months when local rivers and lakes are too cool for their comfort. But the water isn't the only draw; canoeing, scuba diving, snorkeling, boating, picnicking, and wildlife viewing are all popular activities at Florida springs.
Florida state parks are open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Generally, entry fees are only a few dollars, but it's wise to call ahead or check online to determine the cost of each park before visiting.
Wekiwa Springs is located about 20 minutes north of Orlando and is a popular weekend destination for locals. The spring pumps 42 million gallons every day, filling a swimming area before joining Rock Springs Run and forming the Wekiva River. As many as 150,000 people visit the park each year.
There is a lot to do at Wekiwa, even if you're not interested in swimming in the 72-degree water. The park features a horse-riding trail, canoeing, camping areas, picnic tables with grills, a playground, and areas to bike and hike.
Although Rock Springs doesn't have a dedicated swimming area, it is a great place for tubers and campers. In fact, Rock Springs Run is one of the most popular tubing destinations in Florida. There's also a nature trail and numerous campsites.
The spring's water shoots out of a partially submerged cave and averages 68 degrees throughout the year. The run is bordered by a foot-friendly boardwalk and flows for 8 miles, although visitors can only tube for about three-quarters of a mile.
Blue Spring State Park in Orange City is a popular destination for locals. The spring is especially popular with scuba divers, as the opening goes straight down 60 feet before angling off into a tunnel that leads to a giant cave. The spring is also a favorite spot for watching manatees in the winter.
Blue Spring State Park is located 35 miles from Orlando and features a year-round temperature of 73 degrees, Over 358,000 people visit the springs each year.
DeLeon Springs is known for its sand-shell bottom, blue-green color and nearby Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. There's a lovely shaded area for picnics and family gatherings, and the park attracts over 260,000 people each year.
DeLeon Springs State Park is located about 45 miles north of Orlando and features snorkeling, paddleboat rentals, fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing, kayaking, picnic areas, swimming, canoeing, and a playground.
The water in Alexander Springs is considered the purest in the state, which makes it a good choice for swimmers and canoers. The park sits just north of Umatilla, which is about 50 miles from Orlando.
The swimming pool at Alexander Springs measures an impressive 300 feet by 258 feet, and the park features a boardwalk for wildlife viewing, hiking, picnic areas, and a camp store. The canoe run is 7 1/2 miles long and takes more than 4 hours to complete.
Located about 80 miles from Orlando, Juniper Springs offers visitors a beautiful, cement and rock swimming area and a challenging canoe run. The spring draws over 80,000 visitors every year and sits on 52 acres.
The park features 77 campsites, wildlife watching, swimming, and a 7-mile canoe trail with twists, turns, and obstacles. The surrounding Ocala National Forest offers its own attractions to locals and tourists.
Silver Glen Springs is known more for boating than for swimming. It is especially popular with locals on holiday weekends when as many as 800 boats line the spring's run.
Located about 70 miles from Orlando, the roped-off swimming area of Silver Glen Springs measures 200 feet by 175 feet. The park features tubing, canoeing, boating, and hiking.
Silver Springs is certainly one of the most famous springs in Florida; at least 24 movies have been filmed at the park including some of the original James Bond movies. Silver Springs is also known for its glass-bottom boats, which allow park visitors to see fish, turtles, and fossils under the water.
Silver Springs is located about 90 miles north of Orlando and is the largest opening in the Florida aquifer system. River cruises, live concerts, and animal exhibits are other attractions open to park guests.
Salt Springs is located about 75 miles from Orlando, on the northwest side of Lake George. The spring gets its name from the magnesium, potassium, and sodium salts found in the water.
Salt Springs is actually multiple spring vents in a shallow pool that form the source of the Salt Springs Run. The park welcomes over 70,000 visitors each year and features a hiking trail, 164 campsites, a camp store, and a marina that rents canoes, pontoon boats, and johnboats.
Located about 90 miles from Orlando is Rainbow Springs, the fourth-largest spring in Florida. The spring's clear waters, stunning floral gardens, and "sub" boats made it one of the most popular springs and privately owned attractions from the 1930s to 1970s. The state has since purchased the park, and it is again open to daily visitors.
Rainbow Springs consists of five primary springs and hundreds of smaller springs. The park boasts scenic hiking trails, wildlife viewing, 92 campsites, and a large swimming area. More than 200,000 people visit Rainbow Springs each year.