If you are visiting Disney World or Tampa Bay, or even just road tripping with your kids through Florida, there is one spot you must add to your itinerary.
Drop by the glorious headsprings in Rainbow Springs State Park in Ocala that is located about an hour and a half from Orlando, and two hours north of St Petersburg and Tampa for an unforgettable time.
It is the ideal place to relax, unwind, and enjoy a swim, and is so worth the detour! A cool respite from the Floridian heat, the blue-green Springs are one of the best ways for kids to have fun within nature and one of the many things to do for kids in the Orlando area.
This hidden gem of a watering hole is the perfect place for some good old-fashioned R&R with the fam! So read on to find out all the reasons why the “attraction” park is guaranteed to leave you with memories worth a lifetime.
Where is Rainbow Springs?
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Rainbow River is a crystal clear aquatic preserve that winds 5.7 miles to eventually merge with the Withlacoochee river in Dunnellon, Marion County.
The shimmering waters of Rainbow River are as colorful as an artist’s palette, and are home to many wildlife species.
However, note that if you’re trying to catch a glimpse of the West Indian manatee, you’d have a better chance of doing so at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge or the Homosassa Springs State Park. It’s also possible to spot them at the Manatee Springs State Park diving areas.
The first thing you need to know about Rainbow Springs State Park is that it has three entry points.
The main entry is the Headsprings Entrance on the west of Rainbow River at 19158 SW 81st Place Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432.
To enter through here, drive up 3 miles north of Dunnellon on the east of US 41 to find the blue waters of the headsprings.
There, you can launch a canoe/kayak, or simply laze in the designated swimming section. After stocking up on food at the concession stand, hike through the nature trail and falls, relax in the pavilions, and pick up knick-knacks at the gift shop.
For campers, the east side of the Rainbow River at 18185 SW 94th Street, Dunnellon, FL 34432 is the best place to enter.
Drive two miles north on County Road 484 or two miles south of State Road 40. Only registered campers are allowed access with a gate code.
This is also where you will find facilities for Rainbow Springs tubing and paddling, a playground, a swimming area, a pavilion and a nature trail.
Those who are visiting for tubing at Rainbow Springs should head 1.4 miles down the road from the camping entrance to 10830 SW 180th Avenue, Dunnellon, FL 34432.
Park your car at the Tube Entrance, rent your tube, and then take a tram to the campground river access. You’ll find that your tube ride ends where it starts; at the parking lot.
Be warned that while there is no fee charged for parking, vehicles left outside the park on the road or on private property could end up getting towed at the owner’s expense.
What is Rainbow Springs?
Rainbow Springs is a slice of paradise in Florida’s backyard that is believed to have been popular right from ancient times.
The artesian spring, which is a confined aquifer containing groundwater, has several vents which produce 400 to 600 gallons of water each day. It is considered to have the fourth highest flow of any spring in Florida, and the water itself comes from a spring in a 770 square mile area that is filtered through natural processes.
There is evidence that Native Americans called the Timucua had resided at the spring for more than 10,000 years.
Artifacts like tools, pottery, and fossils from mammoths have even been found here!
Gradual addition of attractions like a rodeo, zoo, mermaid show, submarine-like boat tours, a monorail and manmade waterfalls lead to the spot eventually becoming a favorite among tourists.
The place was named Blue Springs and Blue Run, but was soon closed when amusement parks took over Florida. The year 1995 saw its reopening, and the National Natural Landmark was labeled an Outstanding Florida Water soon after.
What Are The Opening Times For Rainbow Springs?
The headspring is open from 8 a.m. till sunset all throughout the year, but park policy states that it closes its gates to visitors once it reaches full capacity.
This means no pedestrians, cyclists or vehicles will be permitted entry. Even registered campers aren’t allowed inside once the park is full, so it’s definitely recommended to get there nice and early.
The entry for Rainbow Springs tubing is separate, and is open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on weekends from the first Saturday in April to Memorial Day.
If you plan your visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you will be able to tube every day at those same timings!
And while it does open again from Labor Day to the end of September on weekends, it is weather-dependent so make sure to call ahead to confirm whether it is open. The facility remains closed during the winter months between October and March.
How Busy Is Rainbow Spring?
Avoiding the weekends, or at least arriving early on weekends and holidays is a smart move due to the park’s closing policy.
One thing you need to know is that if you leave after the gates close for the day you won’t be allowed back in till the next day, nor will you be permitted to queue up inside the park or on the roads adjacent to the park. So come as soon as you can, and once you’re in, stick around until you’re done for the day!
Summer is the peak season at Rainbow Springs State Park. With hundreds of thousands of visitors, the park fills up fast, so it’s best to visit earlier in the year during spring. It’s also the season when the bright azaleas are in bloom, making it twice as lovely.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Rainbow Springs?
While entry is $2 for anybody above age 6, the park charges $20 per person if you plan on tubing (inclusive of the tram). And while hourly rentals of Rainbow Springs kayaks, SUPs and tandems/canoes are available, it turns out much more economical to pay for the daily rental if you wish to spend more time on the river.
For those who enjoy visiting State Parks, buying an Annual Entrance Pass is an economical and convenient option. Foster parents and those who have adopted a special needs child can apply for a free State Parks Pass. The pass can be used by the entire family.
What is the water temperature at Rainbow Springs?
Even when the weather gets a little chilly, the spring water stays nice and warm (72 degrees) throughout the year. So why not beat the heat by visiting the designated swimming section?
With a pool depth that ranges between 5 and 18 feet, the roped-off swim area is perfect for everybody. Toddlers can comfortably practice their swimming skills, younger kids and tweens can tube about, and teenagers and adults can have some underwater fun.
Life jackets are a godsend for a parent’s peace of mind when it comes to kids learning how to swim. And while balls, blow-ups and rafts are not permitted (no personal float can exceed 60 inches), you are welcome to bring along some pool noodles to help little ones float in the areas where the water gets deeper.
You can bring your own snorkel gear, like masks, flippers and snorkels, or rent some there. There are lots of beautiful fish, swimming turtles and pretty rock formations to see under the water’s surface.
Dive down at the far end of the swimming section to see a beautiful underwater spring in action.
A quick reminder that snorkeling is permitted only within the buoyed section of the headsprings, and if you choose to snorkel on the river from a boat or the campgrounds, you are legally required to wear a dive flag.
To ensure your family’s safety when visiting Rainbow Springs, it’s important to note that there are no lifeguards on duty and the water usually runs over 5 ft deep in most areas.
Can You Tube At Rainbow Springs?
Rainbow River Florida tubing, a 2-mile, flat-water float is an ideal activity for the overworked mind. Guest Services Inc. is the authorized concessioner for the state park, and is responsible for shuttling guests 2 miles upstream from the tube entrance to enter the river.
From there, you’ll be able to slowly float back down to your car while really taking in the serenity of your surroundings.
Before you head out to go tubing in Rainbow Springs, here are a few pointers:
While most people choose to rent tubes, carrying your own is also an option as long as you make sure your float is well within the 60 inch limit.
The age requirement for kids who would like to go tubing in Rainbow River is to be at least 5 years old.
Floridan weather can be unpredictable, and because you can only exit Rainbow River at the Tuber’s Exit, start your trip early to avoid the possibility of encountering those afternoon thunderstorms.
Are There Alligators At Rainbow Springs?
Floridians have coexisted with gators for a long time, and the Rainbow River is no stranger to these reptiles. But rest easy, encounters with the alligators are limited to only the river itself.
The designated swimming section in the springs is perfectly safe to swim in. And to make it even more safe and comfortable for families to swim in, the vegetation at the bottom is completely cleared away. Just stay cautious when you go canoeing and always keep a close eye on your toddlers and pets when out in the wilderness with the family.
Rainbow Springs State Park Campground Information
One of the best and most immersive ways to enjoy the beauty of Rainbow Springs State Park is to camp there. And to ensure the best experience you should plan your stay at the Rainbow Springs State Park Campground six weeks in advance.
The campground has 60 sites for both RVers (Max. RV length = 103 feet) and tent campers that are supplied with water and electricity. Sewer hook-ups, ADA accessible restrooms and dump stations are available, along with an onsite store, showers and laundry. You can book your site for around $30 per night on the official site.
The Rainbow Springs State Park campgrounds are located about 6 miles from the headsprings, and offer guests direct access to the river. So if you have a Florida fishing license, registered campers can try their luck at fishing.
Things To Do At Rainbow Springs With Kids
Hold Diving Competitions
Engage in some healthy competition by rating your diving skills as you and your family leap off the floating dock. Biggest splash or fanciest jump will probably win bragging rights for the rest of eternity, so be sure to bring your best moves!
Picnicking at the Pavilions
There are three pavilions with picnic tables and grills, so pack a hamper with a blanket, food, and a wheeled-cooler. If you want a table, you’ll need to get there as soon as the park opens as they fill up fast. And while the BBQ is being set up, the kiddos will enjoy running around and playing in the grass!
Rainbow Springs Kayaking, Canoeing and SUP
Kayaking, Stand Up Paddleboarding, and 3-Person Canoe Trips are all exciting and memorable adventures for families to indulge in while at Rainbow Springs. Note that while there is a launch area at the headsprings for visitors who bring their own kayaks and canoes, the site can only be accessed by foot and is 1800 feet from the parking lot.
Quick tip: Request to rent a clear kayak for a unique glass bottom boat experience.
Be a Nature Explorer
Rainbow Springs State Park is teeming with birds, reptiles and mammals, so a guided tour with a ranger or local is education and fun wrapped in one! Waterbirds are aplenty, but look a little extra hard and have a chance at catching a glimpse of some otters or the endangered gopher tortoise. The three hiking trail loops wind behind the gardens, and have many river and phosphate pit overlooks as you trek through the natural oak hammock and sandhill communities.
Wearing comfy walking shoes will protect your feet from soreness.
A guided bird walk is offered on the second Saturday of every month (except June, July and August).
Black bears are prevalent in the area, so keep watch.
A fantastic way to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes, this game is educational, inexpensive and highly interactive. Combining the use of devices (GPS) and outdoor hunting, it’s a unique balance of tech and nature.
Create your own Photoshoot
If you have ever wanted to visit a Disney-esque land that is complete with giant oaks, babbling brooks and sparkling waterfalls in emerald gardens adorned with azalea blossoms (in spring), Rainbow Springs State Park is where you need to go. The boardwalk, the ruins of the old zoo, and the enchanting butterfly garden are just a few spots that are perfect for creating a fantasy photo album. Get creative and bring some costumes and props to help get your creativity flowing and make some of the most magical memories with your family.
Family Tips For Rainbow Springs
Be sure to carry enough water bottles, waterproof sunscreen, bug spray and an emergency kit. Programming the Rangers Office contact info into everybody’s phones is also a good idea, especially if you plan to do a bit of hiking.
While tubing, canoeing or kayaking, children below 6 years of age need to stay strapped into appropriately-sized life jackets.
For a quick change into swimming gear, there is a public restroom just a bit past the floating docks, and if you’re on a snack trip to the concession stand, there’s a washroom to use there too.
Ziplocks to store essentials, extra bags for wet clothes, and maybe even a waterproof radio are an absolute must.
Disposable items such as plastic bottles, cans and wrappers are not allowed, so be sure to pack your food in non-disposable containers. And if the picnic spots by the springs are too crowded for you, the trails also have picnic tables and lawns for you to enjoy some quiet time while you munch away.
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