According to the Website floridasprings.org, “Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and is designated a National Natural Landmark…The spring pool is about 250 feet wide and shallow, with especially clear blue water flowing over the beds of green aquatic plants and brilliant white limestone and sand…Seven vents contribute to the first-magnitude group near the spring bowl and are augmented by five more springs and hundreds of sand “boils” to create the Rainbow River. The river runs about 5.6 miles before joining the Withlacoochee River.
During the early twentieth-century the area was home to phosphate mines, parts of which can still be seen on park hiking trails.
The 1930s brought tourists and the spring became a theme park that included a zoo, gardens, rodeo, monorail, a swimming pavilion and artificial waterfalls built on old phosphate tailings.
Like many of Florida’s older tourist attractions, it couldn’t compete with the mega attractions in Orlando so closed in 1974. It reopened as Rainbow Springs State Park in the 1990s. after local volunteers supported the acquisition and restoration of the park.
Today pleasant gardens and shady hikes invite a visit. Butterflies and ancient trees abound.
The Park provides a great place to escape the heat and swim in seventy-two-degree water in the head springs or kayak or tube down the river.We try to visit the park about once a year as this is the closest major spring to the Tampa Bay region. Florida springs are the perfect antidote to beat the Florida heat. The gulf water and pools around our areas are all in the 90s. The spring water though, ah a lovely seventy-two degrees!
The park tubing concessionaire, Nature Quest, rents tubes and provides tram service every twenty minutes up the river. You grab your tube, float with the current, and two hours later you are pleasantly cool. Tubing is available between April and the end of September (Before Memorial Day and after Labor Day rentals are limited to weekends)
We arrived around eleven: a reasonable time for a week-day but we probably would have been too late on the weekend as the park closes when the parking area fills. Early arrival is also advised because of frequent afternoon thunderstorms in the summer. For people, desirous of a quieter experience, I suggest a visit during the week or early or late in the season. Between the entry and two tubes, it cost us $45. This includes the state park admission, tube rental and the tram ride north.
We floated two miles in about two hours. All manner of boats, tubes and kayaks take advantage of the cool water. Given the crowds, we still saw quite a few birds, including anhingas, blue herons, and ibises. The water is clear, and feels just wonderful, as the air temperature was in the nineties.
A few important details: alcohol, coolers and disposable packaging (water bottles, food packaging and the like) are all prohibited on the river. The outfitter will keep your keys for a small fee. Additionally, even if you bring your own tube, you will still pay the $15 per person fee.
Perhaps the only drama occurred when I tried to pose for a photo at the end. I did find out that the current near the end is strong enough to make it difficult to paddle the tube against the current. Thus, into the water I went to paddle back to the ramp and off floated a sandal and hat. Just a word to the wise.