We met our goal of visiting 14 springs months ago, but we’re still touring Florida springs, this time in the panhandle. One of the world’s largest and deepest fresh water springs, Wakulla Springs is known for its sparkling water and diverse wildlife, not only in the state, but world-wide. While this claim may seem far-fetched, on our three mile boat tour down the river we were accompanied by a German family and a group of tourists from Japan as well as some out of staters who were enthralled by the sight of alligators and manatee.
The spring itself covers approximately three acres and flows from a cave near the dive platform in the swimming area of the park. In addition to the riverboat tour we took, glass bottom boat tours are available which provide a glimpse of the mouth of the cave some 100 feet below the surface.
Numerous fish, birds, and alligators inhabit the river and since we were on the water on a cool autumn day with temperatures in the 50s, we even saw several manatee congregating in the 69º water of the spring.
After our boat tour we rode our bikes to the park entrance.
This is where the smaller Sally Ward Spring is located.
Our goal: 14 springs in 2014. Wakulla Springs #18 and Sally Ward Spring #19. It’s springtime in October.
While driving to Jacksonville to visit Sarah and Daniel, we passed a sign in Green Cove Springs pointing to the Spring Boil. Well, of course, there’s a spring in Green Cove Springs. We found it, located across the street from City Hall.
The natural sulfer spring flows into the city pool. And I love the spring data on the sign indicating the depth of the spring, the water temperature and flow as well as an analysis of the minerals. How strange!
The water moves quickly through the public pool where it exits and travels a couple hundred yards to the St. John’s River.
I guess the goal of visiting 14 springs in 2014 was not ambitious enough. Springs Park makes number 17!
The first week of August we visited our 14th spring of the year to accomplish our goal of visiting 14 springs in 2014. The last week of August we went to Wall Springs in Tarpon Springs…the 15th, and we also went back to Rainbow Springs for an after work swim and picnic.
Previously known as Health Springs and used as a health spa in the early 1900s, Pinellas County began purchasing Wall Springs and the surrounding environmentally sensitive land in 1988. Although the park covers some 210 acres and has nature trails, a pier, a playground, and several picnic pavilions, few people were using the park on the Sunday afternoon when we visited. Perhaps this sign explains why:
too many prohibitions!
Our repeat to Rainbow Springs was more successful. On January 1st, Rainbow Springs was our first spring visit of the year when we took a “First Day Hike”. Cold and rainy, the weather made it difficult to do much more than walk through the park…definitely not a good day to enjoy the water.
Last week we drove to Dunnellon after work on Wednesday for an afternoon swim and then ate sandwiches in the picnic area for a different kind of date night.
Couldn’t have asked for a better day! HOT, but without the typical afternoon thunderstorms…just right for a swim in the cool spring water. I was surprised that the water is five feet deep when you step off the dock…no chance to ease into the water.
And I love the warning sign overlooking the swimming area. (That’s John swimming just beyond the sign.)
The Rainbow Repeat proved to be a success.
This summer we’ve devoted a great deal of time meeting the goal of visiting at least 14 of Florida’s springs, and I’m pleased to announce “mission accomplished”!
In fact, we bicycled the newly completed Spring to Spring Trail starting in Volusia County at Lake Monroe Park and stopped first at Gemini Springs Park and then at Green Springs Park so not only did we meet our goal of 14 springs in 2014, we threw in an extra park for good measure.
Our first stop, Gemini Springs. Since swimming, boating, and fishing are prohibited at Gemini Springs, we pretty much had the park to ourselves – with the exception of photographers taking engagement and family pictures in the park. The old Florida look provides a perfect backdrop for photos.
We continued on to Enterprise, the home of Green Springs, and I believe I discovered the most beautiful spring in Florida. The sulphur spring was a popular spot for tourists from the 1880s and was promoted with promises of good health as early as the 1840s. Even today, the area remains wild.
No swimming, no fishing, no canoeing just the quiet of nature…including a host of mosquitoes. Coat yourself in bug spray and take a walk on the wild side!
Upon exiting the car, the smell of summer filled the air. At only 10:00 in the morning, the grills were lit with hamburgers and hot dogs cooking. Numerous grills and picnic tables scattered throughout the park provide ample space for those looking to spend a full day enjoying Alexander Springs Recreation Area, part of the Ocala National Forest.
After staking out a table, we gathered masks and snorkels and waded into the refreshing water. Although there were dozens of swimmers, we had the water over the spring to ourselves. Occasionally, someone would drift into the area of the head spring, but for the most part, the other swimmers were content floating on tubes or noodles.
Swimming, snorkeling and paddling in Florida’s springs were a highlight in 2014.
The park has canoes and kayaks available for rent, but unlike the lines of people waiting to launch at Weeki Wachee, the boat ramp was deserted. Our plans for the day did not include padding down Alexander Run, but it would have been a great day to have the run to ourselves and perhaps even throw in a line for a little fishing.
Alexander Springs is the only place in the Ocala National Forest where scuba diving is permitted; and as we left the spring, a group of about a half dozen divers hauled their tanks to the water ready to explore.
After snorkeling in the refreshing cool spring head, we walked the short distance following the Timucaun Trail along the perimeter of the spring. The easy one mile walk was close enough to the swimming area to hear the splashing and laughter of swimmers throughout the hike. Our only encounters with wildlife were a couple of skinks, one even posed so it could be photographed, and a critter of unknown origin that splashed away in the water as we approached. John says a small gator, but I believe it may have been an otter.
Alexander Springs, a perfect place to spend a summer day, and the 13th spring we’ve visited in 2014.
After a disappointing trip to Weeki Wachee Springs, the day got much better when we stopped at Homosassa Springs on our way home. While we determined Weeki Wachee “wasn’t anything”; Homosassa was not a disappointment.
Shortly after arriving we made our way to Homosassa’s famous Fish Bowl where the people descend into an underwater observatory and watch the manatee and fish swimming in the spring that surrounds them…much more interesting than watching the mermaid show earlier in the day.
By following the paved trail and elevated boardwalk, visitors can check in on the progress of manatee being rehabilitated in the Manatee Care Center which cares for injured and orphaned animals.
The manatee at the park share the spotlight with Lu, the resident hippo, as well as the alligators. Park Rangers or volunteers lead daily educational programs teaching about the role of the American alligator in the Florida ecosystem and then feed Lu, an exotic species allowed to remain at the park since being made an honorary Florida citizen.
In addition to its more famous residents, black bears, bobcats, playful river otters and a variety of birds including owls, eagles, swan, and flamingos inhabit the park.
However, the manatee and crystal clear water of the spring remain my favorite parts of the park.
It looks like we’re going to make our goal of visiting at least fourteen of Florida’s springs this year since Homosassa Springs State Park makes number twelve!
We spent the day on Crystal River swimming and snorkeling in a couple of the springs in Kings Bay. Since the constant 72° temperature of the spring attracts manatee, we hoped to swim with the gentle creatures so we could check off another activity on the 14 in 14 list; but no such luck.
Manatee prefer the springs in the winter but finding them during the warm weather months is a bit more challenging. However, since I’m not fond of swimming when the weather’s cold, looking for the manatee on a summer day was worth a try.
We finally anchored the boat and made our way back to Three Sisters Spring, the ninth spring we’ve visited this year. Fortunately we avoided crowds by going on a Thursday morning, competing with only about two dozen swimmers and kayakers.
Even I enjoyed swimming in the refreshing water of the spring, and it was the perfect place for John to test out the underwater camera the girls gave him for Father’s Day.
We continuing exploring the Kings Bay region, and John jumped over for some more snorkeling. I decided to remain in the boat, afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back in without the aid of the shore (a good move).
No manatee, but an otherwise perfect day exploring yet another of Florida’s magnificent springs. And now we have an excuse to make a return trip!
I’m not sure if it’s the admission fee or signs warning about the dangers of alligators and bears that cause the biggest surprise upon entering Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest. It’s not that a $10.60 day use fee for two is excessive, but since state and county parks usually charge $5.00 per vehicle, I had to dig in my purse for some extra money, only to be greeted by a Caution and a Warning sign.
We unloaded the bikes and rode through the park checking out the campground. Over 70 large sites for RVs and tents sit in the shaded loop. Although very few sites were occupied, the ranger told us they were near capacity last weekend. Maybe the rain discouraged campers this weekend or perhaps they don’t roll in until later in the afternoon.
Only a few swimmers braved the cool waters of the spring probably due to the dark clouds that hung in the sky to the west. Before changing into swimsuits we checked out the canoe rentals, and although we arrived well before the 11:30 final departure time, the predicted rain and thunderstorms made a trip down Juniper Run something that would have to wait for another day.
One of the “to do’s” on our 14 in 14 list is to visit at least 14 of Florida’s springs this year. Our trip to Juniper Springs brings the number to eight. We were determined to swim in the spring today, but as we prepared to enter the water, the ranger cleared the spring due to an approaching storm.
- Rainbow Springs – cold rain
- Fanning, Hart, and Otter Springs – temperature in the 40s
- Blue Springs – no swimming due to the manatees
- Silver Springs – no swimming permitted
- Juniper Springs – thunderstorm
We’re not quitters! We not only will visit at least 14 springs, we will swim, canoe, or kayak and enjoy the water. Maybe Ichetucknee will be the first.