These Under-the-Radar Spots Have the Clearest Water in Florida

·6 min read
rainbow springs park
rainbow springs park

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Florida's beaches are undeniably pretty, but if you've ever been to Daytona or Cocoa Beach, you know they're not always the crystal-clear, sparkling blue seas you had envisioned. The ocean's overall look can change day by day and season to season, with some months marked by murky, choppy waters and others coated in a blanket of brown sargassum.

But there are places where the water is always breathtakingly clear, if not a bit chilly: Florida's springs. Because the state sits atop an aquifer, fresh water bubbles to the surface to form more than 700 springs, where people can swim; most are located in the central and northern parts of the state, providing a nature-fueled alternative to the commotion of the theme parks that draw most people to this region.

Beloved for swimming, snorkeling, diving, wildlife-spotting, hiking, paddling, and tubing, these picturesque swimming holes throughout Florida are great spots to visit for anyone who wants to splash around in Planet Earth's largest collection of freshwater springs. Note that since they remain a "refreshing" 72 degrees year-round, Florida's top springs are best visited during the dog days of summer, when nothing sounds better than a cold plunge.

Rainbow Springs

Rainbow Springs is a Florida summertime favorite. Located within Rainbow Springs State Park, it's one of the top springs in Florida for float trips, tubing, hiking, and simply splashing around. You can also rent a canoe or kayak if paddling is more your speed.

rainbow springs in florida
rainbow springs in florida

Devil's Den Prehistoric Spring

If you've ever scrolled Instagram searching for images of off-the-beaten-path, hidden-gem Florida, you've probably come across a stunning photo of Devil's Den. This prehistoric spring is home to fossils dating all the way back to the Pleistocene Age and is an underground marvel: it was formed when the ground over a subterranean river collapsed, exposing it to the world above. Now, visitors can snorkel or dive (equipment is available to rent) in this remote spring reminiscent of a Mexican cenote, with the sun streaming in from the top of the cave to illuminate the blue waters below, making them almost appear to glow.

Weeki Wachee Springs

Disney isn't the only place where magic happens in Florida—one stop at Weeki Wachee Springs and you'll never again doubt the existence of mermaids. At this fantastical spring, in addition to the usual swimming and paddling, you can enjoy an underwater performance by "live mermaids" or take a riverboat cruise to explore above the surface. An icon of old Florida, the natural wonder of Weeki Wachee Springs has long attracted tourists and is one of the deepest springs in the country—so deep, in fact, that the bottom has never been found (probably because the mermaids are guarding it).

fresh water springs florida
fresh water springs florida

Ginnie Springs

Ginnie Springs is only a two-hour drive from Orlando, which makes it a great addition to (or replacement of) the classic Disney vacation. Your jaw will drop when you see just how clear this water is, which also explains the admission fee to access this privately owned park. Here, visitors can dive, float, and paddle.

Three Sisters Springs

Ever seen one of those viral videos of people swimming peacefully with sea cows? More than likely, it was shot in Crystal River, the only place in North America where you can legally swim with manatees. Located on the west coast about 90 minutes north of Tampa, Crystal River is especially popular during manatee season (November through March), and Three Sisters Springs is one of the best places to spot these gentle giants.

The spring, which is so beautiful it seems otherworldly, is only accessible via private boat or kayak. Get Up And Go Kayaking Crystal River offers guided tours in clear kayaks so you can see it all, whether above the surface or below.

crystal river
crystal river

Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs is located within the Ocala National Forest and competes with other springs within the forest—Alexander, Silver Glen, and Salt Springs—as one of Florida's most popular. Each seems more beautiful than the last, but there's something magical about kayaking Juniper Springs, which features a winding waterway set beneath a dense, jungle-like old-growth forest canopy. (If you're lucky, you might even spot a member of the resident albino gray squirrel population.) The swimming, picnic, campground, and trail complex was built in the 1930s and still represents old Florida at its finest.

Wekiwa Springs

If your family has planned a Disney vacation but still really wants to squeeze in one of the top springs in Florida, Wekiwa Springs State Park is your best bet. It's located just 20 minutes north of Orlando but feels a world away (and the admission price is much lower, too, at just $6 per vehicle). It has been a tourist attraction since it was discovered in the 1860s, and has had a hotel and bathhouse on property since the 1890s. Here, you can hike or bike the quiet trails, ride horses, kayak, fish, snorkel, and swim.

wekiwa spring state park
wekiwa spring state park

Madison Blue Spring

Much has been said about the Florida-Georgia line, but Madison Blue Spring, which is located nearby, still flies under the radar. It's one of just 33 first-magnitude springs in Florida, which essentially means it's one of the largest and has a significant volume of flow from the aquifer each day. This stunning spot promises a swim you'll want to keep forever in your mind's eye.

Ichetucknee Springs

Another great spot to float is Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where there are eight major springs that together form the six-mile Ichetucknee River, perfect for a lazy summer day in the sun (you might even spot a cute otter along the way). Located in northern Florida, Ichetucknee Springs is a fun place to snorkel, swim, and hang, and it only costs $6 per vehicle to enter.

river in florida
river in florida

Gilchrist Blue Springs

Located in the tiny town of High Springs about 45 minutes northwest of Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is the newest in Florida—it only became a state park in 2017—and arguably one of its prettiest. It's hard to say which of these ultra-clear top springs in Florida is the most clear, but Gilchrist Blue Spring is definitely up there. Go on a summer day and you're bound to encounter crowds, but it sure beats waiting in line in the sun at a theme park. There are six natural springs at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, but Gilchrist Blue (its namesake) is the most popular.

Wakulla Springs

Lots of people vacation in Florida's Panhandle, but fewer head to the gorgeous Wakulla Springs, the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world. The beauty of this spot didn't escape Hollywood, though: one of the springs' claims to fame is that Tarzan's Secret Treasure (1941) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) were filmed here.

wakulla springs
wakulla springs

Homosassa Springs

Of course Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is beautiful, with almost 30 springs making it one of the largest in Florida, but it's also unique in that you'll find both salt and freshwater creatures here since the main spring flows from three sources with varying degrees of salt. Visitors also love the West Indian manatees who frequent here during the winter, which you can see up close at the park's underwater observatory. (Fun fact: The oldest hippopotamus in captivity calls this park home!)