19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432
Admission: $2 at headsprings entrance, $5 per vehicle (up to eight people) at tube entrance, children under 6 free
Rainbow Springs State Park in Marion County is a two-hour drive north of the Tampa Bay area, but once there you might have trouble deciding whether you want to visit the man-made falls first or just plunge into the chilly 72-degree springs. After the immediate, mind-numbing shock, it can be wonderfully refreshing. The springs are crystal clear, and you can see fish, turtles and places where the water bubbles out of the sandy bottom (at a rate of 450-million gallons a day). The falls and accompanying gardens are remnants of what was once a tourist attraction called Blue Springs, which featured glass-bottomed boats, a monorail and a zoo.
In addition to the big swimming hole, you'll find a smaller wading area for tiny tots.
Rainbow Springs is Florida's fourth largest spring. The Rainbow River is popular for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the headsprings. A picnic area at the spring includes tables, grills and pavilions. For large gatherings, private pavilions can be reserved. Tubing is not allowed in the headsprings area of the park but the park has a new tubing entrance on the east side of the river. From there you can rent a tube, ride a tram upriver and then float back to your point of origin, not needing a second car. The float trip is about 90-minutes long. Sounds like a great day in Florida to us.
The Campground Entrance with a full-facility campground is about nine miles from the day use area. The Headsprings Entrance is located three miles north of Dunnellon on the east side of U.S. 41. The campground is located on SW 180th Avenue Road about two miles north of County Road 484 and two miles south of State Road 40. The Tube Entrance is located 1.4 miles south of the campground entrance on SW 180th Avenue Road.
Florida state parks are open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. The Tuber Entrance, open April to September, closes at 5:00 p.m. There is a $10 tubing Fee (separate from the park entrance fee at the tube entrance) which includes tube and tram service to and from parking area.