Central Florida is typically known for bad drivers, roller coasters, and retirement communities. While the Southernmost state can certainly live up to its tacky reputation, it’s also a haven for nature lovers. The real Florida is a place of lush tropical vegetation and clear, blue spring waters. There is natural beauty to be found in Florida—you have to know where to look.
Florida’s ecosystem is unique. Long ago, the peninsula was a thick layer of limestone composed of shellfish, coral, and marine skeletons. When the Appalachian mountains eroded, dirt and sediment deposited on the mass creating the land Floridians live on today. The limestone layer still remains underneath a honeycomb of tunnels and rivers known as an aquifer. When this freshwater bursts to the surface, we have springs, sinkholes, and underwater caves.
Today, Central Florida is home to a number of freshwater springs. These crystal-clear waters are Eden-like, with lush green vegetation, waterfalls, and slow-moving rivers perfect for tubing. On your next trip through Central Florida, stop at these campgrounds for a real Florida experience.
This state park is a collection of nine springs that collectively gurgle over 200 million gallons of 72-degree water every day. Tubing is the main event between May and September. Be sure to check the Ichetucknee Park website before planning your trip to see which runs are open (as specific routes are closed to allow for regrowth during high season). Tubes can be rented in the park or at outside vendors. For those that are diving certified, Blue Hole Spring is the main attraction. This underwater cavern requires a half-mile hike to access. This 40-foot underwater cavern is shaped like a cone and glows a majestic blue in the Florida sun. Find a campground at Ichetucknee Springs Campground or at Bowman’s landing listed on Airbnb.
Just a 30-minute drive north of downtown Orlando, Kelly Park is home to Rock Springs, a headwater that joins with Wekiva Springs to form the Wekiva River. Rock Springs Run is a short 30-minute tube ride, but floating the path multiple times a day is no problem as it is an easy walk back to the head spring on their paved path. Bring your own float or rent one just before you enter the park. Other activities at Kelly Park include kayaking, off-road cycling, or horseback riding. Camping here is only $15 a night at one of their 26 RV hook-ups.
Ginny Springs is located in High Springs, Florida just Northwest of Gainesville. Most tubers enter the Santa Fe River to float at Devil’s Spring and exit at Twin Spring after a leisurely hour-long float. Rentals are available for tubers, canoers, and paddleboarders. Ginnie Springs is also home to four dividable springs, and is often referred to as “the world’s favorite freshwater dive.” Dive rentals are available onsite, and certified open-water divers can explore over 30,000 feet of caverns within the Devil’s Eye/Ear system. Find and reserve your campground at the Ginnie Springs website.
This National Natural landmark has a unique history, having once been a privately owned amusement park in the 1930s. The then owners had an onsite zoo, botanical garden, and even a rodeo. Today you can camp, canoe, kayak tube, swim, and snorkel. To camp, reserve your site online and head to their campground specific entrance. For tubing, head to their tube-specific entrance and use their shuttle service to float down Rainbow River and back to your vehicle. To check out Rainbow Springs unique azalea gardens and man-made waterfalls, go to their main headsprings entrance.