Keeping cool in Florida's springs
Published: Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2014 at 1:20 p.m.
The heat is on, so the place to be is at one of Florida's 72-degree springs.
There are more than 600 springs, with almost all of them in the northern part of the state. Silver Springs (the largest artesian spring in the world and Florida's oldest tourist attraction) feeds into the Silver River just east of Ocala. The state took over operations in 2013 and continues the tradition of glass-bottom boat tours, along with canoeing and kayaking. The state also has found an operator for the neighboring Wild Waters park, with flumes and wave pool. That park was recently cleaned up and reopened for the summer.
But Silver Springs is the anchor. "Tarzan" films were shot here, as well as at Wakulla Springs.
Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon is the fourth largest, and Rainbow Springs State Park and KP Hole County Park offer swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking. There are two-hour and four-hour tubing trips every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day, depending on which park you use.
Boats (canoes, kayaks, fishing and pontoon) are available to rent at Angler's Resort in Dunnellon, located off the Withlacoochee River about a mile down from the Rainbow River.
I camped at Wekiwa Springs State Park this past April to enjoy hiking and cooling off in the beautiful natural setting of the springs. Located just north of Orlando, the Wekiwa area offers several canoe and kayak trips (at the park, along the Wekiva River and at Rock Springs Run Reserve).
Blue Spring on the St. Johns River also is beautiful. In a previous column, I mentioned the spectacular seven-mile, one-way canoe/kayak run at Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest that takes you up close to alligators and other wildlife.
North of Gainesville you'll find Ichetucknee Springs, with swimming, snorkeling and great tubing runs. Within an hour's drive of here are Ginnie, Manatee, Lafayette Blue and Peacock Springs.
In the panhandle is Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, with riverboat/glass-bottom boat tours, swimming and nature trails. The lodge here is open year-round and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The mermaids at Weeki Wachee near Brooksville have entertained visitors since 1947, and you can enjoy a river cruise, a canoe/kayak run or a visit to Buccaneer Bay Water Park.
It's important to keep in mind several things:
Parks will fill up quickly, especially on weekends, so make sure to arrive early.
The sun can be brutal when coupled with the reflection of the water — apply sunscreen liberally and often.
Many of these natural areas will have alligators and other wildlife. It is not necessarily dangerous, but never approach any animals, and never feed them.
Many parks will prohibit any disposable containers (plastic bags, bottles, wrappers of any kind), and there's a hefty fine if you disobey.
Respect the homeowners along any waterways. "Can I use your bathroom?" is not a true emergency.
Alcohol and pets may not be permitted.
For safety, wear a personal flotation device the entire time, and be aware of currents and other hazards.
I can't wait to check out more of these great places to keep cool during the hot summer.
Claudine Dervaes has more than 33 years of experience in the travel industry. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.