On The River: Swimming, Snorkeling and Florida Springs

Blue Springs State Park, Photo by @narcosis27 via #eujaxswimmingholes

BY SHANNON BLANKINSHIP, St. Johns Riverkeeper Outreach Director

Swimming Holes

It feels like divine intervention that Florida, with our year-round temperatures for swimming, also has the highest concentration of natural springs in the world. At a constant 72 degrees, Florida springs are best enjoyed in the summer months when the cool refreshing water is the perfect remedy for hot weather and the blazing sun. Our springs are natural formations where groundwater flows out of the ground. No two springs are the same, and not all are ideal for swimming. If you are looking to jump in and have some fun, here are a few springs you may want to check out.

Springs for Swimming

Alexander Springs Recreation Area 

One of the springs in the heart of the Ocala National Forest, Alexander, is a swimming spot ideal for families. Shallow water levels in many parts allow kids to play, while adults and strong swimmers can venture down against the release of water to view the underground vent. Canoe rentals are available. Bring a picnic and plan to stay for the day. The closest restaurants for lunch are in Astor, Florida, about 20 minutes away along the St. Johns River.

Manatee Springs State Park_Jessica Campbell
Manatee Springs State Park, Photo by Jessica Campbell

Springs for Snorkeling

Manatee Springs State Park

Just feet away from the Suwannee River, Manatee Spring exits a deep vent and flows through a cypress swamp, making for a picturesque view along the boardwalk. This spring is smaller, so fewer swimmers are here. Visitors enjoy hiking, camping, swimming, scuba diving, and snorkeling. It is easy to pass the time floating in the cool water at Manatee Springs.

Springs for Tubing

Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Tubing down the Ichetucknee River is something every Floridian should do. In the summer months, crowds enjoying this natural waterway fill the spring run with tubes as thick as a lazy river. It doesn’t rob the park of its natural beauty. The native eelgrass and cypress knees that line the shore and river bottom make for a majestic cruise under a thick canopy of shade.

Ginnie Springs by Melissa Shawn Griffin‎ in SPring Hunters Facebook Group
Thousands of tiny fish at Ginnie Springs just after sunrise. Photo by Melissa Shawn Griffin‎, posted in the Spring Hunters Facebook Group.

Ginnie Springs

Perhaps the most well-known north Florida springs experience comes from Ginnie Springs. This spring run along the Sante Fe River flows from seven springs that line the shore of a private campground. Admission fees are much higher, but it is worth the trip. They also rent canoes and kayaks, as well as snorkeling and diving equipment. Stay overnight for the best experience!

No matter which spring you choose to visit this summer, remember to arrive early. Especially on weekends, the springs often reach capacity before 10am. For tubing fun, Ichetucknee and Ginnie both rent inflated tubes, so you don’t have to bring your own. You can save some money by having your own, but remember that you will have to carry it a considerable distance. Last, remember that each of these springs has an admission fee, so be prepared.

As a final reminder, these springs are natural Florida, and should be treated with respect. Wildlife does live here, and if you see it, give it some space. Don’t bring anything disposable with you in the springs or on the river. There are no trash cans out on the water, and reminders of human impact take away from the beauty of these natural areas. Enjoy Florida springs and leave them without a trace, so those behind you can enjoy them as well.

About Shannon Blankinship

Shannon Blankinship is the Outreach Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper and contributes regularly via the “On The River” column building awareness for the many issues that impact the St. Johns River. Shannon received her B.S. from Purdue University in Natural Resources Economics and Policy and her J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. She is currently an elected official in Duval County serving on the Soil and Water Conservation District. She is a board member for the local nonprofit The Girls Gone Green and regularly contributes articles affecting animals and health. She is a Springfield resident and works to promote all things great in the urban core neighborhoods.