Exploring Natural Springs in Florida

Florida Springs Are Perfect For Snorkeling

The Florida springs are one of this state’s great delights. If you love the water, few earthly pleasures exceed that of jumping into a clear, deep blue Florida spring–especially on a hot summer’s day. But if you REALLY want to enjoy the springs, try putting on a face mask and looking around underneath the water’s surface.

Florida has over 700 fresh water springs – more than any other state, with water so clear that exotic fish and manatees can be seen swimming nearby. Whether you’re planning a family outing or simply looking for a way to cool off on one of Florida’s infamously hot summer days, the soothing spring water in one of these distinctive nature spots is sure to satisfy you. Here are some beautiful springs in Florida for nature lovers to enjoy swimming, paddling, kayaking, and watching manatees.

Salt Springs Recreation Area

The Salt Springs Recreation Area pictured below is a particularly good place to do that–especially if you want to see lots of fish.

A view of Salt Springs
Salt Springs

The community of Salt Springs, Florida is located–as that proverbial old crow flies–about 27 miles east-northeast of Ocala. These days the entire springs area, located in the Ocala National Forest, is now a federally operated Recreation Area offering daytime recreation such as swimming, snorkeling, hiking, boating, and picnicking. Plus, camping facilities are available for RVs and tents.

Although fishing is not allowed in the spring, many people enjoy fishing in the four-mile spring run that empties into Lake George. In this photo, we’re looking down the spring run, to the east.

Salt Springs Spring Run
The Spring Run Flows about Four Miles to Lake George

Alexander Springs, Florida

With a daily outpouring of 70 million gallons, Alexander Springs is another of Florida’s first-magnitude springs. Its crystal-blue waters come from karst layers deep beneath the earth, giving rise to Alexander Creek, the spring run that meanders for 10 miles through wild Florida before it finally meets up with the north-flowing Saint Johns River.

To me, Florida springs are more than just bodies of water. They are the exquisite artistic creations of the Grand Designer, beckoning one and all to enjoy their unsurpassed beauty from both above and below the crystal surface.
I mean, check out that spring boil in the above photo. In Florida, we may not have snow-capped peaks and distant mountain vistas, but we have these amazing clearwater springs that have stirred the imagination of people for, I’ll bet, thousands of years.

No wonder Ponce De León heard rumors of a Fountain of Youth. I can see how it was within the scope of sixteenth-century thinking to believe that spring like that just might keep you forever young.

Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs is a good place to spend a day or a few days. Snorkel, or just swim in the spring, follow nature trails, picnic, or set out on a seven-mile wilderness float trip. You can do all that right here.

The Juniper Springs Recreation Area is located within the Ocala National Forest on Highway 40, about 28 miles east of Ocala. They say the Ocala National Forest has four crown jewels, and Juniper Springs is one of them. Together with its “sister spring,” Fern Hammock, these springs result in a daily water flow of about 13 million gallons.

A view of Juniper Springs
Juniper Springs

After a few days of mid-February cold and rain here in north-central Florida, today finally brought a welcome change in weather. The sunshine and spring-like temperatures beckoned me outdoors, so I decided to head to Juniper Springs.

I’ve been coming here off and on my entire life, and I’ll keep returning. It’s a great spot to spend a day swimming, walking the nature trails, photographing, picnicking, whatever you like.

Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area

Also, check out Silver Glen Springs if you’re a water rat, and like snorkeling. In the photo below, check out the spectacular underwater visibility…every diver’s dream.

An underwater view of Silver Glen Springs
Spectacular Visibility at Silver Glen Springs

As far as I know, no place else in the world has the abundance of crystal clear karst springs as we have here in Florida. Deep beneath the earth, clear and pure water bubbles its way through Florida’s porous limestone foundation. Much to the delight of snorkelers such as myself, once in a while, this underground water manages to gush forth to the surface in a great flow, creating a wonderfully clear spring pool and spring run just made for an afternoon of underwater fun.

Florida's Silver Glen Springs
Silver Glen Springs–a popular stop on the St. Johns River

The spring pool here at Silver Glen Springs is about 200 feet across. While it’s only about 2 to 3 feet deep in many places, around the springs the depth is about 18 feet. One well-executed surface dive takes you to the bottom where you can peer into the two caves where the waters gush from beneath the earth.

One interesting feature about Silver Glen Springs is you find both saltwater and freshwater fish here. You’ll see large mullet, freshwater panfish, maybe some blue crabs, and I’ve even seen small sting rays scooting along the sandy bottom of the spring run.

Ichetucknee Springs

Ichetucknee Springs is a beautiful collection of north Florida springs that, over the years, has been at the same time loved and abused by Floridians and visitors alike.

Starting with the head spring, Ichetucknee Spring, as many as nine springs create the clear-water Ichtucknee River which flows about six miles through wild forest land, until finally, its waters empty into the Santa Fe River.

Snorkeling the Ichetucknee is preferable to tubing it, although I take a sit-on-top kayak or tube to get out of the 72-degree water on occasion to warm up a bit.

Fair Warning

Okay, here’s where I need to issue a fair warning. If you have the gene which allows you to get hooked on diving (surely, there must be one), watch out. The next thing you know, you’ll be plunking down good money for SCUBA classes and gear, or at least for a mask, snorkel, and fins.

The cool water’s ultra-clear visibility coupled with lots of warm Florida weather is a double-whammy draw that keeps people coming back to the springs.

How Many Springs Does Florida Have?

Folks who should know say Florida has over 600 springs.

Some of the best known, such as Silver Springs, Manatee Springs, and Weeki Wachee springs are all first magnitude springs, that is, their flow rate exceeds 65 million gallons per day.

Depending on how you figure it–and apparently, there are several ways to do it–there are 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida. These springs are among Florida’s greatest treasures.

How Did Florida’s Springs Form?

Over a period of about 40 million years as sea levels intermittently rose and fell, the calcified remains of sea creatures built up along a geologic formation called the Florida Plateau, eventually forming Florida’s huge slab of limestone bedrock.

This bedrock, comprised mostly of calcium carbonate, is dissolved easily by the acidic nature of rainwater combined with carbon dioxide. As this acidic water seeps into the ground, it slowly eats away at the bedrock, forming porous holes in it similar to the holes found in swiss cheese.

Gradually the holes become larger and larger, until the structure of the porous bedrock gives way in places, forming large underground channels filled with flowing water. This water-laden labyrinth of swiss-cheese holes and larger channels is called the aquifer, which by the way is where over half of Floridians get their drinking water.

Here and there, this underground flow breaks out of its subterranean chambers and spills out onto the earth’s surface. That’s a spring. What we see so often from up top is the clear cool water escaping from underground as it is pushed up by pressure from water constantly seeping in from the surface.

Enjoying Florida Springs

With water clarity sometimes exceeding 300 feet, it’s no wonder people like to SCUBA dive in the springs. And since the water temperature of a Florida spring remains constant year-round near 70 degrees, spring diving goes on all year long.

Other than SCUBA, Florida’s springs are also great for snorkeling. As with SCUBA diving, the super clear waters are a joy to experience.

The snorkelers in the photo below are enjoying a day at Ginnie Springs near High Springs, Florida–one of my favorite places. You might like it too.

Snorkeling in Florida springs
The Springs are Great for Snorkeling

Since many of Florida’s springs are located in state parks, with a few in federally controlled areas, camping, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, picnicking, and other outdoor recreational opportunities may also be available.

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