A place of beauty that morphed from phosphate pits to botanical attraction over the course of a century, Rainbow Springs State Park cradles one of Florida’s most beautiful first-magnitude springs and the river it creates in a wrap of shady forests and gardens.
Lat-Lon: 29.103296,-82.449937 (main entrance), 29.066457,-82.4195 (tubing entrance), 29.086758,-82.41712 (campground)
Fees: $2 per person. $5 per vehicle plus $10.60 per person at tubing entrance.
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily
Leashed pets welcome
Campground and tubing entrances are downriver from the park and there is no direct connection on foot between the main portion of the park and the campground or tubing entrance.
My first visit to Rainbow Springs was in the early 1960s, when it was a popular roadside attraction with submarine-style boats where you could look fish in the face. Planted and designed in the 1930s, the gardens and dramatic waterfalls made use of rugged terrain left behind from mine tailings from the first open-pit phosphate mines in Florida, circa 1900-1920.
Tourists sought out this magical place until Walt Disney World opened. Abandoned for many years, the park was declared a National Natural Scenic Landmark, threatened by development, and finally bought by the citizens of my home county and turned over to the state to become Rainbow Springs State Park.
Today, it’s a paddlers’ and snorkelers’ delight, thanks to its many bubbling springs, and the site of guided dive tours. This first-magnitude spring creates one of Florida’s loveliest and clearest rivers, which tubers can also enjoy from a put-in at the campground, downstream from the headspring.
Hiking trails meander out to old phosphate pits and riverside views. Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive every Christmas on a pontoon boat, to the delight of my nieces and nephews. Rainbow Springs is very much a family park, and it’s made a permanent mark on three generations of my own family.
Explore the park
- Rainbow Springs Sandhill Trail - The Sandhill Trail at Rainbow Springs State Park leads hikers into rolling terrain punctuated with ravines created by mining and restored by nature, and offers a new perspective on the Rainbow River
- Remembering Rainbow Springs - Ready for some nostalgia? Here's a peek at what Rainbow Springs used to be like back in the 1960s, courtesy of Linda Friend. And yes, that's Sandy in the photos.
- Three Days of Nature Coast Springs - Between New Port Richey and Crystal River, explore a variety of springs along the Nature Coast that provide splashing fun in summer and manatee watching in winter.