Pouring out 28 million gallons of water a day at 68F, the crystalline depths of Vortex Spring have intrigued divers for more than forty years. And while diving is the primary focus of this privately-owned spring, it’s a swimming hole as well, with major upgrades this past season making it even more fun for the family to splash about in the spring run.
Location: Ponce De Leon
Lat-Lon: 30.770851, -85.948769
Fees : $8 day use, $20 dive pass. Ages 5 and under free. Seasonal passes available.
Open daily except Christmas and Thanksgiving. Ample camping on site as well as dive resort-style lodging for individuals and groups.
From Interstate 10 exit 96, Ponce De Leon, drive north for 4.6 miles on SR 81 until you see the entrance sign on the right. Address: 1517 Vortex Spring Rd, Ponce De Leon.
It was known as Blue Spring – one of many in Florida – until Denzel and Ruth Dockery purchased the 420-acre property in 1968 as a retirement project. After his retirement from the Navy, Denzel took up SCUBA diving; he and Ruth designed the “Diver Down” flag now used internationally for diver safety. Now in its next generation of family ownership, Vortex Spring, open since 1972 as a diver’s destination with a campground, is an expansive natural water park as well.
Available year-round, diving access is centered on the deep spring and a series of man-made caves that Denzel designed. The cavern mouth is 50 feet below the surface, and divers can descend down to 115 feet before requiring cave certification and special permission to go into the cave.
The dive shop has rental gear and air fill stations. Diving instruction is offered, starting with a “Discover Scuba” to find out if it’s for you, as well as Open Water Diver Certification, Rescue Certification, and a Cavern Diver Specialty Course.
Open for summer fun, the swimming section of the park, downstream and separate from where the divers go, is delightful for families. There are high dives and swings into the spring run, water toys to play with, and even a treehouse in the woods with a slide down to the water. You can grab a tube and float down the spring run, walk back up and do it again.
Nature trails loop through the Otter Creek floodplain between the campground and Otter Creek Lodge, providing a place to hike through the woods beyond a man-made levee separating Otter Creek from the spring run. If you arrange a rental and shuttle, they’re also happy to launch you on a kayak or canoe trip down Blue Creek down to Ponce De Leon, but we were told it can be a pretty rugged experience!
And then there’s camping, and lots of it. Set in a pine forest, the campground has both water & electric hookup sites or primitive camping sites for tent campers. One vehicle or two tents are allowed per site. A playground adjoins the campground, and three camping cabins command the waterfront of the campground. There is also a 4-bedroom home for rent as well as two rooms in the Grandview along the waterfront, right at the spring, and two lodges – Pinewood and Otter Creek – with rooms and dorms suitable for groups.