Florida’s freshwater springs have been captivating visitors and residents for thousands of years. In fact, one of the earliest signs of human habitation in North America comes from Little Salt Spring in southwest Florida. At this site, a wooden spear was found alongside the remains of a giant tortoise, leaving for little other explanation than a prehistoric feast washed down by the cool spring water.
The natural beauty, crystal-clear water and cool temperature of the state’s springs create an irresistible combination that is all the more enchanting when experienced from a kayak or canoe on a warm summer day.
As the temperatures continue to rise, what can be more refreshing than paddling through these edenic environments and finding a quiet, secluded place to swim in the clear, cool water? The springs are the perfect place to have a family outing, where the kids will stay spellbound by the fluttering of fish below your boat and the abundance of wildlife that congregates around the spring-sheds.
If you live in the state, chances are you can find a spring run within an hour or two drive. Or, if you’re a visitor coming down to enjoy Florida’s sunny summers, there is no shortage of canoe and kayak outfitters ready to rent a canoe or kayak for a day’s outing.
Here’s a list of five of First Coast Outfitter’s favorite spring runs. Read through the list, check out the links and get out for a paddle this summer!
Please remember to always bring your personal flotation device, whistle, plenty of water, sunscreen, and a little bug spray probably wouldn’t hurt. Also, be sure to leave a trip plan with a close friend or relative, in case your paddle leads you on an unexpected adventure! If you feel we’ve left out one of your favorite springs, leave a comment and let us know which one.
5. Crystal River
The Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge provides crucial warm-water habitat for the West Indian Manatee. Located on Florida’s central-west coast, Crystal River is convenient for visitors from Tampa and Orlando. Paddle Crystal River during the winter to see manatee in their natural habitat, however, be aware that the areas around the springs are designated Manatee Sanctuaries and are closed from November 15 to March 31.
Find out More:
Check out the following links for more information on Crystal River.
4. Wekiwa Springs
The Wekiva River is nestled into the folds of Orlando, and is a favorite for all Central Floridians. Protected by Wekiwa Springs State Park and the Wekiva River Buffer Conservation Area, it is easy to forget you are so close to an urban area. There are multiple paddle opportunities on the Wekiva and Rock Springs Run, and canoe and kayak rentals are available at the state park. If you are just visiting Florida, and planning a trip to one of the many amusement parks, take a day to “recover” by immersing yourself in this wild and pristine Florida wilderness.
Find out more:
Check out the following links for more information of Wekiwa Springs, the Wekiva River and Rock Springs Run.
3. Wakulla Spring
One of the largest in the world, Wakulla Spring discharges around 260 million gallons of water per day! Wildlife is abundant here, and manatees can be seen year-round. Wakulla Spring is only a short drive from Tallahassee.
Find out more:
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection provides an excellent guide to paddling the Wakulla River Paddling Trail, offering either a 4- or 6- mile paddle. Click the link below for more information.
2. Juniper Springs
Juniper Creek was named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America, and it certainly deserves it. This narrow, winding creek takes you through some spectacular Florida scrub and old-growth forest. If you are looking for a secluded, wild paddle, this is a great choice! Located in the eastern portion of Ocala National Forest, the spring run at Juniper is convenient for all of central Florida (and worthy of a lengthy drive from elsewhere!).
Find out more:
1. Silver Springs
Alligators, herons, turtles and monkeys can all be found along the Silver River. Wait, a second… monkeys?? Yep, you heard right, a colony of Rhesus Macaques, released by a glass-bottom boat operator named Colonel Tooey in 1938. The monkeys can be found alongside the riverbanks. Be sure to keep your distance, as they have been known to be aggressive!
The main reason Silver Springs makes our list is its astounding size and flow. One of the largest natural artesian wells in the world, Silver Springs historically discharged over 550 million gallons of water per day! The springs are alongside the western boundary of Ocala National Forest.
Find out more:
Silver River State Park offers a canoe launch as well as rentals relatively close to the main springs. You can also launch from Ray Wayside Park, a little under five miles downstream, paddle upriver to the main vents and then glide back downriver. If you launch from Ray Wayside, plan plenty of time to paddle against the strong flow.