When most people picture Florida, they see white sandy beaches and bright blue water. They envision the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, dotted with beautiful resorts and condominiums. Or they picture cruising on an airboat through the dark swamp water of the everglades and sighting alligators.
But did you know that the northern/central part of the state is home to a ton of fresh water springs? The water is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, crystal clear and bright blue. They are popular dive and snorkel locations, as well as lazy river float haunts for college kids. They are a wonderful way to see the state in a different light and give their visitors a nice reprieve from the state’s summer heat.
Blue Grotto is an incredible spring located at the bottom of a sinkhole, for lack of a better description. It looks as though the earth fell away and opened into a rocky cavern of crystal clear water. It’s spring fed and has that same cool, constant temperature mentioned above year round.
We dove Blue Grotto and it was a fun, but short dive. There are a lot of rugged rock structures and interesting fossils to see while you’re down there. There is also an underwater lookout point that is filled with breathable air. This is kind of awesome from a novelty standpoint. Getting to be underwater and taking off your mouthpiece is a trip!
However, as far as animal life is concerned, it’s a closed system so there isn’t much in the spring. This is part of what makes it a short dive. Once you’ve explored the upper and middle caverns, there’s not much else to see. However, there is Virgil! Virgil is a lovely female, soft-shelled turtle who has lived in the cavern for years. She is pretty much tame and sneaks up on you when you least expect it! She is absolutely beautiful, so we’ve embedded a video for you guys to see.
Rainbow River is by FAR my favorite fresh water dive and actually ranked closely with the kelp forest dive we did in Monterey Bay, CA. It’s a drift dive in an absolutely spectacular location. You start at the Rainbow River Park and take a boat up to the mouth of the river. Then you jump off the back of the boat and let the current take you down the river while you scuba.
The water is crystal clear and you are surrounded by spectacular trees with Spanish moss waving from their branches on the ride up-river. Then, once you get underwater, it is even more beautiful. There is a ton of vivid green, waving sea grass and quite a few caverns and structures during the dive. This is mixed with plenty of colorful fish and turtles swimming all around you. I wish we had more dive footage of this, but the go-pro images we had didn’t really convey the peaceful serenity of the experience. It seems like there’s something special about this dive that doesn’t quite translate on camera. Guess we’ll just have to go back and try again…darn! 😉
I did, however, find a really cool video of the fresh, underground spring water bubbling up from the sand. This is compliments of our friends Joe and Nora, so thank you guys!
Places to Stay
The best part about most of the springs we’ve visited is that they are open for camping. On this particular trip we camped at Devil’s Den, which is another awesome spring just a short drive away. However, you could definitely check out the camping sites at Blue Grotto or Rainbow River and be just as happy.
As a side note, if you do decide to visit Devil’s Den, I would not recommend scuba diving there. We did that the first time we visited and it wasn’t really worth it. It is definitely worth snorkeling though!
Tips for Fresh Water & Spring Diving
Before I finish this post, I wanted to share a couple of tips for fresh water diving and the temperature in the springs. The first tip is that you will definitely want gloves, boots and a 5 millimeter wet suit. Though 72 degrees Fahrenheit doesn’t sound that cold, it is not warm at all. I can’t imagine doing this, or any spring dive, without a wet suit of at least that thickness.
The second tip is with regards to buoyancy. For those of you who are newer to fresh water diving, the weight needed to achieve proper buoyancy is much less than in salt water. We dove in Blue Grotto first, which is a super easy dive to use to adjust your weight. There is a floating dock right by where you will dive and you can add or remove weight as needed right there, without impacting the enjoyment of your dive. If you are going to do both dives, I’d do that one first so that you get your weight right there instead of at Rainbow River.
If you are not a diver but love to snorkel, then all of the springs mentioned in this post are still incredible locations for you! Diving is not required in any of these places and I think you could have a great experience and see a lot of what the springs have to offer if you snorkeled instead.
As always, we hope you enjoyed this post and please feel free to reach out to us with any questions you might have! If you’re interested in more dive spots, check out our post on Belize.