Jump in and enjoy some of The Sunshine State's refreshing fountains of youth.
Come on down to the water and take a swim. You will feel younger. I guarantee it. Maybe it’s the laughter of children splashing
or just the pure enchantment of these magical, mysterious places where time stops on a summer afternoon. Mermaids and manatees
live here. So do the Creature From the Black Lagoon and all sorts of other wondrous things.
You won’t find any of these watery treasures down at the beach. They hide away in forests and secret places. The world’s largest and most plentiful springs―more than 700 in all―gush in Florida. Senior Photographer Gary Clark and I spent weeks searching for the best. Here are some we think you’ll love.
Wakulla Springs, gushing more than 175,000 gallons a minute, forms the headwaters of the 9-mile-long river. It looks as wild as the Amazon this morning. Animals are everywhere. A moorhen whoops it up. Her staccato call―an often-used sound effect in jungle movies―sounds more like a chimpanzee than a bird. Another famous beast, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, starred in a classic sci-fi movie filmed here.
Children leap off a diving platform (14 feet up) into the 68-degree swimming area near the headwaters of the spring. “Better than Disney,” wrote a traveler from South Africa who signed the memory book in room 22 of the lodge. The state park manages the retro, relaxing lodge, built in 1937 when the springs operated as a private attraction. Children love the vintage soda fountain, where families celebrate the end of a fun-filled day. www.floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings or (850) 926-0700.
Mesmerized, I pause on a hillside to admire the breathtaking oasis that surrounds the spring-fed pool at Rainbow Springs State
Park. It’s one of the most eye-catching settings of any of the springs.
Once privately owned, the 1,400-acre park features gardens and tumbling waterfalls. A 500-million-gallon spring feeds the Rainbow River, a popular place for tubing, kayaking in clear-bottom boats, snorkeling, and guided nature trips. “For the locals, this is our beach,” says park ranger Nicky Aiken.
Tip: Try to visit on a weekday. This park―like most of the springs―gets its biggest crowds on weekends. www.floridastateparks.org/rainbowsprings or (352) 465-8555.
Rent a tube nearby, pay the $3 to $5 admission, and float the refreshing water of Rock Springs at this county park, a hidden treasure not far from Wekiwa Springs State Park. www.orangecountyparks.net or (407) 889-4179.
“I have a brother and a sister, but I’m the only mermaid in the family,” Stayce McConnell explains with a laugh backstage.
Then she adjusts her tail and dives into a 60-foot-long tunnel to star in The Little Mermaid show in the 500-seat underwater
theater at Weeki Wachee Springs.
Weeki Wachee begins operation as a state park later this year after a mighty effort to save it. That means children such as the six small girls intently watching the show from front-row seats can still believe in mermaids. They might even grow up to be mermaids too. One tip from Stayce: “Be sure to wear waterproof makeup.” www.weekiwachee.com or (352) 596-2062.