Central Florida is home to much more than just theme parks. It's also where Floridians find refreshment on hot days and warm nights. Take a day off from Mickey Mouse and friends and get ready to soak up the sun (and the water) in one of the many hidden swimming holes in Central Florida.
A reminder of what Florida used to look like when it was inhabited by the Timucua Indians, Wekiwa Springs State Park will be the first stop on your wet and wild adventure. Along with a beautiful cold spring to swim in, the park offers 13 miles of hiking trails as well as opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. The swimming spring is only five feet deep, making it a great and safe spot for the whole family to take a dip. Make sure to arrive early, as the parking lot fills up quickly.
With a year-round temperature of 68°F, Kelly Park Rock Springs is a wonderful place to cool down on a hot day. Because the park’s creek flows freely and swiftly, one of the most popular activities among visitors is tubing. A float down the “lazy river” takes about 30 minutes to complete. The park also hosts an ever-popular Cardboard Canoe Regatta, normally held in the fall. Build your boat and sign up!
With more than 625 acres of fun, De Leon Springs State Park is ideal for travelers with varied interests. The spring remains at 72°F year round and produces 19 million gallons of water per day. That’s a whole lotta agua! The swimming area is handicap accessible and offers both scuba and snorkeling opportunities, and the park rents out kayaks, and canoes. Make sure to check out the nearby Sugar Mill Restaurant where you can cook your own pancakes right at the table. Sounds divine, doesn’t it?
The southernmost woodland in the United States, Ocala National Forest is a wonderful place to explore the beauty of nature. The park has an impressive number of crystal-clear springs, ponds, lakes and springs (more than 600, actually) which are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The park also hosts a 66-mile stretch of the Florida Scenic Trail as well as a variety of bike and horse-friendly trails. In December, Ocala is one of the few places you can go to cut down your own Christmas tree.
There’s evidence that people have been using this spring for more than 10,000 years—and you, too, can make history at Rainbow Spring State Park. Featuring the fourth-largest spring in Florida, this park is a popular site for canoeing, kayaking, snorkeling, and of course, swimming. In all, the park's spring pumps 500 million gallons of water per day! Helpful tip: Make sure to arrive when the park opens at 8 a.m. Once it’s at capacity, which typically happens by 10 a.m. on weekends and holidays, all other visitors will be turned away. Also, tubing is only available on the weekends.
With swamps, pines, and springs, Rock Springs Run State Reserve is your next stop. The park has 17 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trails, as well as designated hunting areas. The park (along with 74 other Florida state parks) offers a geocaching program for those looking to go on a high-tech treasure hunt. Keep an eye out for a variety of wildlife within the park, such as the Florida black bear and the sandhill crane.
Named for a painting of a yellow dog owned by Chef Fish Morgan, Yellow Dog Eats is a perfect place to refuel during your trip. All of the delicious meals—which feature creative titles such as “What the Fig?” and “Are You Chicken?”—are made from scratch, and the ingredients are locally grown. They even have a menu for the “pups” (kids)!
Next up on your journey is the peaceful Lake Louisa State Park—a wonderful escape right outside of Orlando. The park, which lies within the Green Swamp, features a variety of lakes for your swimming pleasure and is a great place to spot bald eagles. It also has quiet campsites and cabins. Make sure to watch the sunset over the lake—it’s a photo op that cannot be missed!
Also known as the “Singing Tower,” Bok Tower Gardens is a jaw-droppingly beautiful attraction. An ornate, pink 205-foot tower (which houses a museum) dominates the skyline at this garden, and there are many paths on which you can explore Florida’s diverse flora and fauna. Don’t forget your bug spray so you can explore the area in peace.
What trip to Florida would be complete without a stop to visit America’s favorite animated mouse? Tropical Palms Resort & Campground, located two miles away from Walt Disney World, is the perfect place to park your camper and head on over to sing “It’s A Small World” with all of the beloved Disney characters.
With more swimming holes than you can shake a stick at, central Florida is the perfect setting for a great time. Bask in the great weather, lush greenery, cool and fresh spring water, and vacation vibes as you explore the heart of the state. What are you waiting for? Dive on in!