Down Under Florida

Snorkel or dive in a state filled with springs, amidst manatees, limestone caves, and the clearest water this side of Clearwater.
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If a lake is the earth's expression of its soul, then a spring is the Visine-clear manifestation of its eye. As pure as ether, sometimes tinted blue by the reflection of the sky, often nestled back in a woods of pines or cypress—man, what else do you need? It's just nature and you and the transcendence that floating on and in water as clear as the sky provides.

Because of its porous limestone terrain, Florida has more springs than any other state. Most are located north, from Central Florida to the Panhandle. There are perhaps as many as 1,000 springs here, but many are on private land and not accessible to visitors. Others are protected inside state parks or preserves and—depending on your skill level—can be experienced from behind a snorkel and mask, or using scuba gear. Some create "runs" or creeks that may be large enough to paddle for miles; and it's an all-year-round pursuit (though pick the winter for deserted runs and still comfortable water temps). Here's our top picks for the best of Florida Springs:

Blue Springs, Orange City
Manatees are the big winter draw here, and they migrate in from the St. Johns River every season after the river temperatures drop below the 72-degree temperature of the springs. Otherwise, spring through fall is a superb time to snorkel in the main earthen basin of the spring "boil" and its run—or to dive in the 120-foot throat of the spring itself. Spotted gar, tilapia, and bass lurk along the edges of the natural spring run, which empties into the St. Johns. A Cousteau documentary years ago alerted the public to how important this spring was to over-wintering manatees, and preservationists lobbied to purchase it as public land.

Wekiwa Springs, Longwood
One of the closest springs to the urban Orlando area, Wekiwa (Seminole for "spring waters") is actually two limestone vents inside a large, bulkheaded swimming area. It is the beginning of the Wekiva (no misspelling, this one means "flowing waters") River, which is fed by at least nineteen other springs. The mainspring of Wekiwa can be snorkeled. During the dry season, when swamp run-off doesn't tint the waters sepia with tannin, the river itself is ripe for snorkeling Look for the primitive armored Amazon catfish, first dumped here as small fry by frustrated aquarium owners and now grown to a foot or more in size.

Rock Springs, Apopka
This spring gushes out of the bottom of a dramatic limestone bluff and meanders for several miles before confluxing with the Wekiva River. Although its strong current makes it more popular with tubers (rentals available nearby), snorkeling gives the experience another dimension. Several smaller "sand boils" contribute additional flow to the run along this stretch. Watch for river otters here.

Published: 20 Dec 2000 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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