As Florida’s fourth-largest spring, one would think that’s the main attraction at Rainbow Springs State Park. But that isn’t the case.
It’s home to three man-made waterfalls, conundrums in a state that’s mostly flat, and a natural lazy river fed by aquifers flowing with crystal-clear spring water, which fills the natural pool of the state’s fourth-largest spring, the third most well-known attraction.
Unlike many natural-fed springs in Florida, Rainbow Springs State Park, a stone’s throw from Dunnellon and Tampa, is where visitors of all walks of life go to chase Florida waterfalls, enjoy a day of tubing down a natural lazy river, lounge and dive into the depths of the springs’ rocky limestone outcrops, and spend the night at Rainbow Springs Campground only to wake up and do it all again.
The Only Florida State Park Waterfalls
To my knowledge, Rainbow Springs State Park is home to the only waterfalls in Florida within a state park. That’s because the state is widely known for its flat beaches riddled with palm trees and covered in soft grains of white and tan sand.
The highest point in Florida reaches just 345 above sea level, not exactly where waterfalls would call home. But Rainbow Springs State Park has three waterfalls, albeit man-made falls so it’s a bit of a cheating effort.
They were built by the owners of the property in the early- to mid-1900s, when the privately owned spring was home to a zoo, monorail for exploring, the natural spring at the base of its land and, of course, the three man-made waterfalls still flowing strong today.
In pictures, the Florida State Park waterfalls look as if they tower over palm trees, spilling hundreds of gallons of water each minute over rocky outcrops sprawling with green moss.
The three waterfalls tip the scale anywhere from 6 feet to the largest of the three, Rainbow Falls, which maxes out at 60 feet. They’re a pleasant sight to see — and listen to — in a state known for its pristine beaches and springs.
Swimming and Snorkeling in Rainbow Springs State Park
As the state’s fourth-largest spring, Rainbow Springs State Park offers a massive swimming and snorkeling area that average about 5 feet deep and maxes out at 18 feet deep in a few areas.
Although it offers a large swimming area, it doesn’t have the enormous limestone caverns that many nearby springs have. The ground is mostly covered with fine sand and marine-bearing grass.
There is a small wading area that’s about 3 feet deep for those younger swimmers to take advantage of. There are no tubes, rafts, kayaks or canoes allowed in the swimming area, but life jackets and noodles can be used for floating. There are also no lifeguards on duty, so swimmers must use the area at their own risk.
Rainbow Springs Kayaking and Canoeing
Canoes and kayaks go down a different section than tubers, as each canoe and kayak is allowed to launch near the main entrance of Rainbow Springs, where swimmers and snorkelers are gallivanting around in the water.
If you go far enough downstream, past the Juniper Run Creek, you’ll eventually run into a mass amount of tubers enjoying a day on the water. Since the river is fairly wide, you can either take your kayak or canoe out at the tubing exit or paddle back upstream to the launch.
If you go all the way to the tubing exit, it’s about a 4-mile paddle, so you’ll have to paddle 8 miles round trip to get there and back to the launch area.
You can launch your own canoe or kayak for free, after paying the $2 park entrance fee, or you can rent one or the other for a few hours or the entire day at the Rainbow Springs Visitor Center.
- Canoe & Kayak Rentals: $16 for 2 hours; $24 for 4 hours; $38 for a full day
Rainbow River Tubing
One of the most popular activities at Rainbow Springs State Park is going Rainbow River tubing down the crystal-clear, spring-fed 72-degree waters located down the street from the headsprings entrance (since tubing is not allowed in the swimming area of Rainbow Springs).
Rainbow River tubing is a relaxing, 2-mile stretch down a natural lazy river. All day-use visitors tubing down the Rainbow River must rent a tube from the park’s concessionaire, and only registered campers may bring and use their own tube to go down the river.
There’s also a free shuttle that picks you up at the end of your relaxing float and brings you back to Rainbow Springs State Park Visitor Center parking lot, where you will have left your car during the float.
There’s no set time limit on how quickly you must finish your tubing adventure, so you can stop and relax at different pull-outs along the way. However, you don’t want to miss the last shuttle of the day because all vehicles must be out of the parking lot by 6 p.m.
Rainbow Springs State Park Tube Rentals
- Tube Rentals are $20 per person, per day plus a $2 entrance fee into the park
- April to Memorial Day: Tube rentals only available on weekends
- Memorial Day to Labor Day: Daily tube rentals are available
- September: Tube rentals only available on weekends
- October to March: No tube rentals are available
Hiking in Rainbow Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs Trail is where you’ll pass by three man-made waterfalls flowing into a small riverbed lush with native plants and shrubbery. The entire hike is along a paved path, which weaves past each waterfall before leading hikers back to the main entrance into the spring.
Rainbow Springs Trail
- Distance: 2.1-mile out and back
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 75 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 45 minutes
- Trailhead Coordinates: Entrance Near the Swimming Hole
Rainbow Springs Garden Walk
- Distance: 1.9-mile loop
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 49 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 45 minutes
- Trailhead Coordinates: Entrance Near the Visitor Center
Rainbow Springs Campground
Rainbow Springs State Park camping is separated into two facilities that are just a few miles from the main spring and day-use area of the park. There are 60 campsites, each equipped with water and electricity hookups (20, 30 and 50 amp).
Only seven sites are reserved for only tent campers, while the remaining sites can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 103 feet. Yup, that’s a huge trailer if you’ve got it. Many sites are reserved for RVs and trailers that are 60 feet and under, so the spaces can accommodate some pretty big rigs.
There are many very clean bathrooms with washhouses on the property that offer flushable toilets and hot showers. There’s also a recreation hall accessible to campers with a coin-operated laundry room. Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance at ReserveAmerica.
- Campsite Price: $30 per night for all sites
Rainbow Springs State Park Entrance Fee
As a Florida State Park, Rainbow Springs isn’t included or associated with any annual passes, so visitors will have to pay $2 per person, per day to get into the headsprings, which is a steal compared to other springs in the state.
The spring opens at 8 a.m. and closes at sunset every day, but visitors will need to get there early each morning, especially in the summer, as the park tends to fill to capacity before noon on weekends and holidays. Tubing, which is found in a separate part of the park, is open from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
- Rainbow Springs State Park Daily Fee: $2 per person, per day