Rainbow Springs and the Rainbow River are unique places to visit. The Rainbow River is one of the clearest rivers in the world, with underwater visibility of over 250 feet in the headsprings area. This is why we wanted to visit the area. Years ago we had kayaked and snorkeled in the Rainbow River, and two years ago I did some SCUBA diving there as well.
We stayed at the Rainbow Springs State Park. This is a very nice campground with campsites that are spread out with sufficient trees between each site to give you some privacy, but not so much that you can’t make friends with your neighbors if you chose to do so. There is a swimming area and canoe/kayak launch a short walk from the campground. They have carts available to move your boat from the campground to the launch – a nice touch!
The Rainbow Springs State Park has a unique history –
In the 1920s, this spring was a favorite spot for tourists and locals. The privately owned Rainbow Springs attraction opened in the 1930s. As the attraction grew, the river was dredged for glass bottom boat tours; and waterfalls were built on piles of phosphate tailings. A zoo, rodeo, gift shops and a monorail with leaf-shaped gondolas were included. In the mid-1970s, when larger theme parks lured the tourists away, Rainbow Springs was closed. In 1972, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated Rainbow River as a National Natural Landmark. On October 25, 1990, Rainbow Springs State Park joined the Florida Park Service. Today, the park consists of more than 1,470 acres and has three main entrances.
Shortly before we left Pensacola I injured my knee while running, so my mobility was very limited. It was very frustrating to be in such a nice place and not be able to enjoy it to its fullest. However, it didn’t stop us from kayaking on the Rainbow River.
We paddled up to the headsprings where the river begins. Because the river is spring-fed, it has a constant temperature of 72 degrees. The temperature and the clarity of the river make a popular location for kayakers, snorkelers, and SCUBA divers. The current is slow enough that it is easy to paddle upstream to the headsprings and drift back downstream. We landed our kayaks at the headsprings canoe launch and explored the site of the old Rainbow Springs attraction. We wandered passed waterfalls that were created from rocks dredged from the river and water pumped from the headsprings. We could see the remains of the zoo and other features. It was a very unique history lesson. Later in the week we paddled upriver again, had a picnic lunch and searched for geocaches.
Our niece, Robin, and her kids drove up from Tampa to spend the day with us on Saturday. We “entertained” them with pictures of our trip to Alaska and she brought us up to date on what is going on in their lives. Afterwards I took her son, Jeremiah, kayaking. He has a great eye for spotting wildlife and we had a lot of fun.
Sunday was a beautiful, warm day and we paddled up to the headsprings and changed into our snorkeling gear. With our kayaks in tow and my Diver Below flag up, we drifted downstream. The water was SO clear! We saw small mouth bass and turtles as they swam below us. There were spots along the river bottom where other springs flowed into the river. You could feel the warm water flowing right out of the ground.
On Monday, January 12th, we took our time to make the relatively short drive to Raccoon Creek RV Park at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL.