Rainbow springs is a gorgeous state park on the western side of the Florida peninsula. It first caught my eye when I was browsing state parks in Florida that would be a good weekend camping trip. The crystal clear blue water surrounded by mossy live oaks and palmetto trees looked unreal. When I saw an opening on a Friday this spring I jumped on it! I sent a text to my boyfriend and told him the plan. We were going to spend one night at the campground, visit the springs, and then spend the next day in Saint Augustine, Florida. This ended up being the perfect amount of time at both places and made an incredible weekend getaway for us.
There aren’t many large towns nearby Rainbow Springs State Park but the closest is Dunnellon, Florida. It’s a tiny little town with some shops, grocery stores, a few restaurants and bars to it’s name. There are ranches full of cattle and horses all over the area and it gives it a quiet pastoral vibe. Most people come here to visit the springs or the Rainbow River which is extremely popular for floating, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking. Rainbow Springs has been a draw for people for over ten thousand years. Native Americans used to visit the springs. In the 1930’s the area was a theme park. You can actually still see remnants of the park when you walk around. There are multiple waterfalls and ruins of a small zoo left. The waterfalls make some really pretty pictures so I am glad they survived so long. The Head springs and the Campground are in two far away places so walking from one to the other while possible isn’t recommended. You’ll need a car.
Visiting the Park
The Headsprings is where you will want to go if you are interested in swimming or walking the grounds. You can also kayaks here if you want to explore the Rainbow River. The spring produces 490 gallons of crystal clear water daily, so this is probably one of the cleanest rivers you could explore. Tubes are not allowed in the Headsprings area, but there is tubing entrance in the park at S.W. 180th Avenue Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432. Tubes are available for rent there for the admission fee plus the $20 tube rental fee.
- Admission is $2 per person
- Children under 6 are FREE
- Open 8 am to Sunset, 365 days a year
There is a gift shop, bathrooms, a snack bar, picnic tables, and pavilions. There is plenty of room to stretch out on a blanket on the grass between swims if you want. Miles of trails to hike are available as well. The paths are landscaped with lots of ornamental and native plants. You will see the waterfalls along these paths. We had a lot of fun just walking around for a few hours. We decided not to swim since the spring water is only seventy two degrees year round. That’s a little brisk for my taste. The swimming area is roped off for safety reasons I’m sure. There is a little floating dock you can get in and out on. The water did look super inviting (just like a pool) as you can see in the picture below.
Visiting Rainbow Springs Campground
Rainbow Springs Campground is compact. The cost to camp for one night is $40. There are RV and tent sites. All of them have water and power hook ups. There are multiple bath houses which was nice. Our tent site was #60 which is as far back into the woods as you can possibly be. It was plenty spacious! I had more than enough room for my Nemo Dagger 3P, chairs, Platypus GravityWorks water filter (I brought it for taste more than purification this time), and cooler. There is a fire pit, grill, a clothes line, and a picnic table. Unfortunately there isn’t much space between tent sites so you can pretty much see your neighbors and you can really hear them.
SIDE NOTE: I really liked our site but we had one group of neighbors who really didn’t feel like respecting the 11 pm quiet time rule. They stayed up with their kids and dogs until 1:30 in the morning speaking incredibly loudly and didn’t shut up even after they were asked by other campers. I do not blame the rangers or campground for those campers. The rangers we spoke with before and after were incredibly nice and helpful. I mentioned the disruptive people to the front desk ranger when we left and she was very concerned about it. Her reaction meant more to me than anything else. You could tell she really loved her job and didn’t want people coming away with a bad experience. There is a number you can call if something like that happens to you. A ranger lives on site.
We checked in around 3 pm. We went to the springs first to kill time which probably wasn’t the best plan since we could’ve had free admission if we had gone after we checked in. It’s only $2 if you want to visit the springs first or if you’re short on time like we were. After pitching our tent and setting up camp we decided to head to the Rainbow River and launch site at the campground. It is a pretty short walk. In mid-March it was still too early and they weren’t offering kayak rentals at the time. We settled for watching boaters and stand up paddle boarders go by. You can swim in this area but it is full of grass and really didn’t look appealing. The swampy green area didn’t deter two young campers though! This was one of the best places in the campground to catch a breeze. Other families joined us there and it almost seemed like a neighborhood block party with people in camp chairs chatting it up. After about thirty minutes we were getting pretty hungry. We skipped lunch to make good time.
Dinner was a medley of ramen noodles, tortilla chips and local salsa that we picked up at the Winn-Dixie close by. This was my first time trying out my new Camp Chef Stryker stove. I was really impressed at how well it did! It brought the water to a boil extremely fast and had room to cook two whole packs of ramen at once without worrying about boiling over. The whole system packed up very easily. The only downside is the stove system and pot is a bit bulky and heavy compared to the super lightweight models on the market if you were to take it backpacking. It was perfect for a quick car camping trip! I also got two super cute insulated mugs before the trip which doubled as our cups and bowls. After dinner we cleaned up and headed to the nature trails on the campsite. It is a pretty short trail that runs along some power lines and pine trees. It made a nice quick walk but it is by no means a hike.
The bath houses nearest the tent sites is a single room for each sex. The shower, toilet and sink are all in one room. They seemed clean and decent for a camp shower. There are some plugs if you need to use a blow dryer or charge your phone while you shower. The sink has an odd faucet though and you have to push it from the bottom to get water flowing. I have never seen that before. It makes brushing your teeth a tedious process. MAKE SURE you bring flip flops or shower shoes, and a towel. I had a little trouble balancing all of my bath products on the shower bar. If you have a tote it would be helpful. I had plenty of hot water for my shower that night, but my boyfriend had no hot water on two attempts. He even got up the minute quiet time was over to try and get a hot shower with no luck. I’m not sure if it was just the men’s bathroom or what. If that bath house is taken there are other bathrooms at the back of the main office, a short walk away.
Now I already commented on the rowdy neighbors at camp that made sleep difficult, but once they shut up the animals got brave. You are definitely in the wilderness here just remember that! We had a very persistent raccoon that kept trying to break into our cooler. We chased it off three times, and it came back every time! Eventually it got it open and realized there were no goodies inside. Just some canned drinks. If you have any food please just put it in your car. If you have a cooler you should probably put it in the car at night too. After the raccoon a skunk came close to our tent, and a pack of coyotes was howling nearby. The humidity, heat and noise were too much for us to get a decent night’s sleep. If we had been in an RV the whole experience would’ve been totally different. I think for Florida unless you are visiting in the depths of winter tent camping tends to be a hot buggy affair.
One tip from my cousin who camps and hikes constantly is to download a white noise app on your phone to block out the animal noises. If nothing else it will keep you from freaking out at every squirrel who passes your tent at night.
In the morning we got up at first light, packed up and checked out with the front desk. We were off to Saint Augustine. We stopped at Breakfast Station on the way out of town for a ton of coffee and some delicious cinnamon swirl pancakes. The service was great and the price was extremely affordable!
……Now if we had been able to stay for two nights I would have tried going tubing or kayaking in the river on the second day. March had pleasant weather so it’s a good time to visit. If you go a little later in the year the brisk spring water might be a little more alluring. A good day trip would be Devils Den in Williston if you want to venture a bit further. It is a prehistoric spring which is great for diving.