Our First Florida Spring – Rainbow Springs State Park
After we left Fort Desoto Park, we drove straight to another beautiful campground, Rainbow Springs State Park. This park would be our first experience with Florida’s beautiful natural springs. And somehow we snagged two whole weeks there!
Now, the photographic evidence is a little spotty because a lot was going on while we stayed at Rainbow Springs.
First of all, we met back up with Taylor and Beth of The Learning Banks. We parted ways with them at Monument Lake. So we had some catching up and hanging out to do.
No More Mortgage
And, an even more significant deal, the house finally closed during our stay. Woohoo! So I drove back up to Atlanta, stayed one night, then booked on back down to Florida. What a relief! No one wants to pay a mortgage on a house where you no longer live. Also, we don’t miss this traffic.
Rainbow Springs Campground
The campground itself is lovely. Like most of the Florida state parks we’ve experienced, the sites are a nice size and usually have some privacy barrier between them. Our campsite at Rainbow Springs had palms and such in between us and the other sites.
Also, unlike some of the other springs parks, the Rainbow Springs campground has access to the springs, not just for putting in your kayak, but there’s also a roped off swimming area. Like most springs, the water here is a constant 72ºF. It’s a little chilly but feels terrific when the temperatures are in the high 80s, 90s. It’s also clear as glass. If you sit still, the fish will come nibble on you.
Visiting the Head Springs
The campground is not on the head springs. You can travel a bit further up the road to the entrance to the head springs. There’s a larger swimming area there. Up until the 1970s, Rainbow Springs was a privately owned attraction. Now it has gardens and waterfalls surrounding the area of the head springs.
Oh, and apparently piliated woodpeckers! We got to see this guy hammering away working hard for his lunch.
Still curious about Rainbow Springs? You might like this more recent video where we take our kayaks onto the river and up to the head springs.
Biking the Tram Roads
In season, we were not there at the right time; you can rent a tube, take a shuttle to the headsprings, and float down. But, because it wasn't the season, we were able to bike the tramroads to the tubing area. There are also some nature trails at the campground. They probably weren't intended for bikes, but we biked them anyway. Fun! You'll need a little bit of knobby on your tires though.
Swimming With Manatees
We also got up early and froze our butts swimming with manatees at Crystal Springs. Worth it, of course. The first area we went to had a mom and baby manatee. Squee! Both were sleeping so they would just rise and fall every once in a while to get air. The water was very clear here though.
The second location the boat took us to was murkier than the first, but the manatees were more active. We would just hang out in the water, and they'd swim by us. Maybe one accidentally touched my outstretched hand. It was an accident though. I swear. Sadly, we don't have any pictures from swimming with the manatees. But soon I'll post about kayaking with them at Silver Springs and include video.
One thing to understand about Rainbow Springs is that they do controlled burns here. They will tell you about it if you're home when they come by the RVs. If not, you might see smoke as you approach the campground as happened to our friend Shannon. You can imagine the panic she felt wondering if her house had burned up. Thankfully, that wasn't the case at all.
Vegan Pizza Score
Rainbow Springs is kind of in the middle of nowhere. And there weren't any vegan restaurants nearby. But we did find a vegan and gluten-free friendly pizzeria about 40 minutes down the road in Ocala, Blue Highway. They have vegan sauce and cheese available. The fries can be vegan if you leave off the parmesan coating. And they also have a flatbread and bean dip appetizer that can be vegan. On another visit, I tried the Tuscan Bean Piadine which was also delicious.
Foraging Class and Vegan Food in Orlando
While we were at Rainbow Springs, we trekked to Orlando to take a foraging class with Green Deane. He gives lessons all over Florida. April and Terry pointed us in his direction. We learned a ton during that four-hour class and then promptly forgot most of it. At least I did. If we ever settle in a location, I will learn about the edibles you can forage in the area. Since we move around so much, it's hard to keep track.
Of course, while we were in Orlando, we had to track down vegan donuts at Valhalla Bakery.
And then after the class, we destroyed some more Ethos because you can't be in Orlando and NOT eat at Ethos.
So What DID We Eat?
Sure, we enjoy eating out and supporting restaurants that offer delicious vegan food. But that's not always available. That's okay; we can cook! I know it doesn't seem like it, but we cook in quite a bit. So here's a sampling from our stay at Rainbow Springs.
This 3 Sisters Stew is fast and easy in the Instant Pot (Amazon affiliate link).
Now that we have a blender again, smoothie bowls can happen!
In warm weather, a sushi bowl makes the perfect meal. And it's plenty filling.
Rainbow Springs was a lovely place to recharge, and we would be happy to go back there anytime. Maybe next time we're in Florida we need to plan a tour of all the springs. Their beauty will spoil you. Freshwater in other places is just not that nice.
About the Author
vegan. digital nomad. cycling. scuba. intj. former vegan bakery owner.