A Visit to Rainbow Springs State Park, Florida

We spent a week at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida. We had hoped to get some kayaking in, but never had the opportunity as we couldn’t take the dog on the river with us and he’s not old enough to be left alone yet without disturbing the other campers while he whines for hours and hours. So we took him with us when we went to the state park.

We spent some time walking through Rainbow Springs State Park and looking at the waterfalls. Unfortunately all the azalea blooms had already died, which was disappointing as it would have made for some pretty landscape shots. Even though the waterfalls are man-made, they are still pretty to look at. We also saw baby turtles and lots of different fish. It was nice to see other people enjoying the outdoors as well. Some people were actually swimming, but I’m afraid those waters are too cold for me plus the weather was only 70 degrees.

Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and from the 1930’s through the 1970’s was the site of a popular, privately owned attraction. Over time the park grew and included submarine tours of the main spring, gardens, waterfalls, a monorail, aviary, zoo and a rodeo area. The amusement park closed in 1974 after interstate highways had diverted traffic from U.S. 41 so much so that people didn’t visit as much. Because of the history with the springs, citizens would not let the park die and soon the state took over; redesigned the area as a state park, returning it to its natural condition and opened to the public in 1995. Rainbow Springs State Park includes more than 1,470 acres.

Seminole Falls are remnants of Rainbow Springs attraction era that were built in 1937 utilizing soil dredged from a nearby phosphate pit.

Other falls in the park.

On another day we decided to drive over to Homosassa Springs State Park which was only about a 30 minute drive. I was hoping the wild manatees would still be around, but unfortunately they had already left so the only manatees were the ones in captivity. There were several animals in the park and we enjoyed our leisurely stroll. Although there were some school children around, they were well-behaved and the park was not crowded, so it made our time enjoyable and stress free.  We had to put Oscar in doggy daycare for the day though because dogs are not allowed in this park at all.  He also needed to get his next round of shots, so we left him with the veterinarian for a few hours. He was so sad when we picked him up. He was completely worn out as he had cried for the majority of the time he was there. Don’t know what I was thinking in getting a puppy at this stage in our travels, but we were able to enjoy the day and it looks like we might have to find some other doggy daycare places down the road so we can have mommy and daddy time.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900’s. Back then trains stopped so passengers could walk the short trail to the spring. The 50-acre site and surrounding 100 acres were purchased in the 1940’s and operated as a small attraction. In 1964, the property was bought by the Norris Development Company, who expanded the springs making it a place of entertainment with a variety of exotic animals as well as some native species. Norris sold the property in 1978 and until 1984, it changed many hands until the state of Florida purchased and turned it into a state park.

One of the highlights of Homossassa Springs is the Hippopotamus, Lu. Lu was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1960. He’s been a resident of the Springs since 1964. When he was young, he starred in television and movies. The governor in 1989, Lawton Chiles, is the reason Lu still gets to reside at the springs as when the state bought the former attraction, hundreds of letters were sent to the governor requesting Lu be able to stay and as such he was made an honorary citizen of the state of Florida.Although I wouldn’t want to meet an alligator in the wild; I always like seeing them at different attractions. Today I learned something about alligators that I wasn’t aware of and that is they growl. The up close shot alligator started it and then the big one added his growl and it continued with other gators around the pond.  It was an interesting sound. The sign seemed silly as it’s seems obvious no one would want to swim with gators.

There were many more animals in the park, but this post would get very long if I shared all the pics I took, so I’ll just share a few that stood out to me.

The Red Wolf was declared federally endangered in 1973. They are now sustained by captive populations; however, there are between 100 to 130 Red Wolves currently living in the wild.The Great Horned Owl is native to the Americas and resides in the forested areas of Florida. Their wingspan can be anywhere from 40 to 60 inches and are known to take prey 2 to 3 times heavier than themselves.

The Pink Flamingo always bewilders me with how they can stand for so long on 1 foot.  I have trouble standing on 2 sometimes, much less on 1.  Flamingos can live for over 25 years in captivity. They were once common in South Florida and as far north as Tampa Bay, but are usually associated with the tropics. During breeding season their color becomes a vibrant coral color and their diet adds to their color.The White Pelican can live up to 25 years in captivity. They are migratory birds who breed inland in the northern parts of the United States. They build their nest on the ground and instead of diving for food like the brown pelican, they scoop up their prey in the pouch of their bills. Both of these Pelicans are missing a wing, which is one of the reasons for this park as they take in animals that need rehabilitation.Both stops were great and highly recommended if you happen to be in the area. The Rainbow Springs State Park Campground area was a little intimidating for me as I don’t like being in total darkness and unfortunately the only lights around the park were at the ranger station. I was surprised they didn’t have some throughout the camping areas if for no other reason but safety; however, they were not. For this reason, I will think twice about staying there again.  

Next stop on our journey is Moore Haven, FL, which is about 5 minutes from Lake Okeechobee.  I really hope we get to spend some days fishing and have some nicer weather. It has been hard to enjoy the sunshine state with all the rain and cloudy days.  Come on Florida sunshine.

Hope to see you on the road…