Rainbow Springs State Park | 10830 S.W. 180th Ave. Road, Dunnellon | visitrainbowsprings.com
The water at Rainbow Springs is Caribbean blue with stretches of dark green river grass interrupted by patches of white sand. Just north of the city of Dunnellon, this spring’s run is deep and straight. You’ll also notice that the river is split in half. Wilderness on the left. Private homes with docks and pontoon boats on the right. Sunning pensioners sit on their docks and try to pretend that scores of people aren’t floating by.
Rainbow Springs takes away the difficult choice of which tube to select. Here, there’s only one kind of tube—the doughnut. Grab your tube and take a tram to the launching spot. You must bring a cumbersome life vest, but it comes in handy when you’re with a group because you can use the vest’s straps to tie the tubes together to create a colorful flotilla.
Springs in Florida are categorized in orders of magnitude. A first magnitude spring is the largest, which means it has a water discharge rate of at least 2,800 liters or 100 cubic feet of water per second. If you can’t conceptualize that, don’t worry, neither can I. Suffice it to say that Rainbow Springs is the fourth-largest spring formation in Florida and a first magnitude spring. That means you share the water with a lot of local critters. In the water and around the banks I saw otters, cormorants, herons, fish and turtles that ignored my presence and went about their business. At the entrance to the spring is a sign warning tubers that there are alligators. I figured it was litigious insurance. But lo and behold, near the end of the lazy river a 6-foot gator glided a stone’s throw away from my tube. He had his eye on me, and I was hoping he was more worried about what I might do.
90- to 120-minute float
$22 (includes entrance fee, tube and tram ride)
Distance from Sarasota
About 2.5 hours
Gallons flowing per day
Labor Day–End of October: 8 a.m.–3:30 p.m., weekends only; November-March, closed (call to confirm opening.)