- Scale -1st magnitude
- Scenery -outstanding
- How Pristine? -longstanding spring attraction, partly restored to natural state; walkways, platforms around spring, dock below spring pool, nutrients leach into springshed
- Swimming -fine, superb snorkeling
- Protection -excellent in park
- Crowds -heavy on warm weekends
- Access -excellent
- Facilities -excellent
- Safety -very good
- Scuba -no
- Cost -$5 per carload of up to 8 people
Directions (address, phone, and map link: 19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432, 352-465-8555; www.floridastateparks.org/park/Rainbow-Springs)
From the intersection of U.S. 41 and Highways 40/484 in Dunnellon, drive north 3-4 miles to Rainbow Springs State Park entrance on the right (east) side. Follow park entrance road to parking area and walk to spring.
The Rainbow Springs group, the 4th largest concentration of springs in Florida (based on average flow) consists of about 18 identified springs and numerous other small flow points in the run of Rainbow River. Numerous springs form a large (250 in diameter) circular spring pool that is the headwaters of the Rainbow River. There are at least four major flowpoints in the basin of the pool, which is generally 8-15 feet deep. Champion & Starks (May 2001) list these four flows as follows:
Rainbow Springs #1--a strong flow of water from a vent 30-50 feet in length at a depth approximately 10-15 and creating a faint boil on the surface (p. 43). This spring is located just north of the roped swim area.
Rainbow Springs #2--limestone openings in the northeast portion of the spring pool. There several openings in this area, varying from a few inches to several feet in diameter, with weak to strong flows that "blow" pebbles and shells. The depth is about 10 feet.
Rainbow Springs #3--limestone openingd in the northeast portion of the spring pool. There several also openings in this area, varying from a few inches to 1-2 feet in diameter, with weak to strong flows that "blow" pebbles and shells. The depth is about 10 feet.
Rainbow Springs #4--a large limestone opening--about six feet long--in the lower end of the pool in the center (outside the roped swim area). The flow creates a strong surface boil and is about 10 feet deep (p. 44).
The bottom of the main spring basin created by these and adjoining springs is mostly sandy, with some vegetation, rocks and pebbles, and abundant fish populations. JF last saw an alligator in the main spring basin in 1998--a 4-foot juvenile in what is now called Rainbow Seep #1 at the north end of the spring basin.
These springs and those described below form the Rainbow River, which flows about 6 miles into the Withlacoochie River in Dunnellon and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. The river is initially as wide as the spring basin-about 250 feet, then narrows at the park boundary line to about 100-150 feet across. The depth of the river varies from 4-40 feet. Water in the river can be exceptionally clear; wind, rain, and human traffic on the water reduce visibility. Wildlife are abundant under, on, and above the water and includes mullet, gar, crappie, bluegill, perch, turtles, chubsuckers, bass, sunfish, jacks, alligators, otters, osprey, hawks, water snakes, herons, coots, ducks, and vultures. Land around the spring is thick forest that has been partially cleared for the privately owned tourist attractions that once occupied the site. Along the river, the west side is developed for housing, and the east side is mostly in a natural and undisturbed state/condition along the river, with farmland/pasture upland from the floodplain forest.
In addition to the springs that lie within the main pool, there are numerous sand boils in the pool and the run, other significant and small springs on the perimeter of the basin, and several large springs in the run (Rainbow River) itself. Most of the springs are in the first 1.5 miles of the river/run and together make up approximately 89% of the water in Rainbow River where it meets the Withlacoochie River (Champion & Starks, May 2001, p. 5). Other springs include the following:
Unnamed Spring--Near the boat tie-up at the SW end of the spring basin, this small spring is adjacent to the main run. The pool is circular, about 15 feet in diameter, shallow, filled with vegetation, and has a visible slick on the surface.
Bridge Seeps North and South--A few feet south of the swim area on the west side of the basin-water flows strongly from two points about 20 feet apart at the base of a limestone wall/grotto. The discharge flows under a footbridge into the spring pool. According to Champion & Starks (May 2001, p. 42), the combined flow for these two springs was 3 cfs (about 2,000,000 gallons per day) when measured in 1996.
Rainbow Seep #1--At the northern edge of the spring basin-a couple of small openings create a circular alcove at the upper edge of the spring. The alcove is semicircular and about 25 feet in diameter. The area around the alcove is lush with water plants, and the alcove is roped off.
East Seep--located at the NE corner of the spring basin at the edge of the pool. There are both small flows on the bottom and a small seep that flows into the spring at this point. At the bottom of the paved walkway on the east side of the spring below the main park building, at the lower end of the main basin-there is a small pool adjacent to the main basin where water can be seen bubbling up and flowing into the main pool.
Waterfall Spring--Just outside the main pool on the east side is a side runs/channel formed by a spring that appears to be 2nd magnitude in scale. Its run is about 100 feet long and 75 feet wide. The pool can be seen from the lower portion of the paved trail on the east side fo the spring. Flow from this spring is tapped to provide water for two manmade waterfalls that were originally part of the Rainbow Springs attraction. They have now been restored by the state park.
Bubbling (or Fountain) Spring--Located about 150 feet south or downstream of Waterfall Spring, this spring forms a run that is about 450 feet long and 100-200 feet wide. The more southern pool is not accessible from land, but the run may be viewed about 400 feet below (south) of the spring pool. This spring was once distinguished as having perhaps the most dramatic boil of any spring in Florida. Its flow created a constant natural fountain--about three feet across and two feet high--higher than that of any spring the authors have ever seen. JF visited this spring and sat in the fountain in 1983. In the early 1990s, JF was told that this spring had been vandalized--smashed with rocks--and no longer had a fountain. When he visited the site with park staff in 2002, the spring had 2-3 boils visible from the land. the largest was about 5 feet across and raised 3-4 inches above the surface. The other boils were smaller and more mild.
Rainbow Spring #6--Just inside the park boundary on the west side of Rainbow River, about 1/3 mile below the headwaters--this spring lies near an alcove just above the park boundary and a short distance upriver from a privately owned park and launch. Boiling white sand and limestone openings reveal a large flow point at a depth of 20 feet. According to Champion & Starks (May 2001, p. 46), the vent is elliptical and about five by two feet wide. Swimmers are not allowed to leave their boats at this location. The water is very clear, and the bottom is a bright blue-white in the sun on a calm day.
Unnamed Spring--About 2/3 miles below the headwaters, on the west side of the river, just off a dock and a large pontoon boat with a realtor's sign on it--this spring is an opening in the limestone bottom and appears to be about 15 feet deep.
Unnamed Spring--Over a mile below the headwaters, and about ¼ mile above the Rainbow Springs Campground, in the middle of the river--another opening in the limestone at a depth of about 12 feet. Flow can be felt coming from the limestone openings. Either this spring or the one described immediately above may the spring identified as Garfish Spring in Springs of Florida (Rosenau et al., 1977, p. 268).
Also according to Rosenau et al., flow at Rainbow Spring comes from a watershed/catchment area of "about 645" square miles. Water flowing from the main spring pool is unusually free of minerals, or "soft," while water rising from downriver springs is considerably "harder" (1977, p. 268-269).
- The spring is part of an approximately 1,500-acre state park with swimming, picnic areas, garden trails, a butterfly garden, nature observation, concessions, restrooms, and boat access.
- There are two attractive (but manmade) waterfalls along the paved paths on the east side of the spring.
- Festivals are held at the park on a regular basis-call the park at the number below for details.
- The trails are paved and pass along gardens and former areas where monkeys and other animals were kept in cages.
- The trails loop by several of the springs on the perimeter of the main spring pool.
- There is a platform from which bathers can enter the water and swim or snorkel within a roped-off area. Beyond the swim area (and a couple more springflows) on the SW end of the spring basin, there is a little dock to which boats may be tied.
- One may not put in a boat at the park, but can launch at either KP Hole County Park (which is 1.5 miles downriver from the state park on the west side-access from U.S. 41) or the Rainbow Springs Campground, which is 1.5 downriver on the east side-access from SW. 180th Avenue). Motors may not be used within the park boundaries, so motorboats must cut their engines at the line and paddle in.
- 750 tons of nitrate is discharged each year from Rainbow Springs, after having leached into its watershed from fertilizer and other runoff. Average nitrate levels at in the spring run/river are about 1 mg/l, with higher concentrations of nitrate flowing out of the springs on the east side of the river where there are pastures that are treated with inorganic fertilizers. There are also golf courses in the Rainbow springshed that make heavy use of fertilizers.
- A property owner has approached Perrier to pump 100,000 gallons of water daily from a well near Rainbow Springs. According to a report given at the 2003 Florida Springs Conference (Samek, 2003), the owner sued for approval of the permit, won, and then the county won on appeal. The landowner appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, but the high court did not take up the case. The owner was considering developing the land instead. (Information also from Schneider, 2001, p. 2A).
- Rainbow was once called Blue Springs, and its run called Blue Run and Blue River.
- Inhabited and used by Native Americans for nearly 10,000 years, the Indians were pushed out and a town called Juliett was built on the site of the spring. Reputed healing properties attracted people seeking cures, and a hotel was built in 1890. During the Prohibition era, the river was used extensively by bootleggers. Starting in the 1930s, there was a series of attractions on the site. The last one, owned by Holiday Inn and S&H Green Stamps, closed in 1974 and the property was unused until it became a state park in the early 1990s (Bergan & Bergan, 1997. P. 80). The Florida Park Service also notes the following history: "Rainbow Springs has served as an important natural resource for humans and animals for many years. At one time, mastodon and mammoth fossils were found in the Rainbow River, along with relics of the American Indians who used the river for transportation and fishing. Much later, in the early 20th century, the surrounding area was mined for phosphate. The new industry brought a boom and the towns of Juliette and Dunnellon were founded. Juliette, once located on what is now park property, no longer exists."(www.floridastateparks.org/park-history/Rainbow-Springs)
As noted and explained in the essay below, Rainbow is JF's overall favorite spring complex, and it is in RB's top three. The profusion of springs, water clarity, relative lack of development, abundance of wildlife, accessibility, recreational opportunities, land relatively low amounts of exotics set this spot apart and above all the rest in the authors' subjective opinions. JF and his (first) wife had their honeymoon at a house along the river, which adds a sentimental attachment as well. It was 1983, and the spring area was not being used, but a glass-bottom boat was still in the basin (and open), the trails were available, and the main waterfall was flowing. They had the site entirely to themselves and four days of connubial and spring-washed bliss.
- Chassahowitzka River Springs
- Blue Spring
- Crystal River Springs
- Homosassa Springs
- Weeki Wachee Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Withlacoochie State Forest
- Fort Cooper State Park
- Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
- Crystal River State Archeological Site
- Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge
- Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge