This was our first trip to Rainbow Springs, and we made it a three-night camping trip! Rainbow Springs State Park is located in Dunnellon. We spent three days of hanging out, swimming in the springs, tubing the Rainbow River, and we even took a morning to drive the 30 minutes over to check out Devil's Den Prehistoric Spring.
We really had a good time on this trip! Here's the lowdown (my opinion) on each area of interest when visiting Rainbow Springs:
Camping at Rainbow Springs:
The campgrounds at Rainbow Springs are nice. It is located seven miles from the head spring (main swimming area), so you can't really ride your bike there. You need to drive the car, but we went there and back many times. The campgrounds are split into two parts, one off to the right (loop A) and one off to the left (loop B), with the park building in the middle. The sites to the left (1-43) is a much nicer area than the other side. Most sites are shady and offer some privacy because of the surrounding trees and bushes. We stayed in site 30 the first time we camped there and we liked it. The second trip there we stayed in site number 6 and loved it. The best sites are on the outer back ring and are backed up to all woods. They are sites 6-21. Site 30 is directly across from the camp restroom (which we don't really use), but just about any site in that side of the campground is nice. Loop A seems to be mostly tent campers. There is very little shade or privacy at those sites. You can ride your bike down to the river (where the tubing starts from). You could swim in there if you wanted to, but I didn't see anyone doing it. The campgrounds offer a full hook-up and the spaces are good size. My only one complaint about camping here was that campers in the next row over had an inflatable movie screen and they would show an outdoor movie on it every night around 9 pm. The problem is that they had the volume up so loud that even in our trailer with our air running we could hear their movie. It was quite annoying and selfish of them. I don't think it's good camping etiquette to play something so loud and annoy your neighbors.
Within the campground there is a swimming area in the Rainbow River. It's a small area, but great for taking a dip and cooling off if you don't feel like making the trek over to the main springhead. Several times, we rode our bikes down to the river and dunked in to cool off. The bike ride is just a few minutes. The water is crystal clear and shallow, so it's good for smaller children. There are stairs that lead into the water. It's the same place where tubers get in to tube the river.
Be prepared for quite a walk back to the spring after parking your vehicle. I was surprised at what a walk back there it is. They charge $2 per person to enter, although if you are camping then it's included in your camp fee (you just show your pass). The spring is not real big, so if it's busy there isn't much room for everyone. There's one long wooden bench to put your things on, unless you bring your own chair or don't mind setting it up on the grass. There are stairs to enter, along with a dock that has some stairs and that people like to jump off of. The whole spring is very deep. I was surprised by that. There is nowhere out there to stand and take a break. It's deep all over! I used my snorkeling vest, which made it more pleasant so that I could snorkel around and check things out. During the day it was quite busy and there were people going every which way. However, every evening we went back down there at 7 pm (the swimming area closed t 8 pm) and for that one hour each evening we ended up having the whole spring to ourselves or shared it with two other people. That was awesome! When it was busy there wasn't much to see when snorkeling. But in the evening when the people were gone it was all very calm and there was a lot to see. We saw many fish and turtles. The spring area also has several man-made waterfalls that you can walk around and view. They are remnants from when the land was privately owned. Down farther from the main spring a short walk there is a very small area that is roped off that is more shallow. From a distance it looked perfect for toddlers, but I got in and it came up to my chest. There were people in that section with their toddlers, but they were holding them in it. That area can only fit maybe 5-6 people standing around (there's not room for that many to actually swim).
Tubing the Rainbow River:
Tubing the Rainbow River from Rainbow Springs State Park takes around 1.5 hours (they said 2 hours, but we timed it). You pay for the tubes and get them a short walk from the campground. You launch right there, too. Everyone gets the same basic tubes (there are none to choose from). The river was quite nice. Very clear and beautiful. We really enjoyed the tubing. However, there is hardly any shade at all, so be prepared. Almost the entire time was spent in the sun. Be sure to take sunscreen, sunglasses, and maybe a hat. Also, one side of the river is developed all the way down with houses. That takes away some of the beauty, but we still enjoyed the experience. Once you exit the river, you catch the tram back to the campground. We used the one offered right at the park and the fee was $15 per person. The entrance and exit points were both easy to navigate. Although everyone wonders about alligators, we saw none. There is always the possibility of them, of course, but if they are out they are likely going to be along the banks, and you are tubing down the middle of the river (just try to stay away from the banks). There were lots of beautiful dragonflies that kept landing on us as we floated down the river. There are other companies and launch points in the area, where you can take a four-hour tube down the river, too. However, because the float is almost all in the sun I wouldn't want it to be longer than we had.
Overall, we enjoyed being at Rainbow Springs. The campground is in a beautiful area surrounded by country (see the rainbow picture below that I took during our stay). There is cattle roaming on green rolling hills and watermelon farms. It's peaceful and beautiful. We saw deer several times, too. The spring itself is not one of my favorites, because it's all so deep, but I still found it beautiful and enjoyed our time there. If you camp here, I highly recommend also checking out Devil's Den, since it is only 30 minutes away.
Here are some pictures from our time spent at Rainbow Springs State Park camping, snorkeling, and tubing:
Here is the video I took while at Rainbow Springs: