Guide to Florida's Freshwater Springs

Hey readers!

Earlier this year I went to a freshwater spring for the first time. I never understood why so many people visit the springs in Florida when we have so many beaches to enjoy. But once I went, I GOT IT. Turns out this ocean-loving mermaid is a freshwater siren as well! Read on for some helpful info about Florida's lesser-known liquid jewels.


The Spring State
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SPRINGS FAQS

Florida Springs

What is a freshwater spring?

A freshwater spring is a natural occurrence where water flows from an underground aquifer to the Earth's surface.

Where does the water come from?
Florida's springs are not just a source for freshwater. They are just one part of the Floridan Aquifer. (The underground source of water for 60% of Florida's residents. It is estimated to be about two-quadrillion gallons and supplies drinking water for 10 million people. )

The six key components of the water cycle are what keeps the aquifer running smoothly:


  • Evaporation and Condensation: The surface of stored bodies of water (like from lakes, rivers, and ocean) is converted into water vapor through the heat of the sun. Convection draws it upwards and eventually forms clouds.
  • Transpiration: Plants absorb water from their roots in order to photosynthesize. Then transpire water through their leaves and stems into the atmosphere.
  • Rainfall: When evaporated water droplets come together in the form of clouds, they eventually become too large and heavy, and fall. An average of 150 billion gallons of rain falls in Florida every day!
  • Runoff: Rainfall that is not directly absorbed into the soil will gather in existing bodies of water in the form of runoff. 
  • Percolation: You can think of this next process like a sponge. Rainfall travels downward between rocks, soil, and then in-between the pores of underground limestone. Eventually, the water saturates the bottom level of limestone, which is then able to replenish the immense flow of water from the springs.
Water that supplies the springs goes through the water cycle and into a recharge basin. (The surface area where water seeps underground and contributes to a specific spring.) Since Florida is made up of sandy soils and porous limestone, the process of percolation happens rather quickly. Essentially recharging the flow of water through the cracks and pores of limestone into the springs. 
Boil at Blue Spring State Park

How are the springs formed?
Springs are formed where groundwater is forced up and out of the surface through openings in the ground. Rainfall and percolation of caves eventually put enough pressure on the aquifer to force water to the surface through these openings (or vents). 

The flow of water from a spring depends on a few things... The water pressure of the aquifer beneath it, the number of caves leading to the opening, and the size of the opening. 
Blue Spring State Park Cave

Where are the springs?
Florida is home to over 40 major (and easily recognized) freshwater springs that you can visit. They are mostly found in North-Central Florida because the underground aquifer is closest to the surface. Making it easier for springs to form. Which also means Florida springs are the largest by volume in the entire world! In total, they discharge over 19 billion gallons of fresh water each day and support entire river eco-systems like the Suwannee and the Santa Fe.

What is the difference between springs?
Springs are categorized based on the amount of water discharge. The largest of them being classified as "magnitude 1". Meaning they discharge at least 65 million gallons of water a day. (Florida has over 27 known 1st Magnitude springs, with others being of lesser magnitudes known as 2nd, 3rd, etc. Totaling to over 750 springs in the state.)

Another difference can be what activities are allowed at each spring. Depending on the size and/or depth of the water, there can be designated areas for swimming, scuba diving, tubing, boating, kayaking, and SUP. As well as hiking, bicycling, tours, camping, picnicking, and wildlife viewing in the spring's surrounding areas.

In addition, not all springs are connected to other bodies of water via the surface. This can change which species of wildlife inhabit the area.
Florida mermaid

What is the temperature of the spring water?
The temperature of Florida springs are usually between 68°-75° F. Since it is constantly being pumped up from beneath the ground, the water temperature will remain the same all year-round and does not change with the season. They can differ from park to park and may feel colder the deeper down you go.

However, there is one unique spring that is 87° F year-round, called Warm Mineral Springs. It is the southernmost spring in North America and the warmest in all of Florida!

NATURAL WILDLIFE
For over 10,000 years, Florida springs have been hotspots for all kinds of ancient wildlife. They have found fossils of the mastodon, the saber-toothed tiger, and the giant sloth!
Florida Springs Wildlife

Springs are one of the only natural areas in Florida where you can encounter many different resident plants and animals in one geographical area. Below are some of the most common species you'll find today.
Manatee Family

During the winter, when ocean temperatures drop, manatees come to the springs to hang out in the slightly warmer waters. If you see one, know that it is illegal in the state of Florida to touch, harass, annoy, disturb, or molest any manatee. Whether it was intentional or not. So please, back away slowly, don't splash, and do not frighten or pursue it, as it can cause risk of further endangerment. For more information, visit FWC Manatee Viewing Guidelines.


I frequently get questions about encountering alligators at the springs and what you should do... First off, do not, under any circumstances, feed a wild alligator. Second, keep your distance. Do not attempt to touch, grab, or disturb them. (Alligators are pretty peaceful most of the time, but they have a very nice row of teeth!) But if you're really worried about it, swimming in designated swimming areas with state park rangers nearby will be your best bet. (Rangers may alert visitors of any particular wildlife to watch out for.)


I will say though, I have been inches away from wild gators my whole life and I have never had an issue. If you respect them, they respect you back. 

Is it safe for people to swim in springs?
Many major springs are open to the public. But depending on the location and time of year, there are spots for swimming, tubing, boating, kayaking/paddle boarding and more! Some springs, like Blue Spring State Park, are open all year to visit, but water activities are not allowed when many manatees are present. (Especially from November 15-March 15.) Although you cannot swim with manatees at Blue Spring, you will be able to see them from the boardwalk that winds through the trees around the water.

VISITING SPRINGS
Rules and guidelines can vary from spring to spring... So I've listed some of the major (and more popular) parks with links to their sites below. Many of them require an entrance fee per vehicle or per person. Additional fees may apply for certain activities within the parks. You can click on their websites for more information.

Alexander Spring Recreation Area - Altoona, FL. Part of the Ocala National Forest with multiple spring vents under a limestone ledge.

Blue Grotto Dive Resort - Williston, FL. An ideal spring for certified SCUBA divers.
Blue Spring State Park - Orange City, FL. Ideal winter refuge for manatees and connects to the St. John's River.
Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park - (AKA Gilchrist Blue.) High Springs, FL. Features a few different springs within the state park.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge - Crystal River, FL. Designated manatee sanctuaries and home to over 600 manatees during the winter season.
DeLeon Springs State Park - DeLeon Springs, FL. 2nd Magnitude spring with a rich history dating back 6000 years.
Devil's Den - Williston, FL. Underground spring inside a cave!
Fanning Springs State Park - Fanning Springs, FL. Right along the Suwannee River with clear green-blue waters.
Florida Caverns State Park - Marianna, FL. The only state park in Florida with dry (air-filled) cave tours!
Ginnie Springs Outdoors - High Springs, FL. Just south of the Santa Fe River, and a very popular spot for swimmers and divers in the cool clear waters.
Hart Springs County Park - Bell, FL. One of the largest swimming facilities in Gilchrist County and very family-oriented.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park - Homosassa, FL. Features an underwater observatory to view life in the springs from beneath the surface. (Without having to swim or get wet!) And is home to many animals that are unable to survive in the wild on their own.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park - Fort White, FL. Declared a National Natural Landmark and the upper portion remains one of the most pristine spring-fed rivers in Florida.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area - Silver Springs, FL. One of the oldest and best-known recreational areas on the East Coast. Part of the Ocala National Forest.
Kelly Park/Rock Springs - Apopka, FL. A very popular spot for tubing!
Lafayette Blue Springs State Park - Mayo, FL. Features a natural limestone bridge and connects to the Suwannee River.
Lithia Springs Conservation Park - Lithia, FL. Park gets easily filled with swimmers, paddlers, and campers during summer. Especially on weekends!
Madison Blue Spring State Park - Lee, FL. Was voted the #1 swimming hole in the country by USA Today.
Manatee Springs State Park - Chiefland, FL. Has an 800-foot boardwalk overlooking one of the largest springs in Florida.
Morrison Springs - Ponce De Leon, FL. Very popular spot of SCUBA divers who want to explore underwater cavities almost 300 feet deep!
Otter Springs - Trenton, FL. Sparkling second-magnitude spring surrounded by 636-acre park and campground.
Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park - Luraville, FL. Well-known as an international destination for recreational cave diving and in near-pristine condition.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park - Ponce De Leon, FL. One of the colder Florida springs, at a year-round temperature of 68° F.
Rainbow Springs State Park - Dunnellon, FL. Highly recognized for its clear kayak rentals and joins the Rainbow River with the Withlacoochee River.
Salt Springs - Salt Springs, FL. One of the recreational jewels of the Ocala National Forest.
Silver Springs State Park - Ocala, FL. Most famous for its glass-bottom boat rides. Swimming is not permitted, but observing the natural freshwater wildlife is encouraged via boating and paddling.
Suwannee River State Park - Live Oak, FL. So rich in history, that you can see remnants of a 19th-century steamship and two ghost towns that have been taken over by the Florida wilderness.
Troy Spring State Park - Branford, FL. There are some remains of an old boat from 1863 in the shallow waters of the clear spring.
Vortex Spring - Ponce De Leon, FL. Offers SCUBA lessons for every level, and even has fun things like a rope swing, zip line, and slides!
Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park - Wakulla Springs, FL. One of the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world! Features impressive caves, boasting with wildlife, and numerous important archeological and historic resources.
Warm Mineral Spring - North Port, FL. The only warm spring in the state, at 87°F year-round. It is also the largest water-mineral spring in the world, and due to its high mineral content, adds greater buoyancy.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park - Spring Hill, FL. Probably the most famous of the Florida springs, are the Weeki Wachee Mermaids. Combined with the "Old Florida" mermaid attraction, is the deepest known freshwater cave system in the U.S.
Wekiwa Springs State Park - Apopka, FL. Popular for families, as most of the spring bottom is sandy, flat, and about 5 feet deep.
Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park - Port Richey, FL. Although there is no swimming permitted at the park, there is plenty of wildlife to encounter within its 3296 acres. Paddling via kayak or canoe is encouraged, as over 80% of the park is marsh or submerged areas.

You can find a map with some of these major springs listed on this site.

Regardless of whichever spring you're at, here are some things you should keep in mind...
Leave No Trace

The impact of humans
In the most recent years, we have seen many factors leading to the declining health of the springs. The main culprit? Humans.
  • Certain home lawn care and landscaping methods require frequent applications of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. These chemicals introduce toxins and nitrates into the aquifer. Which pollutes our drinking water, contributes to nuisance algae growth, and therefore endangers wildlife species in the springs.
  • Landscaping and lawn care also consume large amounts of water due to the need for regular irrigation. It is estimated that nearly 50% of water withdrawn from the public supply is used to water lawns. (About 900 million gallons a day.)
  • Millions of tons of fertilizers and pesticides are applied to agricultural crop fields, which also leads to the aquifer. (Another reason to go organic!)
  • Large quantities of animal waste from livestock farms can enter the aquifer through surface streams, sinkholes, swallet holes, and through Florida's porous soil. Weeks, months, or years later, these contaminants end up in our drinking water or springs in which we swim.
  • Due to Florida's rapid increase in population, many developments are built in areas that were once Everglades, forests, and natural landscapes. The resulting changes in land use have had a dramatic effect on the health of the springs recharge basins.
  • The rain that falls in rural areas of cities is diverted into drains to prevent flooding, known as stormwater. But this stormwater can lead right into rivers and streams and penetrate into the aquifer. Why is this a problem? Because the storm drains contain much more than rainfall. Heavy-metals, petroleum by-products, pet wastes, toxins, and trash that is not filtered out can pollute the natural ecosystem and our drinking water.
  • Golf courses and football fields also require specialized strains of grass that demand excessive irrigation, fertilization, and pesticide use. Since Florida is home to regular rainfall, these chemicals go through the root system rather quickly and eventually lead to the aquifer. 
  • Humans also have a tendency to over-use water. Which limits the supply from the aquifer. We should all start taking shorter showers, turn off the faucet when not in use, and don't turn on the sprinklers during the rainy season.
  • People often dump trash into sinkholes that lead into the aquifer. Like construction materials, garbage, refrigerators, cars, and chemicals. This can seriously impact the health of the water supply of the aquifer. (And pollute the Earth in general!)
  • Recreational activities like swimming, tubing, boating, and camping can have a direct impact on the water quality of the springs. As well as the plants and animals that live there. These negative impacts include trampling of native vegetation, disturbance of wildlife, an increase of soil erosion, cloudiness of the water, use of chemical sunscreens, and physical damage. People also tend to leave trash behind... Which introduces pollutants and destroys the natural look and atmosphere of the spring's environment. 
All in all, in order to keep our environment at its best, we need to form better habits and respect all wildlife and natural habitats. Some easy ways to do so:
  • Use mineral-based body products like Stream2Sea. Most sunscreen brands, like Banana Boat, Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, and Neutrogena, use chemicals in their ingredients. Those chemicals are absorbed into your skin and will show up in your blood tests 24-48 hours after applying it. Whatever does not get absorbed, washes off and leads to coral bleaching, suffocates fish, decrease in water quality, water cloudiness, and harms plant life. What makes this Stream2Sea sunscreen so great is they have been proven to be 100% safe for you and for the environment. Mineral-based sunscreens sit on top of your skin, it is not absorbed by the body, and only comes off with soap and water. It also does a much better job at protecting you from the sun, therefore lessening chances of skin cancer and sunspots. I have a few of Stream2Sea's body products listed here.
  • Pick up trash where it doesn't belong. I feel like this is pretty self-explanatory... If you see trash on the street, beach, park, or anywhere that is not a garbage can, pick it up and dispose of it properly. 
  • Reduce water usage. Turn off the faucet as you brush your teeth, in between shampoos in the shower, as you scrub dishes, while you bathe your kids, etc. Basically anytime you have a faucet on but are not actually using the water (even if its less than 5 seconds) turn it off! 
  • Reduce single-use plastics. Plastic bottles, plastic cutlery from restaurants, straws, grocery bags, fruits and vegetables wrapped in saran-wrap... You know what I'm talking about. Plastic is everywhere, but there are plenty of better ways to live life without these plastics.
  • Switch to refillable metal water bottles. Fill it up and take it with you!
  • Stick to reusable and washable items that will last you forever. A few examples are on this list.
  • Recycle. Come on. You knew I was gonna say it.
  • Be aware of your carbon footprint. Start to pay more attention to the amount of electricity you use. How many times you fill your car with gasoline. Your water bill. The amount of trash you dispose of weekly.
  • Do not disturb animals in their natural habitat. It is their home, and you are just visiting.
  • Do not step on or trample any vegetation or plants. This goes for any environment. But in the springs, this reduces the quality and health of the freshwater when plants are stepped on. Plus it adds cloudiness to the water, making it more difficult to see and photograph.
What is so special about the springs? And why should I care?
If you haven't already gathered from reading this post, there are many reasons we should be taking care of our springs...
  1. Wildlife. Freshwater springs are a natural part of Florida's ecosystem. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of plants and animals rely on this ecosystem to survive. Take manatees for example. They have been on the endangered species list since the 1970s. Manatees use the springs as a safe haven when the temperatures drop. (Cold stresses are a serious threat to them due to their inability to regulate their body temperature.) Besides boat-related deaths, habitat loss causes a huge drop in their population numbers. Loss of warm water refuges, coastal development, and pollution can destroy their main food sources: seagrass beds and freshwater vegetation. 
  2. Clean water. Many springs flow into other rivers, supplying clean, fresh water to other parts of the U.S. If springs were to dry up, many rivers would then crumble as well.
  3. Aquifer. Much like Florida's supply of drinking water, springs get their water from Florida's underground aquifer. The health of the springs is the easiest way for scientists to tell how the aquifer is doing. For example: are the water levels low? Are there any bacterias or algae we should be worrying about? What is the water quality in general? All of this information is important to determine if action needs to be taken to improve the health of the entire eco-system.
  4. It's beautiful. Magical. Unique. Springs are not just to be enjoyed by nature... people can explore them too. When I slip beneath the chilly surface, I discover a whole world I've never seen before. On a good day, with fewer crowds, the water clarity is amazing. I can easily dive down and swim around with my freshwater fishy friends. Sometimes I'm so amazed that I forget how cold I am!
Underwater Florida Spring

Springs FACTS
  • Florida is known as "The Spring State" because it is believed to have the largest concentration of freshwater springs on Earth!
  • Springs can run dry from overuse.
  • The underwater cave system at Weeki Wachee Spring is the deepest known to the USA at 403 feet!
  • Florida's springs are mostly found in North-Central Florida. 
  • Springs are complex systems that are affected by pollution sources many miles away.
  • Landscaping with plants that use minimal water, fertilizers, and pesticides can help protect Florida springs from polluted runoff.
  • Florida springs are the most popular freshwater diving sites in the entire world.
  • Springs are the window into the health of our groundwater. (Which is the source of over 90% of drinking water for Floridians.)
Florida springs

As I continue to visit more springs, I plan on posting separate blog posts about each one. So stay tuned for more on that! 

And if you made it all the way to the bottom of this post: THANK YOU. I know this was super long. But I want to be as informative and helpful as possible.

But now I need your advice! I'm trying to plan my next trip up to Central Florida, but I can't decide which spring I want to swim in next... Help me out by commenting down below or DM me on Instagram.

xx
-Lala
The Spring State

Sunscreen: Stream2Sea Discount code: "LauraG10"
Waterproof watch: Freestyle Watches Discount code: "Mermaid-10"
Underwater camera: GoPro
DSLR camera: Nikon
All my favorite things: Amazon Storefront
Instagram: @lalas_mermaid_lyfe
Facebook: Lalas Mermaid Lyfe
Twitter: @lalamermaidlyfe
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Comments

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