Rainbow Springs State Park, located southwest of Ocala and three miles north of Dunnellon, is home to the river’s headspring, which feeds into one of the most beloved waterways in the state. The Rainbow River has enjoyed a reputation as a scenic and popular playground since first opening in the 1930s as a private family-owned amusement park. Years later, the spring was purchased by the State of Florida and became part of the Florida State Park System.
Florida has many rivers – ranging from salty to muddy, and from clear and fresh to dark and tannic – but Rainbow Springs River, the fourth largest in Florida and a tributary of the Withlacoochee River, could undoubtedly be called Florida’s natural swimming pool. The white sandy bottom lies between areas of smooth limestone creating a “pool” like effect. Here you will share the water with turtles as they sunbathe on fallen logs, and herons and white ibis as they feed along the riverbank.
Children and adults float downstream in inner tubes, or whatever objects will serve as floatation devices, often stopping to jump off ropes tied to over-hanging tree limbs. Slow moving boats glide by – but no one is in a hurry to get anywhere. The gentle current of the river dictates the pace as smaller springs bubble up and feed into the river creating plenty of areas to get out and swim.