On the Road with PMC: “Spring” Back to Life by Cooling off in Old Florida

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On the Road with Pensacola Mom Collective

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We are grateful to our sponsor, KIA AutoSport of Pensacola, for supporting our mission of educating, encouraging, and empowering local moms through the lifelong journey of parenthood.

Shhhhhh! I have a secret! 

A secret I don’t really want to tell. 

In fact, men killed over this secret.

They died for it, too.

The Fountain of Youth, some called it. 

The Springs of Eternal Life.

Middle Florida is pocked with sinkholes and springs bubbling with crystal clear water, a constant refreshing 68 degrees, surrounded by cypress trees drooping with Spanish moss– all just a car trip from Pensacola. 

My childhood vacations were spent visiting Florida’s freshwater springs as the Gulf and inland waters would warm up beyond comfort in the late months of summer. Most of them Florida State Parks, and many of those parks were built in the 1930s by men like my own grandfather of the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Florida springs offer a natural freshwater swimming experience that is NOT to be forgotten and is exactly what we need when we just can’t take the heat. 

Springs are the discharge water from the aquifer, water stored beneath the ground. When surface water seeps through a porous material such as soil or limestone, it settles and collects, forming large underground cavernous aquifers. Varying water levels of the aquifer can cause it to collapse, opening the spring to the surface and creating the perfect swimming hole, and the natural filtration process of the rainwater and runoff that seeps into the aquifer means it’s clean and drinkable and a constant 68 degrees.

A Day at the Springs

Ponce deLeon Springs

Ponce deLeon Springs in Bonifay, Florida, is about 90 miles from Pensacola and is the perfect first-timer’s spring. It remains my family’s favorite. For my crew, it’s a required trip for any out-of-town visitors looking to see beyond the beach. Wake up, pack a picnic, and be back well before dinner. 

The site includes an old sluice from the days of using the water for irrigation, surrounding walls and paths of the original 1930s work, and the best, most perfect swimming hole. Ample picnic seating, a diving platform, the knee-deep spring creek, and a short walking trail make this a very family-friendly spot. Avoid Fridays and weekends for the best experience, as it can get a bit crowded, and you may find yourself calling “Earmuffs” for other people’s music choices. 

$4 per car

8am-sunset 365 days a year

2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Road, Ponce de Leon, FL 32455

Vortex Springs

Not far from PDL is Vortex Springs, a privately owned property offering rustic rope swings and bridges, as well as a supreme SCUBA experience in the mouth of the spring itself (classes available). With a traditional ticket, snorkeling directly over the spring head is not allowed, but the secondary swimming holes and ample seating areas provide plenty of space for splashing and fun. 

Adults $15.00, with upgrades available

Children ages 5-12 $10.00

Children 4 & under Free

1517 Vortex Springs Lane, Ponce De Leon, Fl, 32455,(850) 836-4979

[email protected]

Wakulla Springs State Park

A bit farther down I-10 is Wakulla Springs State Park and Hotel, just south of Tallahassee. If you consider Tallahassee or New Orleans a day trip, then Wakulla Springs is too, although there is also a lodging option! The hotel is beautiful– visit the lobby and be sure to look up at the murals on the ceiling, and look down to see Old Joe, a HUGE local alligator now on permanent display after his demise. 

There are wonderful appeals to Wakulla, an old Hollywood favorite for films like the original Tarzan series. However, environmental impacts have reduced the visibility of the water at the spring to nil. While the water is clean enough to swim (there’s a great beach!) and the wildlife is abundant, the tannins in the surrounding aquifer system have turned the spring head a dark coffee color, rendering the original glass bottom boat tours obsolete. Rangers still provide rides down the Wakulla River and explain the abundant plant and animal life (gators and manatees!!), and educate visitors on the importance of spring preservation and our impact on our watersheds. 

The 3 story dive platform is the perfect place to practice your cannonball!

$6 per vehicle

Riverboat tours:

  • $8 for ages 13 years and up.
  • $5 for ages 3 to 12 years.
  • Children 3 and under Free

ProTips

  • Swim at your own risk. Most parks have rangers but not lifeguards. Springs can be super deep (30-80+ feet), and the streams can have a slight current. Take your own swim devices and flotation as needed for the level of your swimmers.
  • Safety First: Adults jump first. The water is BRISK. This can shock a young swimmer and they can panic on first impact, so it’s best if an adult is in the water waiting to assist and cheer them for their bravery. 
    • Wear your suits there. Rustic bathrooms are hot, and you don’t want to be pulling on a suit on a sticky, sweaty kid’s body if you can help it. (Afterwards, you’re so cool from the water, it’s not nearly as difficult). 
    • Have a cover-up that allows for a quick change under it and that also doubles as street clothes. The State Parks often have old-style bathhouses. 
    • Crack your windows just a little. The parking lots get hot, but it’s Florida, so a summer storm is always a possibility. 
    • Don’t forget your shoes. Many of the parks have walking paths to other springs, or the spring itself is tucked away in the woods, and getting there requires a short trek. 
  • Prepare yourself for wildlife. Your outing will expose you to whatever nuisance insect of the season, and while they don’t like the noise and activity of the park areas, gators and snakes can be found in the vicinity, so keep an eye out.
  • Goggles and snorkel gear are ESSENTIAL! 
  • Relax. The cheers and splashes, the cooler ambient temperature of the park, the clean feeling after getting out, and no need to rinse off, it’s the most refreshing experience!  

Now that I think about it, the springs aren’t all that great. 

You really shouldn’t go. 

It’s a lot of trouble, and it’s not worth it and…

I WANT TO KEEP THEM ALL TO MYSELF. 

So just forget everything I said. 

Truly, they are Florida’s best-kept “secret” and the natural beauty we should all be fighting to preserve. It may not be the source of eternal youth explorers like Ponce deLeon once hoped, but Florida springs are the fountains of my youth that I love passing on to my kids. 


Stay Tuned for a follow-up on Road Tripping to Springs for longer multi-day excursions across Middle Florida. 

 

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