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If you’re in the Orlando or Tampa area, you could easily spend one day wandering Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens or Rainbow Springs State Park, maybe even both. Whether you’re passing through Ocala off I-75 or coming from a nearby town, an overnight stop or day trip would be a pleasant getaway filled with nature and history. Check out these 2 beautiful places in Florida worth wandering.
Rainbow Springs State Park
- 19158 SW 81st Pl Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432
Rainbow Springs evolved as a tourist attraction after phosphate mining was exhausted. In order to complement the tropical aesthetic portrayed to attract tourists, the huge piles of discarded soil from mining were used to create man-made waterfalls. Relics of this bygone era remain in the form of the animal cages used to hold exotic animals and the tropical-looking waterfalls.
The attraction could no longer compete once it was bypassed by I-75 through Ocala and the growth of Disney World, so it closed in 1973. Now, the Florida Park service maintains and protects the park’s natural resources and offers a natural respite to visitors.
On weekends, you can get sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and ice cream at the concessions stand. Make sure to bring your own lunch or snacks during the week as concessions are not available.
You can enjoy swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, tubing, fishing, or paddling in the clear blue waters at Rainbow Springs. The natural swimming pool runs from 5 to 18 ft in depth and has an average temperature of 72 degrees. There is a small shallow entry point recommended for kids to enter at.
***Leashed dogs are allowed to visit but may not get in the waters. Be sure to read the pet policy if you would like to bring your pet.***
You can also camp on site, participate in waymarking and orienteering, and even letterboxing (treasure hunting).
- Find clues for letterboxes at letterboxing.org
- Look through the clues to find one that interests you then search for it.
- When you find it, stamp your logbook and leave an imprint of your personal stamp.
- Then share your experience on the website where you found it.
- There are over 90,000 letterboxes hidden in North America.
There are accessible amenities including a lift chair for swimming in the spring and the use of your own personal floatation devices are allowed.
There are 2 entrances to Rainbow Springs:
- The Headsprings entrance is open 8am to sunset every day. It closes when at capacity which does happen often on weekends and holidays. $2 per person, children under 6 are FREE.
- The tubing entrance is only open from April to September from 8am to 3:30pm. April and September are typically only open on weekends. You must contact guest services to confirm tube rental and shuttle fees of $20.
While you can buy a pass before you go, the current reservation system does not hold space for you. If you arrive and the park is at capacity, you will not be allowed in. You will need to call for a refund. For this reason, I would not recommend purchasing far in advance unless booking a camping site. This is normal throughout the Florida Park system currently. Arrive early to ensure your plans won’t be spoiled.
Should you want to visit both of these sites on the same day, I recommend heading out early and visiting Rainbow Springs first. Then take a tranquil walk through Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens later in the afternoon. If looking to take photos, the sun seems harshest during midday but much more pleasant after 3pm. That leaves limited time since they close at 4pm.
- Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens – 26 minutes (22 miles) via US-41 S.
- Ocala – 25 minutes (21 miles).
- Orlando – 80 minutes (83 miles) with tolls via Florida’s Turnpike.
- Tampa – 90 minutes (101 miles) via I-75.
Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens
- 4990 NE 180th Ave, Williston, FL 32696
Originally, a 110 year old abandoned limestone quarry turned into a botanical garden that is now shared with the public. Lots of wildlife and flowers to see. During a very rainy season, you may not be able to experience all of the paths due to high water levels. When things are normal and drier, it is a real treat to take the path behind the waterfall and all around the lake.
$12 Adult admission to take a self-guided tour of the reclaimed quarry that has been repurposed as a beautiful Japanese influenced garden with waterfalls and wildlife.
- Children ages 6 – 13 are $7.
- Active Military with ID $6.
- Under age 6: FREE
You can book a guided tour by calling.
***The paths to the lower levels are not handicapped accessible, the ramps to the lower levels can be steep and some of the trails have inclines and rugged surfaces.***
- Rainbow Springs State Park – 31 minutes (23 miles).
- Ocala is about 40 minutes (30 miles).
- Orlando – 93 minutes (102 miles) with tolls via Florida’s Turnpike.
- Tampa – 1 hour 48 minutes (120 miles) via I-75.
Devils Den – Next door to Cedar Lakes, offers a cavern and cave-diving experience that looks similar to a cenote in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Blue Grotto – another cavern and cave-diving site nearby.