Before we moved from our days of dealing with bureaucracy and car repairs, to the hectic days of visiting ahead, we decided to squeeze in one night of camping at Blue Spring State Park, in Orange City FL. Not only did this stop break up our trip from St Augustine to central Florida, but it gave us a chance to do some family snorkeling.
Blue Spring is one of the several First-Magnitude freshwater springs in Florida. The spring emerges from a submerged cave with such force that the water almost appears to “boil” at the surface, and the volume of water is enough to create a river roughly 30-40 feet wide and 3-4 feet deep. At the spring itself, you can snorkel over the cave and watch as scuba divers and free divers disappear into the opening (the free divers, of course, quickly come back up). Toward the spring end of the river there are no fish but just a few hundred feet downstream they are in abundance, along with an occasional turtle. Over the winter (starting November 15) the spring is closed to swimming, snorkeling, and diving so that manatees can live there peacefully.
The water is always 72 degrees F, which feels pretty good to us transplanted Northerners, especially with shorty wetsuits on. The park provides docks and stairs for easy access to the water, and we entered at the dock furthest downstream, to paddle up to the spring. There’s quite a strong current at some points, which eventually defeated Emma about 100 feet from the boil, but she did not mind because at that point there were no more fish to look at anyway. Also, the sight of the gaping rock maw of the cave disappearing into the darkness can be disconcerting to children — it looks rather scary, although I always find it fascinating.
There are several good springs like this in Florida. Wekiwa State Park in central Florida offers a similar spring but less snorkeling opportunity, and near the Gulf Coast, Manatee Springs State Park is very similar to Blue Spring. The camping at all of them is classic Florida, with sandy sites, lots of vegetation, and a nice quiet “natural Florida” feel. In my opinion, Florida has the best concentration of excellent state parks in the country. While our next stop will be courtesy parking, we’ll be hitting more of the state parks over the next couple of weeks.