Take a Drive to One of These Seven Florida Springs Near Tampa Bay

Oranges in central Florida
Not one of the Florida springs near Tampa Bay, but the park that inspired me thinking about them. Pictured: Oranges at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site.
Cathy Salustri

Why am I writing about cooling off in Florida’s springs when all you have to do is step outside right now?

Because I hate the cold and I’m daydreaming about a time when it’s warm. But also: When the air is chilly, spring water feels warm. At least in Florida. 

And make no mistake: As I write this, it’s not only chilly, it’s ridiculously cold. It warmed all the way up to 51º this morning, which is really lousy on your part, Florida. We had a deal. 

In February, I’m giving a book talk at Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park, and so planning a road trip (because, you know, it’s what I love to do). Yes, I could go out there and back in one day, but we haven’t had the camper out in far too many months (2023, as I mentioned, was horrible, and I didn’t feel much like enjoying anything for a few months).

In between looking at campsites and figuring out what we can do that’s new, I allow myself to fantasize that it might be warmer than 80º when I go. And that, of course, leads to me thinking about all the great Florida springs near where I live and also near where I’ll be in February.

It likely won’t be “jump in the springs and cool off” weather when I get to the park, but hey, I can dream, can’t I?

When I worked for Creative Loafing Tampa, I wrote this article about Florida Springs near Tampa Bay.  Forgive any typos; I’m publishing it unchanged, except for removing an eighth “spring” that was not a spring at all. I… I didn’t have the best editor at the time, and I clearly can’t edit myself worth a damn.

Cool off in these 7 Florida springs less than a day away from Tampa Bay.

If you’re anything like us, you’re probably more than ready to explore the concept of “pantsdrunk” right about now. What is it, 99º in the shade?

Look, we’re not saying we’d trade one moist second of Florida’s in-your-face August heat for donning snow pants and ski boots to shovel out the car up north, but we are saying that right now, the idea of laying out on a hot sand beach with no shade in sight isn’t top on our list of things to do this weekend. The saltwater’s great, but you have to fight about seven million people to get to it, plus that sand is damn hot on your bare feet. 

But Florida has a secret: Our springs. OK, they’re not that much of a secret, but because we don’t have a whole lot of them less than an hour away (we do have some; keep reading, and we’ll tell you), we don’t always think about them. So this weekend —or, hell, right now — pack a sammy, your towel and maybe even a snorkel and take the plunge into a Florida spring.

Here’s a few to get you started, but remember, Florida has almost 1,000 springs — that we know of, with plenty more we don’t.

They’re not all suitable for swimming, and quite a few may sit inside private land, but if these don’t wet your whistle, check out thiswaytothe.net to find your own swimming hole. Some of these springs are part of parks that allow dogs, but remember: There’s not so much as a puddle of freshwater in Florida that alligators won’t call home.

1. Three Sisters

one of Florida springs near Tampa surrounded. by cypress trees
There’s magic at Three Sisters, and it’s about two hours from Tampa Bay.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Best for: cooling off, getting Zen and believing in magic.

How to get wet: Leave the boats at the entrance and fight the force of this mighty set of springs as you walk —likley stooped over, to fight the current —towards the springhead.

Three Sisters Springs Wildlife Refuge & Tours, 123 NW US Highway 19, Crystal River. Sunrise-sunset. threesistersspringsvisitor.org; 352-586-1170 .

2. Werner-Boyce Salt Springs

a waterway surrounded by marsh grass and trees
A spring and a paddle. Sounds ideal.
Photo courtesy of Florida State Parks

Learn why Florida isn’t flat at Werner-Boyce Salt Springs. Anyone who thinks Florida is flat has never been to Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park. Its 351-foot-deep spring proves not having mountains doesn’t mean a state is flat.

10333 Scenic Dr., Port Richey. floridastateparks.org; 727-816-1890.

3. Manatee Springs State Park

a spring surrounded by trees
Manatee Springs State Park is on the Suwannee River in Chiefland.
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Best for: camping and swimming.

How to get wet: It’s a state park. Pay your admission, park and walk right into the water.

11650 NW 115 St., Chiefland. 8 a.m.-sundown. $6/vehicle; $4/single occupant; and $2 car-less arrivals. floridastateparks.org; 352-493-6072.

4. Warm Mineral Springs

Warm things up at Warm Mineral Springs. Yes, we know. It’s face-of-the-sun hot right now and we’re telling you to go to Warm Mineral Springs? Chill out (literally), it’s only 87º, not “hot spring” hot. So, still pretty chill. Bonus: the spring discharges a whopping 9 million gallons of water per day, which means the water turns over in the spring every two hours.

Best for: swimming and picnicking.

How to get wet: You pays the entrance fee, you gets your swims.

12200 San Servando Ave., North Port. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 20; $15, under 18; free, under 5. Aug. 11: All Sarasota residents (who pay a lower entrance fee all year) get in free. northportfl.gov 941-426-1692.

5. Wakulla Springs State Park 

A billboard with a fish about to pole vault. Text reads "Wakulla Springs – Henry the Pole-Vaulting fish"
Henry’s really talented. Well, he was. Of all the Florida Springs near Tampa, this one is the longest drive.
Cathy Salustri

Learn about pole-vaulting fish, Old Joe and the Creature From the Black Lagoon at Wakulla Springs. Henry the Pole-Vaulting Fish may have moved on to the great freshwater spring in the sky, but his legend remains at Wakulla Springs State Park. And this place is hallowed ground to some people, particularly people who love Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tarzan (both were filmed, in part, in the spring and on the river) and Old Joe, the taxidermied alligator who lives in the lodge (he was apparently the friendliest gator ever).

Best for: swimming, wondering who the hell thought an alligator was friendly.

How to get wet: Pay the park admission, then walk right in, or dive.

465 Wakulla Park Dr., Wakulla Springs. 8 a.m.-sundown. $6/vehicle; $4/single occupant; and $2 car-less arrivals. floridastateparks.org; 850-561-7276.

6. Rainbow Springs State Park

Check out this crumbling zoo and float down the Rainbow River. Rainbow Springs State Park used to have a zoo. Because why wouldn’t you put wild animals in cages when they’re surrounded by wild animals? Nature’s reclaiming the cages, so go find them before you float down the river.

Best for: Creeping yourself out at the remnants of yesteryear, and, as every kid who was part of any youth group in Florida ever knows, tubing down the river.

How to get wet: Find a local livery to rent tubes. Yes, you can bring your own, but this way you don’t need to shuffle cars —they’ll pick you up. If you want to stay in the spring, after you pay your entrance fee, you can.

19158 SW 81st Place Road, Dunellon. 8 a.m.-sundown. $2/person for the spring entrance; $5/vehicle at tubing entrance. floridastateparks.org; 352-465-8555; 352-597-8484 for tubing info.

7. Devil’s Den, Devil’s Whatever

Have a Devil of a time. Up ‘round Gainesville, you can’t take two steps without tripping over a spring or sink with the word “devil” in its name. Devil’s Den, Devil’s Sink, Devil’s Kitchen, Devil’s Open Concept Living Room… you get the idea. Devil’s Den is a below-ground-level sink that has its share of divers, but you don’t need to gas up to go down there. Snorkelers can also cool off in the sink (it’s like a spring, only geologically different, with the same result for humans), check out the ancient limestone, then have a picnic topside.

Best for: snorkeling, SCUBA, feeling subterranean. Do not go in the caves; the odds of survival are not in your favor.

How to get wet: There’s a set of stairs down to the sink, then a platform to get you in the water.
 
5390 NE 180th Ave., Williston. Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fri. & Sun., 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sat., 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Snorkelers, $15-$20; divers, $38. No swimmers. 352-528-3344, devilsden.com.
 

This article about Florida Springs near Tampa originally appeared in Creative Loafing Tampa sometime in 2018 or so. Please check with each venue before making the trip.

Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular: A Podcast for Keys Fans

a pickup truck that's been bedazzled, Florida-keys style.
Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular — bonus podcast content for Florida Keys fans!
Photo by Cathy Salustri

Do you love podcasts? Do you love the Florida Keys? Do you already listen to the Florida Spectacular podcast, co-hosted by me and Rick Kilby?

Well, then, this is your lucky Thursday. Why? Because, as of today, Florida Keys historian Brad Bertelli and I have a biweekly podcast about the Florida Keys.

Introducing the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast.

It’s no secret I love the Florida Keys.

One of the things I struggled with when I started visiting the Florida Keys regularly? Finding non-touristy things to do. Oh, yes, I swam with a sea lion (something I loved, but feel bad about now) and yes, I’ve eaten at Margaritaville. But… those things aren’t really the Florida Keys I love.

The Florida Keys really opened up to me after I met Brad Bertelli in 2015, when a stroke of serendipity sent me to the Florida Keys to get interviewed by a Canadian television station. At the time, Brad worked for a Florida Keys museum, I didn’t have this website, and my book was not-yet published. Brad, already a published author, was really nice to an unknown Florida writer. Throughout the years, we became friends as well as colleagues. (When my book, Florida Spectacular, comes out later this year, you’ll read one of my favorite Brad stories in the introduction.) During the pandemic, Brad and I had virtual cocktails for people playing the Florida Keys home game (which was everyone, really).

Photo of Brad Bertelli, co-host of Florida Keys Spectacular podcast. A bald-ish man with black frame glasses, smiling at the camera. Man is wearing a white tee.
There’s no better co-host for the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast than Brad Bertelli.
Photo courtesy Brad Bertelli.

Today, Brad has a few more books, a column about Florida Keys history in Keys Weekly, and a Facebook group about Florida Keys history that has more followers than a small town.

A few years back, I started the Florida Spectacular podcast.

The show has gone through several iterations. Right now we hit a sweet spot. Rick Kilby (another amazing Florida author) co-hosts. Rick and I have a lot of fun taking listeners across Florida every week. We talk about history, environment, and, of course, things to do in each part of Florida.

While Rick spends a lot of time traveling the state, he doesn’t spend nearly as much time in the Florida Keys as I do. And, honestly, there’s a lot more to the Sunshine State than Key West, Florida Bay, and the upper and middle keys. It’s a different world, honestly.

Which is why it makes sense to have a different podcast. Every Thursday, Brad holds court at Robbie’s in Islamorada. Anyone who wants to talk Florida Keys history can hang out with him, ask history questions, or share memories. I found myself, as I so often do, in the Florida Keys recently, so I found Brad at Robbie’s, bought him a beer, and told him I had a proposition. Why not take his knowledge about the Florida Keys and create an off-shoot of the Florida Spectacular podcast? This one would be only for Keys fans, and we’d cover everything from where to buy sandwiches for a picnic lunch at Windley Key (Episode 1) to the original route of the Oversea Highway (Episode 2).

Brad was all in immediately. While I plowed my way through a piece of fish at the Hungry Tarpon, we planned. Back home, the planning continued. Brad taped a commercial. Brad drafted some scripts. We chose topics. And, finally, today, the Florida Keys Spectacular podcast goes live.

Subscribe to Florida Keys Spectacular today and support us!

Florida Keys Spectacular is bonus content, available to anyone who supports the podcast at the $5/month level. For that $5, you get two episodes a month. Each one will take a deep dive into the Florida Keys. We’ll give you Florida Keys history, suggestions on things to do, and the ability to see the Florida Keys like a local does. No podcast explores the Florida Keys like we do. Take a listen — you won’t be disappointed!

I’d love to do the Sally Struthers thing and say, “for the cost of a cup of coffee” but, well, inflation. Also, aside from Joffrey’s, some of my favorite coffee in Florida is Baby’s Coffee, and since it’s a bit of a drive to Baby’s, it costs me a whole lot more than $5 to get a cup (but so worth it!).

2024 Florida Resolutions: Tomato Sandwiches and Road Trips

A cat cuddling a dog
Yes, that’s a cat. Cuddling a dog. Hobie Cat isn’t really into what we’d call “consent” and she’s beaten Banyan into submission. My 2024 Florida resolutions are as subdued as my hound dog is in this photo.
Photo by Cathy Salustri


Last night we went to dinner at one of our favorite Gulfport restaurants, The Pearl. We’d initially planned to ring in 2024 at a campsite far from idiots shooting off fireworks and petrifying Banyan, but 2023 left me feeling like a limp dish rag. I didn’t need to get away; I needed to not do anything for a few days.  That’s what we did.

After we ordered,  my husband,  known to you as either El Cap or Barry, said, “Well, how could 2024 be worse?”

I stared at him. He isn’t Italian, something Universe-tempting comments such as this illustrate.

“Well, let’s see,” I said. “The dog could become a serial killer. The house could get possessed by demons. Do we need a third possibility?”

He admitted he could see my point and we stopped any foolish talk of how 2024 could be “better.” I should have learned my lesson when I write that 2023 would at least be the “other side” because I was not wrong but also not specific enough in that desire.

So, bearing that in mind, here are my low-key 2024 Florida resolutions.

A hand holding a small vial of water from the Fountain of Youth tourist attraction in St. Augustine
2024 Florida resolution: more road trips, perhaps to the Fountain of Youth. I no longer scoff at the idea; some years, you need all the help you can get.
Photo by Cathy Salustri


  1. More Florida road trips. 

    The last time we camped was August, because everything went to hell after that for a few months. Two days ago an assignment sent me to Deltona for the day; this reminded me how much I enjoy seeing Florida’s back roads. (Shout out to SR 44 and the largest hawk I’ve ever seen not in captivity).

    When we bought the camper in 2021, we unintentionally shifted from “a day trip can be fun” to “let’s only go if we can take the camper!” I want 2024 to have more road trips.

  2. Tomato sandwiches.

    We buy the bulk of our produce from Little Pond Farm. They’re in the Central Florida area, organic, and irrigate with a pond on their own property, which is about as close as you can get to lower carbon footprint and keeping GMOs out of your food. They grow the tastiest tomatoes I have eaten in recent memory. 

    I started 2024 with a tomato sandwich using one such tomato. I want 2024 to have more tomato sandwiches.

  3. That’s it. There’s no number three.

    As I said, 2023 taught me a lesson about non-specific intentions. 

    Oh, wait. There’s a third one. I want to finish this damn puzzle my friend Nicole gave me as a birthday gift in 2022. At only 300 pieces, it sounded easy, but it lacks standard-shaped puzzle pieces and has no easily identifiable border pieces.

    oddly shaped puzzle pieces

    Photo by Cathy Salustri

So, there you have it. I may be taking a road trip to visit my mom in prison and not have enough money to eat anything but tomato sandwiches, but, hey, the puzzle should get finished.

Maybe.

Florida road trips.