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Dunnellon, Florida

Tubing on Rainbow River and Rainbow Springs State Park

One of my favorite summer adventures last year was Tubing on the Rainbow River by Dunnellon….. In case you have never heard about this town, it is about 100 miles northwest of Orlando. There‚Äôs no better or more relaxing way to experience this magical river than tubing! At least it is for me…. I wasn’t sure if Chris or Olivia would be too excited to float in the rather cool water….The water temperature averages 72 degrees year-round. It is a little fresh going inside, but I promise it will be perfect about 1 mile down the river and the sun will be almost too much by mile 2.

There are different tubing experiences available. We decided to launch from K.P. Hole, a Marion County Park, and floated approximately 3 1/2 hours down the river. There was also the shorter option available from the State park which would have lasted only about 2 hours. I was unsure before if tubing from K.P. Hole park was not too long, but time went by way too fast and I wish, there would have been a 6 hour experience available.

We went tubing together with my sister and her husband, which made it even better. To stay attached, we tied our tubes together with ropes. We also brought waterproof bags, reusable water bottles (the only ones allowed), goggles, snacks, hats and of course sunscreen.

Despite being 30 feet deep in some places, it feels like you could reach out and touch the bottom since the water is crystal clear. We saw turtles, fish, dragonflies and forests of aquatic grass that provide food and habitat for many of the creatures that live here. Although everyone wonders about alligators, we did not see any.

As I mentioned before, Oliva would have not liked to be in a float for that long or even touch the cold water, so we resolved that problem and rented a kayak in addition to the tubes. It was the perfect solution, because we also transported all the drinks, snacks and even towels.

It was the perfect day and it was over way too fast. It was peaceful and beautiful. And it inspired us to visit more springs in the future.

 Tubing season runs April to October. On summer weekends, both Rainbow River tubing operations generally reach capacity, so early arrival is important,

The next day we visited the Rainbow Springs State Park to see the waterfalls. We love to visit waterfalls, but Florida doesn’t have too many…. So I was excited to find out there were some at Rainbow Springs.

Rainbow Springs State Park is magnificent and we strolled through shady gardens laced with azaleas, oaks and magnolias. The walkways are paved and even though some are a little steep, they are still pretty easy to navigate.

The walkways pass by three man-made waterfalls and a native plant garden. When we visited in August 2020 only two waterfalls were working at the time. We continued through the garden and passed many relics (remains of old animal cages) of the glory past, when the park was a private attraction.

At the end of the path, begins a small Butterfly Garden. The sun was casting the perfect shadow on the entrance gazebo, it was warm and other than butterflies, we were the only ones there. It felt so peaceful and perfect.

To our surprise, there was more… A small trail right out of a fairytale lead us to three nature trails through natural oak hammock and sandhill communities.

We did not have a map, so we just followed the colored markers of the trail. There is a blue, yellow and white trail and we decided to follow the blue trail.

It had rained the previous days, so the blue trail (which is the closest to the water) became muddy and inaccessible. We decided to go for the yellow trail instead. The trails offers both river and phosphate pit overlooks…..

This area was the first place where phosphate was commercially mined in Florida. The deep pits and spoil piles left behind were recovered by the forest and are looking unreal in a normally very flat Florida. What a surprise when the first pit suddenly appeared in front of us. (My batterie had died, so I didn’t take any pictures.)

The most fascinating thing were the changes throughout the trail. We started in a forest, followed by sandy terrain punctuated with ravines created by mining and restored by nature. It did not even feel like Florida. At times we felt lost, because we couldn’t see any markers. I would have loved to see more along the paths, but it made it also more adventurous. It was also very overgrown and felt a little longer than the miles on the sign. I still found it magical and we did not meet anybody during our walk. I highly recommend a hike on these trails and hope we will be back one day…