Ready to explore Florida’s wild side on your next vacation? Get out of that swimming pool and head out to the countryside! Florida is full of unique and beautiful ecosystems, just waiting to be discovered. And while the subtropical climate might make a summer hike pretty uncomfortable, hot days call for chilly waters, and Florida’s cold freshwater springs can certainly deliver on that. How does a water temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit sound to you? If the word “refreshing” comes to mind, you’re going to love Florida’s natural springs.

Get the lazy river treatment without the concrete and chlorine at Orange County’s Kelly Park, just northwest of the city of Orlando. This local favorite is home to the ice-cold, crystal-clear waters of Rock Springs and Rock Springs Run. Water emerges from a limestone-rock bluff and pours into a slow-moving stream bordered by ancient forests, perfect for a slow tube ride. Tube rentals are available from vendors just outside the park entrance. Let the clear water carry you through the forest, or splash in the swimming area.

Kelly Park Florida Photo: flickr/systemslibrarian

The clear waters of Rock Springs Run beckon from a tubing launch platform at Kelly Park. Photo: flickr/systemslibrarian

Just be prepared to get up early for the privilege: this tiny park fills to capacity as early as nine o’clock in the morning on summer weekends and holidays.

Check the park hours and directions at the Orange County website, and get tips for your visit from TripAdvisor.

Nearby, Wekiwa Springs State Park offers even more recreation in a gorgeous natural setting, which is perfect when its advertised 72-degree water is just a little too cold for you. “Wekiwa” is Creek for “spring of water,” which aptly describes this clear pool shimmering beneath palm trees, refreshed with 42 million gallons of water every day. Ready to swim in the spring? Unlike most Florida springs, which are usually quite deep, Wekiwa Springs is only 4 to 6 feet deep in spots, allowing swimmers, snorkelers, and free-divers to experience the pressure of water rising up from the limestone vent.

Wildlife abounds in Wekiwa Springs State Park, like this Great Blue Heron. Photo: flickr/ricardo_mangual

Wildlife abounds in Wekiwa Springs State Park, like this Great Blue Heron. Photo: flickr/ricardo_mangual

Or stay (relatively) dry and rent a canoe to explore Wekiwa Springs Run and the 16-mile Wekiva River, one of Florida’s most pristine waterways. Crystal-clear and shaded by century-old oak trees, this might the coolest way to enjoy a Central Florida day without getting wet. There are also hiking/biking trails, complete with bicycle rentals. You’ll be surrounded by old-growth forest and amazing wildlife.

Find details on all the fun at Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures.

Manatees on your mind? Head northeast of Orlando, towards Daytona Beach. Your destination is Blue Spring State Park, home to the largest spring on the St. John’s River and a prime winter refuge for hundreds of manatees. If you’re visiting in the warmer months, you’ll find another great opportunity for tubing, snorkeling, and swimming. Florida State Parks says the water here is 73 degrees year-round, which makes it a full five degrees warmer than Rock Springs – we’re moving up! The clear spring gushes 165 million gallons of water per day from an underwater cave, making it a popular spot for certified scuba divers. Or go boating instead: St. Johns River Cruises and Tours operates daily boat tours from the park.

Manatees crowd into Blue Springs in the winter. No swimming is allowed with manatees, but wildlife sightings become the park’s main attraction. Photo: flickr/bohemianism

Manatees crowd into Blue Springs in the winter. No swimming is allowed with manatees, but wildlife sightings become the park’s main attraction. Photo: flickr/bohemianism

This list barely scratches the surface of natural springs in Central Florida! Near Blue Springs, you can visit historic De Leon Springs, home of the famous Sugar Mill Restaurant, where you can make your own pancakes on the table-top griddle. Venture a little farther afield and you can see mermaids swim at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, take a glass-bottomed boat ride over Silver Springs State Park, or view manatees from an underwater observatory at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. If you want to make unforgettable memories on your next vacation, add a Florida spring to your plans. Just be ready… that water is really cold!

You can also take a dip in the spring-fed lake at Summer Bay Orlando By Exploria Resorts! At 64 acres, this sprawling lake doesn’t have the crystal-clear water of the smaller pools listed above, but it certainly has plenty of room for recreation, with fishing, boating, personal watercraft, and the unique Aqua Park, featuring fun floats and slides.

Ready to plan your next Orlando vacation? Summer Bay Orlando By Exploria Resorts offers the perfect home-base for your entire family, with room to relax, play, and connect. Visit our Destinations tab to explore accommodations, recreation, and amenities at this resort, featuring villas and condos perfect to host your next family vacation.