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Florida's springs: Weekend getaways that are literally cool

CruisesTourism and LeisureCanoeing and KayakingTrips and VacationsState Parks

No matter how far you drive in Florida, chances are, you won't go far enough to find a place with cooler temperatures.

But Florida does offer some chilling experiences, and we don't mean driving I-95.

Florida is blessed with natural springs that maintain a constant chilly temperature all year. Several of the springs are popular recreation spots -- great places to canoe, kayak, swim or tube. And the water in the springs is so clear, it's like immersing yourself in bottled water.

Florida offers 17 of what are known as "first magnitude springs." These springs bubble up from subterranean rivers and flow at a rate of 100 cubic feet or more of water per second. In addition to springs of the first magnitude, Florida also boasts 49 springs of the second magnitude, as well as a large number of lesser springs. Eight state parks as well as Ocala National Forest contain springs.

All the popular springs are several hours drive from South Florida. They are too far for a day trip, but make an ideal destination for a three-day weekend.

Here is information on four of Florida's favorite springs:

  • Ichetucknee Springs State Park is home to a series of pristine bubbling springs that meander through a pine and oak forest past an abundance of wildlife. The roads leading to the state park are lined with folks renting inner tubes from their front yards. The idea here is to sink your bottom into a tube and just float down the 73 degree river. An in-park shuttle service will pick you up at the end and transport you back to the parking lot.
  • Ocala National Forest boasts a variety of small springs, along with campgrounds for outdoor lovers.Juniper Springs overflows into a winding stream that makes for a fun-filled, 12-mile canoe ride down Juniper Run. The canoes may be rented at Juniper Springs campground. The water is as clear as gin and it's so narrow in spots, you round corners by bouncing the canoe off banks. You may have to lie in the bottom of the canoe at times to get under trees fallen across the stream. The run carries you about seven miles in about six hours, including a lunch stop. Propulsion is easy because the current carries you along at walking speed. A shuttle will collect you for the trip back to your car. More information.Alexander Springs derive from a big, deep hole that forms a natural swimming pool in the Ocala National Forest southwest of Astor. Swimming in the 72 degree water is refreshing in summer. Canoes can be rented, but there is no shuttle service on Alexander.
  • Blue Spring State Park in Orange City (midway between Orlando and Daytona Beach) offers boardwalks overlooking the spring as well as picnic tables and swimming. Admission is $4 per vehicle for up to eight people. An "eco tour" boat concession cruises the St. Johns River. For more information, visit the park's web site.
  • Silver Springs is one of the most famous first magnitude sites. It is located one mile east of Ocala on State Road 40. Its daily output is 522 million gallons -- largest of any in the state -- with 100 acres of lush landscaping lying at the basin and headwaters of the Silver River. Silver Springs was the site of filming for some of the famous Tarzan movies, as well as the TV series Sea Hunt.Silver Springs is a 125-year-old theme park that is still drawing visitors. You can take a junglelike excursion as you cruise down the Silver River, or view the colorful depths in a glass-bottom boat. There`s even an underwater viewing gallery with portholes that provide a clear view into the mysterious Black Lagoon. The springs make up the center of the 5,400-acre Silver Springs theme park that also features Cypress Point Reptile Institute, picturesque nature walks and the Early American Museum. Find out more about Silver Springs.
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      Florida has 17 of the nation's 75 "first magnitude" springs, meaning that water flows from them at the rate of at least 100 cubic feet per second, or 65 million gallons a day. The state's first magnitude springs and their flow, expressed in millions of gallons daily, are:...

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