Floating the river is always a good time, but let’s be honest. Meandering down what at times is just a large creek with your butt in swampy brownish-green water and a koozie-clad tallboy of Busch in your hand might be a little slice of close to home paradise, but it’s not exactly the Bahamas. There is, however, a unique and stunningly beautiful crystal river in Florida that kind of splits the difference in case you’re looking for a tropical tubing trip.
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Enter Rainbow Springs State Park. The Rainbow River, which runs through Ocala County and Marion County, Florida, is a crystal clear, freshwater river that both locals and tourists from across the state and country love to flock to for float trips. The views both above and below the water are breathtaking — the sort of sights you’d expect to see while visiting a tropical island, not inland Florida.
The spring-fed river is 72 degrees year-round, though apparently the fall is the best time to visit. And in these crystal clear waters you won’t just be seeing a kaleidoscope of colors — you’ll have a clear view of fish, turtles, otters, and gators too. (That may seem a little unnerving to some but personally I’d rather be able to see the gators than not.)
You can tube or go canoeing and kayaking on the river but people also recommend bringing goggles or snorkeling gear so you can enjoy the waters beneath the surface as well as on top of it.
Rainbow River State Park is located at 19158 SW 81st Place Rd in Dunnellon, FL 34432, though the tubing facility, as well as canoe and kayak rentals, are located at 10830 SW 180th Avenue Road. Rainbow River tube rentals cost $20 (for a four hour float, which includes a return shuttle service) while an all-day kayak and canoe rentals are $50 and $60 respectively. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset 365 days a year. Also, be sure to bring NON-disposable containers to drink out of. No soda cans or plastic water bottles. Gotta keep the river clear as ever. And sunscreen and sunglasses. Believe it or not, things can get real bright on a crystal river.
Seriously, it’s crazy that Rainbow River tubing isn’t more well known. But it’s not just for tubing adventures. You can rent houses and cabins on the river and enjoy the views from a porch if you prefer. So up your floating game and plan a trip to the Rainbow River. It’s kind of literally a hidden gem. Or, crystal.