Two months ago, I had a strong urge to go camping. Life was frustrating I was overly exhausted & burnt out, so I wanted a relaxing getaway. I planned some days off of work not knowing where I was going yet and decided to take just my oldest. He is the “easiest” kid as far as being low-maintaince and is a fun kid to go explore with since he’s adventurous and loves animals.
Then a week before the trip, I text Dan while I was at work, I told him he should take off work to come with us because I was now sad everyone wasn’t coming. This is a perfect example of being a mom in my opinion, you get overwhelmed and frustrated but at the end of the day they are all you want.
So, he planned on coming up the day after us and leaving the day before us so Talon and I still had some of that one on one time together. Bonus mom points, I didn’t have to drive with baby Lucas in the car ride who still isn’t fond of his carseat.
So, Talon and I set off early on a Thursday morning and drove a few hours north to Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon, Florida.
This was a quick stop for us to stretch our legs, eat lunch and see some waterfalls – I know waterfalls in Florida, who would have thought?
But they aren’t natural they are manmade waterfalls. Back in the 70’s the park was in an attraction era. With boat tours, a monorail, an aviary, and even a rodeo but this all changed in the 90s to a more natural state park, but they kept these waterfalls. Now there’s a nice brisk walk to visit the three waterfalls and a great swimming spot. Rainbow springs is the 4th largest spring in Florida so there is plenty of room to swim around here!
We didn’t camp here, the camping site is located a few miles down from the spring and waterfalls which, for me, defeats the purpose of having the convenience of a spring within walking distance of your campsite!
After visiting Rainbow Springs, we jumped back in the mom-mobile and headed about an hour away to Manatee springs in Chiefland, Florida.
This was by far my favorite part of our trip. We set up camp and headed straight for the springs which was a brief short walk through the woods. We braved in and jumped right in the 72-degree water with our snorkel sets hoping we could see some interesting spring wildlife.
The entire trip was full of wildlife viewing. A huge variety of turtles (including an Eastern snapping turtle – that I wish I was brave enough to get close enough for a good photo,) deer on multiple occasions – coolest thing ever laying on our hammock early in the morning watching deer casually walk by eating their breakfast – a ton of catfish and other fish I wish I could have identified.
Manatee Springs offered canoeing, kayaks and pontoon boat rentals. They had a great little rental area run by a really friendly crew with an assortment of food and drinks. There is also a great boardwalk that leads out down by the river which was a great spot to go watch the sunset.
There are some trails, we hiked the sinkhole trail loop which was only a half mile hike. There is a longer hike, but we weren’t up for an 8.5-mile walk with little kids – we much more enjoyed swimming in the springs.
Once our family joined us Friday evening we again jumped right in the water – a great addition to this spring is the little beach area where it’s shallow for the little ones to join in. There is also a playground with tons of pavilions and accommodating grills that the kids loved to play on while we cooked dinner.
Safe to say Manatee Springs topped out as one of the best family friendly campsites for us.
Early the next morning after a boardwalk stroll to try and spot some more animals (which we did) we drove a quick 40-minute drive to Devil’s Den in Williston, Florida.
This was another quick stop as camping is first come first serve basis and I didn’t want to leave any “what if’s” when planning a Saturday night campsite, especially with kids. I have heard so much about this place though, I really wanted to see it myself. It is definitely a unique spring. It is strictly for snorkeling and scuba diving, no free swimming. They don’t have any other springs to swim in, but they do have a pool which was nice for Dan and I to sit with the kids while we switched snorkeling. We were there by 10am on a Saturday and it was already very busy with scuba divers and snorkelers excited to jump in. We did enjoy swimming and viewing this unique part of Florida and the kids really enjoyed being able to look down into the cave and see us swim from the boardwalk overhang. You really have a sense of being in a cave while swimming around with fish.
After our swim and a quick lunch, we headed about an hour and a half away to our next campsite at Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont, Florida.
This was a not your typical Florida destination and we loved it for that reason. Nice fun winding hilly roads made you feel like you may actually be in the mountains (not something I’ve ever felt in Florida!) We got that nice forest outdoor feeling being here – swimming in Lake Louisa was fun for the kids as it was shallow all along the beach area with a playground right off shore.
This park also had tons of hiking trials too. Sadly, we only did one in the morning before we headed out. We did see some wildlife like tortoise, deer, and some more of those creepy banana spiders (at least that’s what someone we met at one of the campsites told us they were.) It was a nice breezy day for us so it wasn’t hot, but the entire trail was nicely shaded by large trees anyways.
The other lakes in the park have nice boardwalks for fishing and water viewing. We went one morning and watched a beautiful sunrise right over the lake. It was a great way to start our day.
Needless to say I cannot wait to go back out and explore more of Florida’s state parks. I can only encourage you to get up and go enjoy the beauty of where you live with the people you love.