As we approached the intersection of State Road 484 in Dunnellon, Florida, headed north on US 41, I spotted the discrete, low mounted camper icon arrow pointing to the right out of the corner of my eye. The main road sign for Rainbow Springs State Park points straight ahead, but the almost unnoticeable white image of a camper on a brown background mounted below the main sign post has an arrow pointing to the right instead.
The GPS map showed a possible access road, 180th Ave, which proved to be the right road to the campground. A U-turn towing a travel trailer is always a pain in the butt, especially on a two lane road, and State Road 484 is no different!
|The walking trail at the campsite|
There is a swing arm gate that closes at sundown across the two-lane road, but no ranger station. The first thing we encountered is a strangely laid out tarmac with a dump station on the far left side. It was still raining heavily when we arrived so the only thing we could see was what appeared to be a huge parking lot and a gift store. That's it! After walking to the gift shop, which indeed is where we registered and got our windshield pass, I squished back to the truck and looked up our reserved site, trying not to get the map wet. It was almost a quarter to 4:00 pm by the time we registered. We had wasted almost an hour because of the missing sign on SR 484.
A full service campground, the fairly new campground has water, 30 and 50 amp electrical service as well as a sewer hook-up. The sites are rather sparse as far as vegetation is concerned, with only a few sites offering any shade. Privacy isn't bad, depending on the site location, but there are several completely in the open. I would avoid the first few sites on either loop at all costs as they sit in the middle of the pull-in loops, and have no privacy what-so-ever.
After breaking out the shrimp and the cocktail sauce, which served as a great appetizer, we had our traditional first dinner, spaghetti. Then we took a stroll to one of the prettiest, clear rivers in Florida, the Rainbow River, just a few hundred yards beyond the office/gift-shop. The evening air was cool, clear and mosquito free. A pleasant, Florida stroll.
There is a small swimming area here, and an aluminum ramp used to launch both paddlers and tubers who flow downstream two miles to the takeout point at the first park entrance. The park runs a tram for tubers between the two locations downstream from the head-spring. The main area at the head-spring seven miles away has a much bigger swimming area and many more canoes and kayaks for rent.
You are given two windshield passes when you check in. The one is for your windshield at the campground and the other is for the main park entrance at the head-spring which normally costs two dollars.
|An otter climbs up a tree branch while a cormorant watches warily|
The walk from the parking lot to the entrance is a taste of the beauty of the park. Once inside the park you have two choices: To the right leads downhill to the swimming and paddling area, the other side to the once commercially-maintained gardens and forest. The head-spring area for swimmers and paddlers who flock to the 72 degree spring, especially on weekends, is very popular. I highly recommend visiting during the week, if at all possible. The forest trail has a low, wide paved path to the waterfalls, and a higher return path back to the gift shop. The gift shop, incidentally, doesn't open until 11:30am, and closes again at 4:30pm, so don't count on buying batteries if you get there too early.
|Swimming area at the Main park|
The river is absolutely clear and every bass, bream, anhinga, turtle, or even cormorant, that swims anywhere near your boat is clearly visible. The absolutely crystal clear water is 72 degrees, and after a few minutes the water is actually comfortable enough to drag your hand or foot as you take a break from the leisurely paddle. We met many kayakers headed toward us from the head-spring area, with a few typically unconscious paddlers who probably drive their cars with the same total disregard for others as when they paddle. Don't expect other paddlers to know what they are doing. I HIGHLY recommend paddling on the river during the week rather than on weekends. We were told by the tram driver the past weekend traffic jam had backed up the county road leading to the park with tubers and paddlers. I can see why, this one of the nicest paddles we've done in along time.
Next Up: Oleno State Park at:
More information about the Rainbow Springs State Park can be found at the official web site at:
3 The $18,000 required for repairs was stricken from the State Park Budget by the 2011 Florida legislature.