I was somewhat reluctant to write this article because the Rainbow River Florida is unlike anything you will ever experience. It is not full of tourists, nor is it full of city slickers. It is a natural, old-fashioned watering hole where people tube the river, drink beer, connect tubes, and drag their stash behind them in a cooler and chill. People still live on the river in houses capsulated in time — a slice of paradise in my local backyard.
I may increase traffic if I successfully tempt you to follow my lead to this oasis in Central Florida. Recommending the only beautiful place to stay will make reservations harder to secure. So why share this? There are a few reasons. The main reason is I am always asked by people who don’t live in Florida – where do we all go that is off the beaten track? People want to know the natural Florida; returning visitors are over parks and beaches. Lastly, my love affair with boating started here, along with my appreciation for raw oysters!
About The Rainbow River Florida
A friend (the Editor in Chief of Brit on the Move) told me about this slice of heaven. She had read and heard about the spring-fed river, white sandy bottom, and crystal-clear water River. I had heard about the Crystal River but never heard of the Rainbow River in Florida. After much research, my friend found a place that checked off all our boxes — rustic cabins at a resort that I will name and shame later. The photos depicted an idyllic place to spend a weekend. We could rent a pontoon boat, and it would be on the water.
We started trying to book and found that there was a waiting list. Really? Yes, really. And what does a waiting list do? It makes you want it even more. Being the suckers we are, we immediately signed up — fast forward a few weeks. I’m at work, and my phone started blowing up. There was a cancellation at the cabin resort for the July 4th weekend, and we needed to book it now or lose it. We booked there and then. What could go wrong? If you follow me, you’ll know quite a lot can and will go wrong. Before I tell you what went wrong, let me explain the beauty of this place. See the name and shame section below for what happened at the cabins.
The Rainbow River Florida Is One Of The Most Beautiful Rivers In All Of Central Florida
The Rainbow River, Florida, is the most beautiful place I have seen in Florida to date. There are only a couple of other sites that are stunning and unique. Some of my friends will disagree when they read this. After all, this is Florida, and it is still a river. I have not seen river water this transparent or diverse in color in Florida. There’s a reason it’s named Rainbow River. It’s aglow with green and turquoise blues that flicker with the sun’s reflection. Head to the Rainbow River, Florida, to check out the rat race and feel refreshed by swimming in clear spring water.
The first time we visited, we rented our first boat from the “cabin resort,” which was fantastic. We could walk down the bank to the river and jump on our rental boat from our place. From the moment we hit the water and started to drive up towards the head of the spring, I was in LOVE. Not just with the water, all of it. Being in the middle of nowhere is a sensory overload. It was so peaceful, relaxing, and stunning. Wildlife was abundant, including several families of otters that were exciting to watch — unspoiled, uncommercialized, old-fashioned Florida. It was a scene straight from Huckleberry Finn.
Rainbow River Florida State Park
The Rainbow River is officially “Rainbow River Florida State Park,” which flows down the spring run, a.k .a. the Rainbow River. The Rainbow River Florida State Park is home to the head springs, a popular swimming place. In addition to the swimming hole, there are ornamental gardens and three artificial waterfalls.
You can rent canoes, kayaks, and tubes and launch here to enjoy the Rainbow River. If you start your tube journey from here, Guest Services, Inc provides a tram service to pick you up and return to your starting point.
Food, such as sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and ice cream, is available at the state park.
No boating is allowed within the Rainbow River Springs State Park.
Image Credit: Florida State Parks
Address Of Rainbow River Florida State Park
Address: 19158 SW 81st Place Rd. Dunnellon FL 34432
Things To Do On The Rainbow River Florida – The Reasons You Must Visit!
So, let’s get into everything you can do at The Rainbow River and how to maximize your time here.
Tube Down The Rainbow River
Tubing the river downstream is a popular option, although we have never done it. Most people will tell you it is one of the best ways to enjoy the river. This said, we have tubed up, aka pulled the kids on tubes up the river. We always boat up the river but often drag tubes behind our boat. Brian dislikes dodging all the tubers. Quite frankly, if you are on a boat, they are a pain in the butt. It’s like a real-life game of Frogger. But it’s worth it since many spots will be void of the tubers. Once you have passed the KP hole, no more tubers! Once on the water, you can swim, snorkel, dive, and explore the many orifices.
If you want to tube down the river, start at KP Hole or contact one of the many Tube and Ride companies. You can bring your tube to launch from anywhere except KP Hole. If you launch from KP hole, you have to rent their tubes. All outfits charge a fee to take you back to your starting point. Prepare; going down the river from KP Hole on a tube takes 2-3 hours. It’s nearly 4 hours from the headspring.
Note: You cannot bring your tubes to the KP Hole.
Tube Companies on The Rainbow River
Here are some options. As mentioned, I cannot vouch for any of them because we boat instead of tubing.
- Rainbow Springs State Park
- Ride and Tube
- Rainbow River Kayak Adventures
- Nature Quest
Enjoy The Sandbars & Rope Swings
There are plenty of sandbars to pull the boat up to, many swings to jump off, and several trees that provide the perfect diving board, given their slant. You can also explore the sand bars that travel through the backwoods to dry land.
Rent A Boat
While less popular than tubing, boat renting should be on your Florida bucket list. With a boat, you have the flexibility to navigate the river at your leisure, and you can make it to less crowded spots past the tubers.
Companies That Rent Boats On The Rainbow River
- Captain Bob’s Boat Rentals: Angler’s Resort, 12189 S. Williams Street Dunnellon, FL 34432 *Note, also known as “Gator Den Motel at Angler’s Resort.”
Kayak or Paddleboard The Rainbow River
Another way to enjoy the crystal clear waters is on a kayak or paddleboard. Imagine floating on top of this fresh water and enjoying the view. Kayaking or paddleboarding any spring or river is always a great time!
Companies That Rent Kayaks On The Rainbow River
- Rainbow River Kayak Adventures LLC: 11463 N Williams St, Dunnellon, FL 34432, United States
- Blue Run Cart Master & River Rat Rentals LLC: 19330 SW 83rd Place Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432, United States
- Get Up And Go Kayaking: This company offers kayaking tours in a transparent kayak. The location is confirmed upon booking.
Visit The Blue Gator
You must eat at the Blue Gator. This place gets packed, so they will valet your vehicle to the boat parking across the road. The Blue Gator always has a live band on the weekend, creating a downright homey country feel. This place still serves oysters (raw, cooked, and grilled); you can sit outside or inside, your choice. I recommend outside as this is where all the action is. For us, a weekend at the Rainbow River is not complete without a night at the Blue Gator. You can also rent a boat from the Blue Gator.
Snorkel And Explore Under Water
No trip to the Rainbow River is complete without poking your head under the water! For me, it’s an integral part of the overall experience. The clarity of the water is so pure you could go under without snorkeling gear – it won’t burn your eyes. However, having the snorkeling gear allows you to float on top of the water and enjoy the view below you.
In Florida, the Rainbow River differs from other rivers. Divers rarely think of rivers when they think of SCUBA diving, but the planet has many rivers that divers can and have explored. Due to swift currents and variable riverbeds, river diving is often dangerous, requiring more physical strength and training than your average dive.
The Rainbow River is a great place for divers and snorkelers to explore the underwater world of a spring-fed river. Divers and snorkelers can expect to see turtles and various fish species in this area, with a maximum depth of 25 feet and visibility of up to 200 feet.
There is even a possibility that you might stumble upon a fossil or shark’s tooth. Several dive shops offer diving and snorkeling excursions along the Rainbow River. They even drift the “diver down” flag with you on their boats so you can focus on everything the river offers, such as its gently winding banks. Remember to stay within the buoyed boundaries when diving or snorkeling in preservation areas.
The 5.7-mile expanse of Rainbow River, Florida, is a unique dive site that appeals to divers of all levels and non-divers alike. It’s a very popular choice for people getting their certification.
Assuming you have a fishing license, which is required by law, you can fish on the Rainbow River. Fishing is prohibited at the Headsprings day-use area because it is an aquatic preserve – but you can fish the river!
Typical fish include bass, bluegill, bowfin, alligator gar, redbreast, and spotted sunfish.
How We Spend Our Days On The Rainbow River
Often, our days consist of driving upriver as far as we can. We stopped at the springhead entrance since it was inaccessible to motorized vehicles. We typically find a sandbar, turn on the music, eat lunch, and enjoy the water. On our return, a restaurant named Swampy’s has become our tradition. Brian enjoys docking here; we enjoy eating here! I recall my first visit here well when they still served raw oysters. I have tried oysters before, but this place prepared them perfectly. Unfortunately, they do not sell them anymore. They do sell a shrimp ceviche that tastes fantastic. FYI, I don’t care for fish in Ceviche.
If you rent a boat from the Blue Gator or stay overnight in Dunnellon, you must eat at the Blue Gator. This place gets packed, so much so that they will valet your vehicle to the boat parking across the road. The Blue Gator always has a live band on the weekend, which creates a downright homey country feel. This place still serves oysters (raw, cooked, and grilled). You can sit outside or inside, your choice. I recommend out as this is where all the action is. For us, a weekend at the Rainbow River is not complete without a night at the Blue Gator.
Accessing the Rainbow River Florida By Boat or Personal Water Craft
- A public boat ramp is on the opposite side of the road from the Blue Gator.
- Rent a boat from the Blue Gator and launch from there.
- You will launch into the Withlacoochee River, hook a left under the first bridge, and proceed to the Rainbow River.
You will go under two bridges if you are boating up from the Withlacoochee River. The first has plenty of clearance; the second that connects to the Rainbow River is very low. Before you even attempt the second bridge, measure your boat height. It’s only about 9 feet maximum when water tables are low. We have to take our Bimini top down to fit under it.
Rainbow Springs KP Hole
KP Hole is a park on the Rainbow River. It’s a popular place to spend the day on the Rainbow River. The KP Hole Park is open daily and offers swimming, picnicking, and a boat ramp. Canoe, kayak, and tube rentals are available on-site.
You can launch your boats and watercraft from KP Hole. We’ve never seen anyone launch their boat from here. You would have a hard time around 10 am as you will not find parking, much less for a boat.
Most people who launch from KP Hole go by tube, kayak, or paddleboard.
Address: 9435 SW 190th Avenue RoadDunnellon, FL 34432
Campgrounds Near The Rainbow River, Florida
There are many camping options in the area, but there are the closest campsites.
- Rainbow Springs Campground – 18185 SW 94th Street. Dunnellon
- Rainbow Springs State Park – 19158 SW 81st Pl Rd Dunnellon
- Ross Prairie Campground – 10660 SW State Rd 200 Dunnellon
- Withlacoochee Backwaters RV & MH Park 19151 SE 135th Ct Dunnellon
- Two Mile Prairie Primitive Campsite 2653 E Withlacoochee Trail Dunnellon
The Best Place To Stay at Rainbow River, Florida
You can all tip me for this secret later! A 2014 brand-new Quality Inn Suites was built about half a mile away. It’s not on the river, but there are no accommodations other than Airbnb rentals unless you dare to try out The Rainbow River Club. This is a great place. It is new, modern, clean, and has enormous rooms and suites. It’s not luxurious, but I’ve stayed in Hilton‘s that cannot compete with this place. Breakfast is included. It’s affordable and has everything you need. We have stayed in almost every Dunnellon, Crystal River, and Homosassa hotel. We will stay the only one when doing the Rainbow River, and I will move dates to ensure this.
Book Hotels Near The Rainbow River, FloridaBooking.com
What You Need To Know
- All disposal of drink containers is prohibited. No glass, no cans, no plastic. You will need to transfer drinks into reusable containers and have reusable cups. The Rainbow River is not the only place where these rules apply. It’s a norm for most springs and state parks.
- There are police on the Rainbow River, and they frequently pull people over.
- Alcohol is prohibited as it is in most parks, so get creative!
- The entire Rainbow River is a no-wake zone.
- If you start from the boat launch, you are going upriver.
- If you start at the park, you can float down the river with the current.
- You must take water to drink; there are no facilities after Swampy’s.
- Take lots of sunscreen. I can’t tell you how many scorched bodies I’ve seen at the end of a four-hour tube ride!
- You will go under two bridges if you are boating up from the Withlacoochee River. The first has plenty of clearance; the second that connects to the Rainbow River is very low. Before you even attempt the second bridge, measure your boat height. It’s only about 9 feet maximum when water tables are low. We have to take our Bimini top down to fit under it.
- Despite being unknown to many, the Rainbow River can be busy on weekends. It is jam-packed over holiday weekends. It is known to those that like to tube. If you plan to tube, you must be on the water no later than 10 am. Most tubing operations cut off all tubing at noon, but usually earlier.
Where To Eat On The Rainbow River
There are two fabulous restaurants:
- Swampy’s – at the lower end of the Rainbow River. And, if boating upriver, these are the last facilities you will have. Swampy’s allows you to dock, and you will enjoy the view, facilities, and great food.
- Blue Gator – on the Withlacoochee River
Both restaurants are downriver. The tubes float from the park downriver and exit near Swampy’s.
If you love springs, then you need this book! Florida is home to over 1000 natural springs between the sun-soaked beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, which have drawn people to the state for thousands of years. Long before theme parks came to town, the freshwater springs were the top tourist attraction in the state. Join us across the state to explore 40 of the best springs in Florida that you can still visit today. Filled with vivid photos from the past and present, this guide will show you a side of the Sunshine State you won’t see in commercials. Complete with information on conservation and a key for activities offered, this book is a must-have for locals and tourists alike.
FAQs About The Rainbow River
Can you swim in the Rainbow River Florida?
Yes! You can swim anywhere in the river. If you want to swim in a swim-only designated area, you can swim inside of the roped-off area at Rainbow River Florida State Park.
Why is it called the Rainbow River in Florida?
To name a few, Wekiwa Creek and Blue Run were the names of the Rainbow River before the attraction’s construction. The name was changed to ‘Rainbow River’ to make it more marketable.
Are there manatees (aka sea cows) in Rainbow River Florida?
An old lock system connects the Rainbow River waterway and the Gulf of Mexico. Since that system is no longer in use, manatees cannot reach the Rainbow River. Since the mid-1990s, no manatees have been sighted in the area.
Instead, Florida manatees gather in nearby springs like the Crystal River’s Three Sisters Spring, a wildlife refuge dedicated to protecting Florida manatees.
How much does it cost to go to Rainbow River?
If you are self-launching onto the Rainbow River, it costs nothing. However, nominal fees apply if you launch from KP Hole, go on a guided tour, or enter Rainbow River Florida State Park.
Name and Shame: The Rainbow Rivers Club
Regrettably, we booked and pre-paid for what we thought was a rustic cabin, not a riverfront villa. We discovered the so-called resort was in two locations when we arrived at the check-in. We were provided the address for check-in and one a couple of miles away that we wanted to stay at. As you can guess, we were not at the location we would consider a resort. Nope. We were on the river but in a villa.
Our entrance to the villa was through the parking lot of an old-school bingo hall, sexy……. My friend and I knew something less than savory awaited behind the door. Sure, like shit, the first experience was that the front door opened into a small, old bedroom. Yes, we had to walk through a bedroom from the parking lot to get to the living room, and it just got worse from there.
How To Describe It?
I would describe this place as 1920s motel-style accommodations brushed up around 1960. This might be acceptable if it was clean or stylish. It was far from both of those. This place was an absolute dive. I am sure there are more eloquent ways to say this, but I would give it straight to you. The carpets are thread-barren and dirty. The utensils had food from the prior guests burned into what was left.
The oven was filthy. It was overdue for excellent cleaning for at least 20 years. The furniture was worn and torn, and none of it matched. The TV was from the ’80s and had a channel or two without a remote. Luckily, we did not come here for TV and brought our music. If you need to plug in a phone, forget about it! You would blow your phone up here. The beds had mattresses about 6 inches thick and foam particle pillows. Come on, folks, who still uses foam particle pillows?
Why Not Leave?
So, why didn’t we leave, you ask? We tried, but it was the Fourth of July weekend, and nothing was available within 20 miles. We also pre-paid for the room and booked the rental boat. Long story short, we decided to suck it up and make the most of the outside. Over the years, I’ve learned that the NW coast of Florida does not have much to offer in the realm of accommodations. I will write another article detailing accommodations at the Crystal River. Essentially, all these older towns have charm and natural attractions, but they lack accommodations for the sophisticated.
So, there we were, with what we thought was a brilliant deal, in this highly sought-after place on my Florida Bucket List. The accommodations were an absolute nightmare, but the Rainbow River more than made up for this. Avoid this place at all costs!
The Best Kept Secret
You can all tip me for this secret later! A 2014 brand-new Quality Inn Suites was built about half a mile away. It’s not on the river, but there are no accommodations other than Airbnb rentals unless you dare to try out The Rainbow River Club. This place is new, modern, clean and has enormous rooms and suites. It’s not luxurious, but I’ve stayed in Hiltons, which cannot compete with this place. Breakfast is included. It’s affordable and has everything you need. We have stayed in almost every Dunnellon, Crystal River, and Homosassa hotel. This is the only one we will stay at when doing the Rainbow River, and I will move dates to ensure this.
To this day, the Rainbow River is my favorite spring and river. I will never tire of the beauty here and will continue exploring the waterways!
Here are some of the most popular springs in Florida:
- Blue Spring – Florida
- Crystal River & Three Sisters Spring
- De Leon Springs, aka “Ponce De Leon Springs State Park”
- Devil’s Den Florida – A Prehistoric Spring
- Homosassa Springs Florida
- Kelly Park – Rock Springs
- Kings Landing, Florida, and The Iconic Emerald Cut
- Royal Springs – Suwannee County’s Hidden Gem
- Silver Glen Springs, Florida
- Silver Springs – One Of Florida’s Most Famous Springs
- Suwannee Springs, Florida – The Oldest Spring in Florida
- Weeki Wachee River
- Weeki Wachee Spring’s Buccaneer Bay Water Park
- Wekiva Island, Florida – The Locals Retreat
- Wekiva Falls RV Resort – Sorrento’s Hidden Spring
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