I am 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 real, 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 that need updating, and time does stand even here — a slice of paradise in my local backyard.
Should I be successful in tempting you to follow my lead to this oasis, I may increase traffic. Potentially, recommending the only beautiful place to stay will make reservations harder to come by. So why am I writing 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 real Florida, and returning visitors are over parks and beaches. Lastly, my love affair with boating started here, along with my appreciation for raw oysters!
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 I had never heard of the Rainbow River 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 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 that 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 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. To find out what happened at the cabins, see the name and shame section below.
The Rainbow River, Florida, is quite possibly the most beautiful place that I have seen in Florida. There are only a couple of other sites as stunning and unique. Some of my friends will disagree when they read this. After all, this is Florida, and it is still a river. To date, 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 reflection from the sun. Head to the Rainbow River, Florida, if you want to check out the rat race and feel refreshed with a swim in clear spring water.
We rented our first boat from the “cabin resort,” which was cool. We could walk from our place, down the bank, to the river, and jump on our rental boat. From the minute that 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 was 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 Springs
The Rainbow River Spring run, a state park, flow into the spring run, aka the Rainbow River. The state park is home to the headsprings, which is a popular place to swim.
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 so that you can be picked up and returned to your starting point.
Food is available at the state park, such as sandwiches, snacks, drinks, and ice cream.
No boating is allowed within the Rainbow River Springs State Park.
Address: 19158 SW 81st Place Rd. Dunnellon FL 34432
What To Do At Rainbow River
Tubing the river downstream is a popular option, although we have never done it. We always boat up the river, but we 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 I think it’s worth it since many spots will be void of the tubers.
For sure, once you have passed the KP hole, no more tubers! Once on the water, you can swim, snorkel, dive, and explore the many orifices. 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 sandbars that travel through the backwoods to dry land. You can fish or not fish. We have caught bass here several times. Realistically, this place is all about relaxing, relaxing, and relaxing some more.
Note: You cannot bring your own tubes to the KP Hole.
How we spend our days
Often, our days consist of driving upriver as far as we can. We stop at the entrance to the spring head since it’s not accessible to any motorized vehicles. We typically find a sandbar, turn on the music, eat our lunch, and enjoy the water. On our returns, a restaurant named Swampy’s has become a tradition of ours. 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, 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
There is a public boat ramp 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 up to the Rainbow River.
If you are boating up from the Withlacoochee River, you will go under two bridges. 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 parking for a boat.
Most people that launch from KP Hole go by tube, kayak, or paddleboard.
If you want to tube down the river, start at KP hole, or you can 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 of the outfits charge a fee to take you back to your starting point. Prepare; going down the river from KP Hole takes about 2-3 hours on a tube. It’s nearly 4-hours from the headsprings.
Tube Companies on the Rainbow River
Here are some options. I cannot vouch for any of them because we boat instead of tubing, as previously mentioned.
Rainbow Springs State Park
Ride and Tube
Rainbow River Kayak Adventures
Essentials You Will Need To Enjoy The Rainbow River
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 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 place 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 hotel in Dunnellon, Crystal River, and Homosassa. We will stay the only one when doing the Rainbow River, and I will move dates to ensure this.
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job and travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.