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 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 that need updating, and time does stand even here — a slice of paradise in my local backyard.
I may increase traffic if I successfully tempt you to follow my lead to this oasis. Potentially, recommending the only beautiful place to stay will make reservations harder. 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; returning visitors are over parks and beaches. Lastly, my love affair with boating started here, along with my appreciation for raw oysters!
The Rainbow River Florida Background
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 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 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 the most beautiful place 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. 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, to check out the rat race and feel refreshed by swimming in clear spring water.
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 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, flows into the spring run, aka the Rainbow River. The state park is home to the headsprings, 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
Best Of Florida Springs & Rivers
If you really 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.
What To Do At Rainbow River
Tube Down The River
Tubing the river downstream is a popular option, although we have never done it. 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 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 outfits charge a fee to take you back to your starting point. Prepare; going down the river from KP Hole takes 2-3 hours on a tube. It’s nearly 4 hours from the headsprings.
Note: You cannot bring your own 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
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
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 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.
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 not accessible to any 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.
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.
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 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 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, Florida
What You Need To Know
- All disposal of drink containers are prohibited. No glass, no cans, no plastic. You will need to transfer drinks into reusable containers and have reusable cups.
- 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; 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!
- 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.
Where To Eat
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 RiverBoth restaurants are downriver. The tubes float from the park downriver and exit near Swampy’s.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions About The Rainbow River
How much does it cost to float down the Rainbow River?
Technically it’s free. It all depends on where you enter and if you bring your own floating device. For example, if you enter from a private dock, it’s free.
Launching a boat and driving up to the top is also free.
Entry to Rainbow River State Park costs $2 per person, and tube rental and tram access cost $20/person.
For paddlers, swimmers, and picnickers, entry to KP Hole costs $5.00 per person. $20.00 launch fee for Motor vessels. And tube rentals are $10 plus tax, which includes return shuttle service. Guests bringing their floatation device may purchase a pre-paid return shuttle for only $7, including tax.
Are there alligators in Rainbow River?
Yes, there are, but few due to the colder temperature of the springs, and they will not bother you.
How long does Rainbow River take to go down?
It takes about four hours to float down the river from KP Hole
What can I bring into Rainbow Springs?
You can bring food but no alcohol. And no glass containers are allowed. If you enter via the State Park, your cooler will be checked.
Can you drink alcohol on Rainbow River?
No, you can not. It’s prohibited.
Can you swim in the Rainbow River?
Yes, you can go everywhere in the Rainbow River.
Is Rainbow River safe?
Safe is a relative term as the Rainbow River is a River. But yes, it is considered safe.
How cold is the Rainbow River?
The water is a consistent 72 degrees year-round.
Are there manatees in Rainbow River?
Yes, there are manatees in the area.
Can you bring your own tube to Rainbow River?
Yes, you can bring your own tube.
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. The address we were provided 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 1920’s motel-style accommodations that were 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 definitely, overdue an 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. Lucky for us, 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 had pre-paid for the room along with booking 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 Springs
- 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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I went ponsdelon state park springs it was very nice.
Ponce de Leon Springs is on my list, I’ve never been there “yet”. Nikki
I grew up in Dunnellon. Ginnie and Gilchrist Springs in High Springs, Juniper Springs in Ocala and even Silver Springs are all just as clear as the Rainbow.
I need to add Juniper Springs to my list of places to visit. I recently did Silver Springs and while pretty not my favorite:) Thanks for sharing…. Nikki
I live off the Rainbow River and love it! The only clarification I would make is that you cannot bring your own tubes to the KP Hole. You have to rent from them or a rental company. The best time to be on the river is on a weekday.
That’s a really good point and I will add it – thank you:) And, I love the Wednesday tip… my hubby is not a fan of dodging the weekend tubing crowd:) Nikki
PS – lucky you living there.. it’s stunning.
There have been several drownings on the Rainbow River over the past few years. As a result, There are now numbers on the wood duck nest boxes thT have GPS coordinates associated with them. If you get into trouble you can call 911 and give them the number of the nearest nest box and emergency responders can pinpoint your location.
Great tips – thank you… Nikki
Hey Nikki, what a great article and I loved the images you have posted. One question, how humid does it get in Florida? Actually, I have another one, what is the best time of year for a visit?
So the truth is that Florida is always humid and then some! We get a few days of cold weather in Dec and Jan but not very many. Now, in terms of the best time to visit it – it’s a bit subjective but here are my two cents:)
If you want to hit the theme parks – Feb when it’s cool and the kids are in school. If you want to do water activities like springs or the beach then the third weeks of August when they are back in school.
Keep up the good Work.
I am so jealous! If we could have a holiday home, it would be here :) I love the Rainbow River – love it xxx Nikki
Ohhh!! I’m definitely adding some of these spots to my Florida travel bucket list!! Thanks for sharing.
It’s one of my many favorite spots! PS, my Florida bucket list keeps growing not getting shorter lol….
No, there are no manateess in the Rainbow River.
The river is considered seriously impaired due to extremely high levels of nitrates. There are algae in the river including some species that cause respiratory problems and skin irritation.
No alcohol or disposable containers are allowed anywhere on the Rainbow River. There are wasp nests in the overhanging branches so keep near the center when tubing. Just FYI.
Hi Gorden – the article actually says “Are there manatees in the Rainbow River? Yes, there are manatees in the area.” – Stress “Area” – I’ve seen them myself many times as the base of Withlacoochee River and at the public boat ramp on the opposite side of the road from the Blue Gator.
Also, the article does mention no alcohol :)