Roadside springs of northwest Florida

Northwest Florida boasts a large inventory of beautiful springs. With close to 40 in the Walton, Holmes, Washington and Bay counties, many are only accessible by paddling or by boat. There are a few available you can enjoy a family picnic and offer restroom facilities more suited for little ones. Here is a list of some great options in the Panhandle.

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park in Holmes County

Ponce De Leon Springs. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

Just outside the Walton County line is one of the coolest places to take a dip in a spring, Ponce de Leon Springs State Park. As the water stays a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, both locals and visitors enjoy this nature-made swimming pool, which is a convergence of two underground water flows, producing 14 million gallons of water daily.

The main vent is centrally located in the pool at a depth of 16 feet and is about 9 feet in diameter. A second vent about 10 feet from the north bank is a circular chimney 6 to 8 feet in diameter with a depth of 16 feet. A few feet from the north bank near the spring-run is a third vent. The aquatic cave habitat has been greatly improved because of recent efforts to remove organic sediments and debris that had previously blocked the vents. The park’s aquatic cave is likely home to cave crayfish.

This beautiful spring is named for Juan Ponce de Leon, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513 – as legend has it, in search of the “fountain of youth.”

The park has a long history as it has been facilitated as far back as the early 1900s, and at one time, offered a roller skating rink. The State acquired the springs in 1970.

The spring area boasts an open pool with easy access steps entering the water. The crystal clear water shows bream and bass swimming around below.

Visitors can take a leisurely walk along two self-guided nature trails through a lush, hardwood forest and learn about the local ecology and wildlife. The walk offers a closer look at Sandy Creek, where the springs empties into, and eventually leads to the Choctawhatchee River.

Local flora includes mountain laurel, magnolias, cypress, holly, cedar and oak trees. Snakes, fox, and lizards are a common sight in the area as well.

There are four pavilions offering grills and picnic tables. There are several more tables and grills scattered around the park offering the perfect place to hold a family picnic. Rangers also conduct seasonal guided walks, and anglers can enjoy fishing for catfish, largemouth bass, chain pickerel and panfish.

Hours of Operation
8 a.m. to sunset

Driving Directions:
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park Area is located one half mile south of U.S. 90 on C.R. 181A in Ponce de Leon, Fla.

Park Fees:
Admission Fee – $4.00 per vehicle.
Pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicles with holder of annual individual entrance permit – $2.00

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Road
Ponce de Leon, Florida 32455
Phone: 850-836-4281 ::MAP::

 

Dive, swim and cool off at Vortex Spring in Holmes County

Just outside Walton County in Ponce De Leon is a great place to chill out on a hot summer day. Located off of SR81 just north of Hwy. 90, Vortex Spring offers cave diving, swimming, and family-oriented summertime fun.

A popular dive and recreational spot since the mid 1970s, ownership of the park has recently been taken back over by the original family. Vortex offers crystal clear dives into a deep limestone cavern. The spring itself vents 28 million gallons of water daily at a year-round temperature of 68 degrees.

Vortex offers a dive shop with gear rentals including suits, masks, gauges, and accessories. Snacks and drinks are available at the shop as well.

The recreation area is popular spot for swimmers during the warm weather months. A diving board, high jump platforms, zip line, slides, and a rope swing provide fun-filled launches into the cool spring water. Picnic tables and grassy areas along the spring offer opportunities for a fun-filled day.

Lodging accommodations are available at Vortex, and include a large home for divers, hosting up to 10 people. Additional lodging includes bunk-bed lodges, cabins and campsites with electrical hookup available at some of its 55 sites.

Vortex Spring is located approximately 4 miles north of Hwy. 90 on SR81 in Ponce De Leon, Fla. ::MAP::

Hours of Operation: Monday – Thursday 8-4, Friday 8-5, Saturday 7-7, Sunday 7-5

Pets and fishing is not permitted.

Diving fees are $19.00/day
Swimming $6.00/day

For more information about Vortex Spring and its facilities, go to: www.vortexspring.com

 

Morrison Springs in Walton County

morrisonJust south of Ponce De Leon, the 161-acre park is well known in the area, and popular with divers and nature enthusiasts across the south. Cypress trees abound around the spring with their crisp, bright green needles defining the landscape. The spring provides an aqua color inviting everyone in for a dip.

The highlight of the park is a 250-foot diameter spring pool that produces an estimated 48 million gallons of crystal clear water each day and has been recorded to produce up to 70 million gallons a day. Three cavities allow Morrison’s frigid waters to surface from the underground aquifer. The deepest of these cavities, at approximately 300 foot in depth, eventually terminates in an underground chamber of unknown dimensions. Morrison Springs is a favorite of divers.

575 linear ft. of boardwalks meander through the ancient cypress trees, and span into the springs to a diver’s launching area, with a 10×10 ft. 9,000 lb. floating concrete platform.

Restroom facilities, a pavilion with picnic area, wash stations, showers and handicap access are available at the park now, offering it the perfect family destination.

There are 72 parking spaces at the entrance to the park, which include 10 bus and 4 handicap spaces. There are 24 boat/trailer spaces located at the boat ramp.

The park was acquired by the state in 2004 and its management is now entrusted to Walton County for 99 years. The project is also part of the ‘DEP Springs Initiative;’ a comprehensive protection effort which provides funding for springs restoration throughout the state of Florida.

Walton County.

Directions:
Morrison Springs is located in the most southeastern part of Ponce deLeon just inside the Walton County line. From Freeport, take State Road 20 east to State Road 81 and go north past Red Bay to County Highway 181C. Turn right and continue 1.6 miles. Turn a right on Morrison Springs Road. This is a County park there are no fees. Open from 8 a.m. – sunset. ::MAP::

 

 

Pitt and Sylvan springs along Econfina Creek in Washington County

pittspringLooking for a place to take a dip in a spring and grill a few dogs and burgers? Head over Pitt and Sylvan Springs and enjoy a day nestled in nature along Econfina Creek.

Located along State Road 20 in Bay County, this public recreation area recently went through major restoration by Northwest Florida Water Management District. The endeavor was the first phase of the District’s Econfina Springs Complex – Spring Restoration and Protection Project.

The project for the 10-acre park was a long process, with initial planning beginning in 2006. Heavily eroded creek banks were restored with root balls and water friendly trees such as wax myrtle and Carolina willow were placed to prevent future erosion.

The main park area has three pavilions with picnic tables, grills, and boardwalk trails through the park to the Sylvan Springs over look area. There you can easily view the tiny spring boils bubble up through the limestone.

Colorful interpretive signs educate the nature lover on the boardwalk trails. An improved canoe dock on Econfina Creek was added, along with a tube launch dock near Sylvan Spring run confluence to the creek. Depending on the water levels, these dock areas can be tricky to access by canoe or kayak.

The park is open from sunrise to sunset. There are no lifeguards on duty. No pets allowed except service dogs. There is ADA access to most of the park and an environmentally friendly self-composting rest room facility has been installed as well.

Washington county.

There are no kayak, canoe or tube rentals available at the recreation area, however there is a rental livery located off of Strickland Road: Click here for info.

Entrance to the park can be made from either State Road 20 or Strickland Road. ::MAP::

Location: Washington County–Lat. 30° 25’ 58.68” N., Long. 85° 32’ 47.14” W.

 

Williford Spring on Econfina Creek in Washington County

The Northwest Florida Water Management District has completed restorations of Williford Spring in southern Washington County, Florida.

The $1.52 million project improved water quality and protected the shoreline of Williford Spring. Recreational enhancements include spring entry steps, patio terrace, spring view deck, canoe dock, boardwalks, composting toilets, picnic pavilions, parking area, a connector trail to Pitt and Sylvan springs, as well as interpretative trails and native landscaping throughout the site.

Williford Spring is located in the Econfina Creek Water Management Area between SR 77 and U.S. 231 off of Herman Strickland/Porter Pond Road. ::MAP::

Washington county.

About Williford spring:
Williford Spring has a circular spring pool in a conical depression whose sand bottom is rippled by issuing spring currents. The pool measures 57 ft. in diameter. The vent is under a limestone ledge roughly in the center of the pool, and the depth measured over the vent is 10.1 ft. There is a sizable boil over the vent, and the color of the water is light blue-green. There is no aquatic vegetation in the pool, and a thin layer of algae covers less than half of the limestone and sand substrates. Williford Spring discharges through a swiftly flowing spring run that travels south for approximately 443 ft.into Econfina Creek.

Blue Spring on Econfina Creek in Washington County

For those interested in dipping into a cool 68 degree crystal clear spring without a paddle, this recreation area park  can be accessed by vehicle, and offer a perfect family outdoor experience.

Gin clear water emits from the spring offering cool swimming in a secluded area on Econfina creek. Easy access with steps and a shallow water area make it perfect for anyone to cool off on a hot summer day.

The park boasts large oak trees, picnic tables, pavilion, portable restroom, fire rings, and grills. Parking is limited unless you make camping reservations through Northwest Florida Water Management here.

Blue Spring is located off of SR20 on North Blue Springs Road, Youngstown.

Latitude/Longitude: 30.453238, -85.529542

Paddle, swim, or cave dive at Blue Springs Recreation Area on Merritt’s Mill Pond in Jackson County

Entrance to the Jackson Blue cave at Merritt’s Mill Pond. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

What do Jackson Blue, Shangri-la, Twin Caves, Indian Wash Tub, Hole-in-the-Wall, Gator Hole, and Hidey Hole have in common? They are all names of springs feeding into the crystal clear waters of beautiful Merritt’s Mill Pond in Jackson County.

Located just east of Marianna, Merritt’s Mill Pond is actually a 202-acre reservoir fed mostly by one spring named Blue Spring or Jackson Blue. Considered to be one of the most beautiful springs to explore by divers, Jackson Blue’s main vent is a limestone cave close to 5,000 ft. in length. It is a first magnitude spring, discharging an average of about 76 million gallons a day, and is the head waters of Merritt’s Mill pond.

Jackson County.

Towering stands of cypress trees draped with Spanish moss are scattered throughout the pond along with oak leaf hydrangea and ferns dotting the limestone rocks along the banks. A variety of birds can be viewed such as herons, cormorants, ibis, kingfisher and cave dwelling black vultures. Turtles are a common sight as they often sunbathe on old floating logs.

Blue Springs Recreation Area:
Open Memorial Day through Labor Day
5461 Blue Springs Road, Marianna, Florida 32446
Telephone: (850) 482-2114 Alternate: (850) 718-0437
For off season rentals contact the Parks Dept. at: (850) 718-5210. 
Open 7 days a week

Park gates open 9:30 a.m., Water opens at 10:00 a.m. Water closes at 5:30 p.m., park closes at 6:00 p.m. (CST) through Aug.
Admission Fee: $4.00 per person
Seasonal passes and kayak/canoe rentals click here.

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