What would you pay for a trip back in time? What price would you place on a visit to old Florida, when scrub forests flourished and not a strip mall could be found for miles?
How does six dollars sound? That tiny fee gets a carload of travelers into Blue Spring State Park, a veritable portal back to the “real” Florida. Pay a little more and you can camp overnight at this rustic, natural wonderland.
Whether you’re in need of an adventurous family outing or a romantic weekend, this park has the cure.
Blue Spring State Park is the stuff of dreams not just for nature lovers, but any weary traveler looking for a real escape on a reasonable budget.
For centuries, the Blue Spring area was home to Native Americans, and some shell middens remain as evidence. In 1857, it was settled by the Thursby family, whose ancestral home remains open on site as a museum.
A well-maintained boardwalk meanders for miles through the park’s flood plain forest along the spring road. At its heart is Blue Spring, the largest freshwater spring on the St. Johns River. Douse hot days with a dip into its crystal-clear waters, which maintain a constant year-round temperature of 72 degrees – more invigorating than any air conditioner ever invented.
Visitors can rent inner tubes and drift downstream on lazy currents, flanked by turtles. There are also plenty of picnic areas, a four-mile hiking trail, and bicycle paths along the Volusia County Spring-to-Spring Trail.
The spring is a designated refuge, home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees mid-November through March. Regulations against diving with manatees are strictly enforced, but these gentle giants can be viewed from the nearby boardwalk.
The St. Johns River is popular for fishing, canoeing and boating, with guided tours available. Inexpensive canoe, tube and snorkel rentals are available near the park gift shop.
Bird watchers will find spring hatchlings earning their wings in summer. Bring binoculars to spot brilliant red cardinals and endangered Florida Scrub Jays in flight
If visiting on a weekend, plan to arrive early or wait until late afternoon. The park often reaches capacity by late morning on weekends and holidays. At these times, gates may be temporarily closed to prevent overcrowding.
For a real vacation experience, stay overnight at one of the park’s many camp sites. The park sometimes gets crowded on weekends, so consider scheduling your trip to include a weekday to take advantage of the more peaceful atmosphere
Tent and RV camping costs $24 plus tax per night at sandy sites surrounded by scrub forest. Each includes a picnic table, a fire ring with a removable cooking grate, water and electric access. There is plenty of room to park a vehicle, set up a large tent and spread out some chairs for picnicking with space left over.
Two bathroom buildings with showers are conveniently located a short walk from these sites. Campers are welcomed by knowledgeable park rangers and Camp Hosts – full-time residents who assist with questions or problems.
For $95 per night plus tax, visitors can rent one of six air-conditioned cabins in a shady oak hammock, walking distance from the spring. These two-bedroom cabins sleep up to six people, and at least one site is wheelchair accessible. A screened porch lets you sit around telling camp stories after sundown while keeping the bugs at bay.
These are the luxury sites of the park. Each cabin includes a fully equipped kitchen with all appliances and utensils, and a gas fireplace for use in winter. Linens, pillows, blankets and towels are also provided. Guests need only bring personal items such as toiletries, paper towels and condiments for the cookout.
Two-night minimum stays are required on weekends and holidays. Late arrivals (after 5 p.m.) should contact the park office in advance for instructions.
Blue Spring State Park feels totally removed from the chaos of everyday life, but it’s conveniently close to plenty of popular destinations. Daytona Beach is about 30 miles to the northeast, while big-city Orlando is a stone’s throw at 35 miles south. For visitors looking for an alternative to lodging in those areas, Blue Spring is an excellent option.