For my daughter’s eighth birthday this year, I took her to De Leon State Park for a day of swimming, learning, and pancakes! My daughter had never visited a spring before which had to be fixed- especially being a Floridian. It’s a totally different experience than a trip to the beach. We felt more submersed in nature and Florida history and had a blast playing in the sun. Here’s what we did, what we saw, and what you should know if you too would like to jump in the spring known as “The Fountain of Youth”
Before any trip, I did my research. The spring is open 365 days a year, open at 8AM-sunset, and costs $6 per vehicle. The park has a designated swimming area which is 500 feet in circumference and the water is a crisp 72 degrees, but if you go on a hot-summer day, the cool water is a welcome relief on you sun-kissed skin. Separating the swimming area from the gorgeous Spring Garden Run is a concrete walkway that leads to rental area, Eco/Heritage Boat Tour, and small history room. The swimming area was not too deep for myself so we rented one raft for my daughter, brought our towels, checked out the concession stand for a snack, road the boat tour, took a quick tour of the museum on site, and dined at the Old Spanish Museum.
Canoe & Kayak Rentals: $22 first hour; $11 for each additional hour
Single Kayak:$15 first hour; $7.50 for each additional hour
Tubes: $5 all-day
Eco/Heritage Bout Tour
For $15 per person, the tour is a 45 minute long boat ride and gives you the opportunity to see some beautfiul, native flora and fauna. We saw plenty of gators swimming by our boat and they boast potential sightings of otters, manatees, deer, osprey, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and black bear. I’d have to say, this was the most informative tour i’ve been on. From the history of the park and how its changed over the years to the medicianal uses of marsh plants, I felt I learned a lot. My favorite bit of history were about mallow flowers that native Americans used to make marshmallows.
The history museum was a very small room with a few children running around as they took a small break from enjoying the spring. Despite its size, I did enjoy reading about the Mayaca who lived at the location for at least 6,000 years. The spring has a unique history with involvement in the Civil War before becoming a tourist attraction. In the early 1900’s, there was a hotel and casino at the site and even a passing circus with a water skiing elephant!
Old Spanish Mill Restaurant
As I’m writing this entree, I just learned the Old Spanish Mill is official closed as of September 12! I am both sad to learn such a wonderful and fun piece of history is gone but I also feel so blessed we got to experience it. The restaurant is located in a 100-year-old replica of the 1830s sugar mill, features cook-your-own pancakes at the table and freshly made bread and cookies. We loved making our own pancakes on the table griddle and topping with chocolate chips and homemade peanut butter.
What To Know Before You Go
Visiting a spring is a nice change from the beach. I felt very safe with my daughter in the water with no rip currents to be wary off and a clear sepration from the spring for anyone worried about access from alligators. It was a busy summer day but still felt we had a comfortable distance from other visitors.
Bring what you would typically bring to the beach (towels, sunscreen, tube, packed lunch, water) but some visitors may feel umcomfortable with the natural growth on the spring’s floors so I’d consider bringing water shoes as some spots are very slippery. A person that day told me she slipped on the steps going in and injuried herself so severely, they had to call their trip short early so be cautious! Otherwise, pack up a lunch and the kids to check out a spring before the last of Florida’s heat has passed!