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My grandparents live in Orlando, Florida, so I’ve gone countless times to the theme parks in Orlando. Sometimes, you’re looking for something a little different. On my last trip, I took a day trip from Orlando to Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, Florida.
As much as I love my family, there’s something about being out in nature away from the parking lots, strip malls, and real estate developments that define so much of Florida. As soon as I reached the crystal-clear water of Rainbow Springs, I felt a sigh of relief amidst all the greenery. Keep reading for the best budget day trip from Orlando.
Cost of entry to Rainbow Springs State Park
It takes about one and a half hours to get to Rainbow Springs from Orlando. Once you get there, follow the signs to the parking. Parking is free, and entry is only $2 per person with children under six getting in FREE.
Entry includes all-day access to the spring although you’ll need to pay extra for the activities, including renting a tube, kayak, or stand-up paddling (SUP). It’s also possible to camp if you get a permit. Personally, I just enjoyed swimming in the water and making little videos.
The park is open every day starting at 8am until sunset. If you want to leave and come back, you can ask them to stamp your hand, so you don’t need to pay entry on the way back in.
Why visit Rainbow Springs State Park?
The water is 73 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and it’s so relaxing just to float in the crystal-clear water. I absolutely loved the greenery around the park, which is perfect for a walk.
It can be a bit noisy and crowded on weekends, as many families bring their kids. I’d recommend visiting on a weekday or getting to Rainbow Springs early in the day to avoid the mid-afternoon crowds. I went on a major holiday weekend and I still found Rainbow Springs not too crowded.
History of Rainbow Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs State Park has a fascinating history that you can see within the park. Not surprisingly, the spring was popular for fishing as well as transportation with Native Americans. Rainbow Springs became a theme park in the 1930s.
At the time, it was very popular to take glass-bottomed boats where visitors would enjoy the view of the water without getting wet. You can see the remnants of this park in the beautiful man-made waterfalls on the grounds. With the creation of the interstate highway system and the popularity of Disney, the park closed in the 1970s. In the 1990s, the park and its 1,400+ acres were acquired with the help of a citizen organization. Now, it’s an affordable day trip from Orlando.
Where to eat near Rainbow Springs State Park
There’s a concession stand with standard American food in the park. Bring some cash with you for drinks and snacks if you wish.
The fastest way back is through Ocala. Just before getting to the highway, you’ll pass by La Hacienda Restaurant and Supermarket. This Mexican restaurant and supermarket located in a strip mall looks normal, but it’s packed with local families and the prices are very affordable given the portion sizes. It’s the real deal and the food is fantastic. They accept credit cards.
What to pack to Rainbow Springs
The water is clear enough that you don’t need a snorkeling mask to see into the water, however it’s possible to go a bit deeper in the water with a snorkel mask. I’ve been obsessed with the full-face snorkel mask after trying it out as I’m kind of terrible with snorkeling mouthpieces.
Getting to Rainbow Springs State Park
It’s not possible to get to Rainbow Springs State Park, so you’ll need to rent a car to get to Rainbow Springs State Park. Unless you’re strictly staying at the parks, I highly recommend renting a car while you’re in Orlando as you’ll save money on food and you might be able to save money on a hotel. Orlando has some incredible food, especially Vietnamese and Central/Latin American, so be sure to try some while in Orlando.
Have you heard of Rainbow Springs State Park? Any recommendations for other day trips from Orlando welcome!