Where can you camp and experience a nature cruise, springs you can swim in and canoe and kayak rentals? Blue Springs State Park.
This is an awesome and relatively inexpensive way to spend a weekend in Florida. We made reservations online in advance for the campground at Blue Springs State Park. I can’t recall if they were $24 or $28 per night – but the campground was awesome. Our site was a full concrete pad (15) while others were gravel. Enough shade to keep people happy but enough direct southern sky exposure for satellite users!
On this trip we did a two hour river cruise of the St. Johns River that leaves directly from the state park by concessionaire St. Johns River Cruises. There is a small concession stand here and there is a historic house, the Thursby House, nearby. The historic house only dates to the 1870s but that is pretty old by Florida standards. It is well interpreted and gives you a good feel for what the area must have been like during the times of steamships.
The two hour cruise leaves at 10AM and 1PM daily. There are other options but we took the 10AM cruise and it was $25 each. There is a toilet onboard the boat and there are sodas and potato chips. It was extremely well narrated by Rebecca, who has been doing these tours for quite some time and her experience was evident.
We spent time looking at red shouldered hawks, blue herons, baby alligators, purple somethings and a whole lot more. It was really quite fascinating. The boat holds quite a few people though on this trip there were only nine of us so we got to move about the boat quite freely and get a bit more personal attention. The scenery was beautiful and you can well imagine the 19th century steam boats plying the St. Johns River and seeing exactly what we were seeing. Though I must admit I did think there most likely were more birds and wildlife along the journey back then.
After two hours you return with about a ten minute period of speeding along. Most of the journey is at a low speed due to manatee zones and we certainly saw our share of those! We also learned how to spot their trails. Once back onshore we rode our bicycles back to our campsite and grabbed lunch. We changed into bathing suits and headed down to the springs which was no more than a five minute bike ride away. There were plenty of people with dive gear and snorkeling gear too so take note of that!
At the springs there is a camp store that is adequately stocked as well as a gift shop that had tube for rent as well as other related merchandise. We had noodles so we brought them with us. There are two places you can enter the water – near the shops or along the boardwalk a few minutes down you can put in there and float to the other spot nearest the shops. We did both actually. The bed is rather rocky in parts and it was easier with something on your feet to maneuver upstream so keep that in mind.
The water, a constant 72 degrees F/22 degrees C, was cold compared to the outside temperature in the 90s/30s but in we went. The water was nice and smooth – you could swim right up to the spring too – which goes down about 80 feet/24 meters. I had no problem standing in the waters anywhere I swam though. After a few hours of playing in the spring water we headed back to the campsite. It was a great day and a lot to cram into one day so you can easily spend a weekend or more here. There were kayak and canoe rentals by the dock and there’s also Segway tours.
Nearby Orange City has some history and culture. A large grand hotel from the American Railway Era is a dominant structure along the main street. There are also plenty of chain shops and restaurants in the commercial district of Orange City. The downtown section is very very small and almost all activity takes place in the strip malls that dominate the area.
Orange City is located about half an hour north of downtown Orlando and half an hour west of Daytona Beach. The town of DeLand, which is the county seat for Volusia County, is a town well worth exploring if you’re in the area. I can also highly suggest Sanford to the south for a visit. Deltona, also nearby, is the metro Orlando’s second largest “city” and is a massive and nearly endless neighborhood of 80,000 people all living in detached houses with no downtown and no history. Even the mid-century homes first bought by retirees do not have a single representative in the landscape.