This Underrated State Park Is Home To Florida's Most Breathtaking Natural Springs

Florida undeniably has fabulous beaches. However, beyond the state's coastal playground lies even more water-filled gems that will appeal to avid beachgoers. For a freshwater adventure, head inland to Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, an underrated state park home to the Sunshine State's most breathtaking natural springs.

A privately operated park until 2017, Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park — or Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park for short — is the newest addition to Florida's state park network. The park encompasses over 400 acres of land and protects 1½ miles of the Santa Fe River shoreline. Several spectacular springs are peppered across the diverse landscape, including the park's namesake, Gilchrist Blue Spring. This second-magnitude spring produces an average of 44 million gallons of water daily.

Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park boasts inviting turquoise waters and underwater forests where you'll discover all different types of aquatic creatures. The swampy cypress forests surrounding the springs also provide a home to hundreds of flora and fauna species. With everything from watersports to nature walks, this stunning southern gem is filled to the brim with activities perfect for families, nature photographers, and outdoor enthusiasts.

Enjoying the freshwater springs

While there are plenty of vistas and overlooks where you can snap photos of the park's springs, Gilchrist Blue Spring is the only spring that allows swimming and watersports. This main spring is a cool but comfortable 72 degrees year-round, which can be particularly refreshing on summer days. There are designated areas in the natural spring for those who want to snorkel and explore the underwater world.

Not only can you enjoy taking a dip at Gilchrist Blue Springs, but you can also float or paddle down a ¼-mile spring run that leads to the Santa Fe River. Affordable kayak, paddleboard, and tandem canoe rentals are offered on-site through Anderson's Outdoor Adventures, with prices beginning at $30 for two hours of water-filled fun.

While on the crystal clear waters, look along the water's edge for hunting shorebirds. Once reaching the junction of the Santa Fe River and Gilchrist Blue's spring run, begin upriver to reach Rum Island or other gorgeous springs. You can choose to instead float downstream toward Ginnie Springs, a private park that offers freshwater dives at several natural spring locations.

Exploring the park on foot

Aside from playing in the park's pristine natural springs, Gilchrist Blue Springs features exciting activities for outdoorsy travelers. The Nature Trail is just under 1 mile long but leads hikers through various ecosystems and natural habitats. Trekkers can observe a 350-year-old giant cypress tree, hidden springs, and turtle-filled emerald sinkholes along the path. The Gilchrist Blue Springs Loop is another popular trail that weaves through 1½ miles of the park and past five scenic springs. As you wander the peaceful Florida wildlands, see if you can spot protected bird species such as the pileated woodpecker and osprey.

There are campgrounds at the park, including 16 sites that accommodate both RV and tent camping and seven tent-only camping spots. Before packing your sleeping bag, be sure to plan by checking for any closures and making reservations on the Florida State Parks website. Moreover, the park can close once it reaches capacity, so try to visit on a weekday or prepare to arrive early. Next time you visit Florida, add Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park to your itinerary for endless water escapades and one-of-a-kind views.