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Standing on the bluffs above the headwaters of the Rainbow River, it’s easy to understand the magic of Rainbow Springs State Park. What’s hard to believe is this was once a bustling phosphate mine, with deep pits and steep piles of dirt dug out through the 1920s as Florida had its first mining boom in Dunnellon. By the 1930s, a private owner rehabilitated the landscape, using the rough terrain as a backdrop for thousands of azaleas and camellias and waterfalls that cascaded down rocky steps into the glass-clear river. With a lodge and boat tours, it became a popular tourist attraction along US 41, culminating in a fantasyland of leaf-shaped ...

Standing on the bluffs above the headwaters of the Rainbow River, it’s easy to understand the magic of Rainbow Springs State Park. What’s hard to believe is this was once a bustling phosphate mine, with deep pits and steep piles of dirt dug out through the 1920s as Florida had its first mining boom in Dunnellon. By the 1930s, a private owner rehabilitated the landscape, using the rough terrain as a backdrop for thousands of azaleas and camellias and waterfalls that cascaded down rocky steps into the glass-clear river. With a lodge and boat tours, it became a popular tourist attraction along US 41, culminating in a fantasyland of leaf-shaped monorails, aviaries, submarine-style tour boats and a rodeo by the 1970s. As Walt Disney World drained tourists away from the backroads, the park closed and sat abandoned, at risk of development, until the citizens of the county raised the funds to buy it and transfer it to the state. Years of volunteer rehabilitation have raised the gardens to their former glory, best enjoyed in late winter, and the glassy springs are now open to swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking.

Sandra Friend
About the Expert

Sandra Friend has written 12 books about Florida, including the Explorer's Guide (Countryman Press) series to Florida.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Located in Central Florida, approximately 100 miles north of Tampa on U.S. 41, three miles (5 km) north of Dunnellon, Florida. It comprises 1,460 acres.
  • Research: Marion County | Wikipedia
  • Weather: Daylight | Rainfall

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    Spring, fall