While the beaches of Florida are justifiably popular, we have found RV campgrounds near dreamy Florida freshwater springs that have made us appreciate the Sunshine State just as much (or more) than the flashier tourist spots on the coast. We’ve done so with way fewer crowds, up close, and experiential. And, we’ve almost always been able to get a reservation or find a spot. in these days of crowded campgrounds, especially in A1 destinations like Florida, it’s a treasure worth sharing.
Florida’s peninsula – bordered by the Atlantic ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico to the west – has a huge underground aquifer that pretty much stretches from Gainsville on the north to the Keys on the south. And from it bubbles up nearly 900 natural springs.
No other geographic area on earth has more.
Florida’s freshwater springs produce an estimated 800 billion gallons of crystal clear water every single day, mostly never more or less than 72 degrees all year round. The characteristic of those springs is a lush and diverse surrounding ecosystem of plants and trees and wildlife. And, in many spots, RVers can swim, float, kayak, snorkel, SCUBA dive, and explore in glass-bottom boats.
Ready for some suggestions for excellent and interesting Florida campgrounds? Here are my three favorites.
Located off US 98 on the Gulf side just north of the city of Homosassa, Crystal River is indeed a river, but a river fed by a network of some 40 freshwater springs. It was here that I was introduced to Florida’s springs as I first visited to get my open water SCUBA certification.
We picked the area because, besides many dive shops and charters, Crystal River is known as one of the best places in the state to observe Manatees, the large, peaceful aquatic and mostly herbivorous marine mammals sometimes known as sea cows.
Probably the most picturesque area in Crystal River is the Three Sisters Springs, which is part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. This is considered the gem of all the springs in the area and although the springs area is only an acre in size, they are surrounded by a boardwalk offering fabulous views.
The whole Crystal Springs area is crisscrossed by rivers and springs and there are numerous RV campgrounds in the area.
RV Campgrounds near Crystal Springs
- Crystal Isles RV Resort: Close to the Gulf beaches, this RV Resort offers plenty of amenities, including a pool, waterfront sites, on-site laundry, and boat rentals.
- Rousseau RV Resort: On beautiful Lake Rousseau, the sites at this RV Resort are shaded by ancient live oaks. Guests will enjoy the waterfront views, swimming pool, and access to both salt and freshwater for plenty of fishing.
- Nature’s Resort: Situated on the Homosassa River, this 97-acre resort offers RV sites. There’s a swimming pool, game room, and access to the Gulf for fishing and boating.
- Riverside Lodge RV Resort: Right on the Withlacoochee River, this RV Resort offers RV sites, tent camping sites, and cabin and cottage rentals. There’s also a pool for your family to enjoy.
- Chassahowitzka River Campground: This riverside campground offers 53 full hookup RV sites with a boat launch, boat rentals, and a general store. Camp here if you are looking for scenic views, wildlife, and some of the best paddling in Florida.
Blue Spring State Park
Located in Orange City on the St. John’s River, about 45 miles northwest of Orlando, Blue Spring State Park is a designated Manatee Refuge and the winter home to a population of up to 400 manatees. The park itself encompasses 2,600 acres with a nice campground that has 51 large and private campsites, all with picnic tables, a fire pit, and electric and water hookups.
Jennifer and I found it a delight of a place. It is quiet and remote – there are signs warning about feeding the bears which are often seen in the park – and while the springs are a half-mile walk away, a shaded walking path starts right next to site 18 and takes you to the boardwalk that parallels the Blue Spring Run. Towering old live oaks grow from the banks of the run with Spanish Moss dangling down right to the surface of the water. The run is only about a half-mile long and 100 feet or so wide.
In the winter, it’s loaded with manatees. We counted nearly 50 the last time we visited. These gentle giants are huge, weighing 800 to 1,000 pounds and up to ten feet long. Some have grown to nearly 3,000 pounds. We were surprised to learn that manatees are related to the elephant, but when you see them up close, you can really notice the resemblance. They are grayish-brown in color and have thick, wrinkled skin on which there is often a growth of algae. In the late fall and early winter, when manatees are present, no swimming is allowed. But in the spring and summer, swimmers, snorkelers, and divers are allowed.
Although they call it Blue Springs, the springs have a distinct green shade to them because of the algae in the area caused by agricultural runoff into the St. Johns River. The water is amazingly clear. Right from the boardwalk, you can see giant largemouth bass, longnose gar, channel catfish, and more than 40 other species of fish cruising past.
RV Campgrounds Near Blue Springs
Located on U.S. 41 miles north of Dunnellon, Rainbow Springs is generally thought to be the prettiest of all of Florida’s natural freshwater springs. It’s in the midst of a 1,500-acre state park. The waters of the spring are sapphire blue, surrounded by lush, moss-covered trees and ornamental gardens.
The spring area is made up of a series of small vents that collectively pump out more than 400 million gallons of water every day. Water depth ranges from 5 to 18 feet and the remarkable water clarity means snorkelers and divers – and even those looking on from shore – can easily spot the fish, turtles, and aquatic life that call the springs home.
At one time, mastodon and mammoth fossils were found in the Rainbow River, along with relics of the American Indians who used the river for transportation and fishing. For thirty years, the area was a privately owned theme park with glass-bottom boat rides and a monorail offering aerial views. But as the I-75 opened in the 1960s, tourist traffic was siphoned off year after year until the park was closed in 1974. In 1990, it reopened as a state park and today it is designated as a National Natural Landmark and a Florida aquatic preserve
If swimming in 72 water is too chilly for you, at the visitor center, you can rent a canoe, kayak, or tube to paddle and float the peaceful Rainbow River, adjacent to the spring. The campground here has 60 pull-through RV sites and another 50 back-in sites for RVs and tents. All have 20/30/50 amp service, water, and sewer connections.
RV Campgrounds Near Rainbow Springs
Watch out for alligators!
Those are just three of our favorite Florida freshwater springs. There are hundreds of springs in Florida with convenient camping, but I need to remind you that all of Florida is alligator country and any body of freshwater is likely home to a gator or two. Most alligators are shy and move away from humans, and don’t like colder water. But if you see them nearby, or the area has posted to keep a lookout, you may want to choose a different spot for swimming.
There is much more to Florida than the beaches. I hope this article has given you a curiosity to get out there and explore more of Florida in your RV. These natural freshwater springs are truly awesome. Happy Trails.