If you know Dunnellon, you know and love the beautiful Rainbow River. If you grew up in Dunnellon, you probably grew up on the banks of the river with a fishing pole in your hand. Or maybe, if you were like me, it was just watermelon…anyways, we are so lucky to be able to experience this incredible work of God that is basically all of our backyards. The picturesque views offered at every point of the river are like something out of a Florida fairytale or folklore. Every summer, especially now that I do not live at home, I am so excited to come home and head to the river. It is a summer must in my book! If you do not know of Dunnellon, Florida and have not had a chance to check out the Rainbow River for yourself, you definitely need to this summer. Here is why:
The city of Dunnellon is small, really small, and that is the fun part. When you get off the highway and drive towards Dunnellon you will see farmlands and cows. You will probably think where the heck am I. Then, you will cross a bridge that gives you your first glimpse of the wonderful Rainbow River. This bridge will lead you into town where you will see mom and pop shops and local restaurants. If you are into antiquing, this little town will not leave you disappointed. Dunnellon was founded in 1887. However, the discovery of phosphate in 1889 led to an expansion of the town, making it a boomtown. This where Dunnellon got the name for its annual festival, Boomtown Days. Mining for phosphate was centralized around the Rainbow River. Since the phosphate mining days are long gone, the town is usually pretty quiet, except in the summer when tourists flock to the Rainbow River for a day of fun in the sun. Fun Fact: If you are a fan of horror movies, the film Jeepers Creepers was filmed in and around Dunnellon.
The Rainbow River is fed by Rainbow Springs. As a fist magnitude spring, Rainbow Springs pushes about 490 million gallons of water a day through the system. WOW! It is the fourth largest spring in Florida. The water is crystal clear and always looks so inviting. At a crisp 72 degrees all year long the water is very enjoyable, especially on those hot Florida summer days. If you are interested in picnicking or taking a quick swim in the swimming area, Rainbow Springs State Park is where you should head. The swimming area is large and during the summer there is a life guard on duty. At one time, the park was a local amusement attraction. In the 1930s, the family owned park advertised submarine rides and animal shows. Since the park was so far off the beaten path and trying to compete with other places like Disney World, the park eventually closed and was bought by the state of Florida after changing hands a few times. In the 1990s a group of volunteers who named themselves “Friends of Rainbow Springs” got together to help clean up the park and prepare it to be reopened as a nature preserve. Today, Rainbow Springs State Park is open daily and is home to beautiful scenery and nature walks. They wind through the park and offer wonderful views of the river and small waterfalls. Towards the back of the park there is also a butterfly garden. The views are phenomenal; we even chose to take prom pictures at the park one year because the scenery is that spectacular. Growing up I would head over to the park on my bike with a sandwich and a book. I would walk the trails until I found the perfect spot to just sit and read and observe the beauty. If you are interested in visiting Rainbow Springs State Park just visit the link for more information. https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Rainbow-Springs
The Rainbow River, flowing from the headspring, winds through town and is about 5.7 miles long. At its end, it merges with the Withlacoochee River which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The river was named as an “Outstanding Florida Waterway” as well as a registered natural landmark in the 1970s. Home to all kinds of wildlife, I have seen river otters on multiple occasions. If nature photography is something you enjoy, head on out to Dunnellon for your chance to photograph birds, alligators and all sorts of other creatures.
If you enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding, the Rainbow River is the place for you! There are so many small nooks and crannies along the water that are begging to be explored by curious adventurers. As a no wake zone, the whole river is very favorable to those partaking in these water sports. If you decided to canoe, kayak or paddle board make sure you take some time to get out of the boat and enjoy the water. It can be so refreshing after a few hours in the sun.
If you are looking for a more laid back activity, I would recommend floating down the rainbow river in a tube…it is fun, and very popular in the summer. Some of you are probably like what does tubing down the river even mean? It means just that, getting in a float and enjoying a leisurely 4 to 4 ½ hour float down the Rainbow River. It is one of the most relaxing experiences. All you have to do is sit back, enjoy the day and let the river take you. This allows you to become one with nature for a few hours. Oh yeah, you probably want to put on sunscreen as well because 4 hours in the sun will burn almost anyone. I usually pack a cooler with a few snacks or a light lunch. A radio is a great idea as well!
Tubing begins at the KP Hole County Park. This is a small park a few miles down from Rainbow Springs State Park. You cannot tube from Rainbow Springs State Park. At the KP Hole there is a $5 entrance fee and a fee to rent the tube. There is also a swimming area if you are just looking to swim. The KP Hole stops access to tubing at around 2pm to ensure guests are off of the river before dusk. Due to the popularity of the experience and the small size of the park, the park often hits capacity pretty early on the weekends. Once the parking lots are full, the KP Hole will begin turning guests away. Have no fear! There are plenty of other companies that will help you get to the river!
Part of the charm of Dunnellon and the Rainbow River is the size of the town. With approximately 2,000 people living in the city limits, the best way to experience the charm of Dunnellon is to visit the family owned mom and pop shops that make up the town. There is a tubing company called Ride and Tube just outside of the city towards the KP Hole County Park. Based out of the Sunoco gas station, the whole business, including the gas station, is family owned and operated. You will often see the whole family, mom, dad and two sisters, working there during the summer to provide you with a great experience. Ride and Tube offers parking, tube rentals, shuttle drop off at the river as well as shuttle pick up when you are finished. From what I have heard, they just got a brand new yellow bus and it is nice! If you are interested in getting more information about Ride and Tube you can call (352) 489-0466 or visit https://www.facebook.com/rideandtube .
Any and all of these activities are a great option for a hot summer day in Florida. The river gets rave reviews. Last summer a family from Iceland vacationing in Florida came to tube down the river twice because they loved it so much…Iceland, whoa. The river is known for its cleanliness and family friendly atmosphere. Since no disposable containers are allowed on the river, there is hardly any trash cluttering this natural wonder. Alcohol is also prohibited on the river contributing to the family friendliness of the experience.
If being in or on the water is not your ideal scenario, there is still a way for you to enjoy the river! Dunnellon has a wonderful restaurant on the Rainbow River named Swampy’s Bar and Grille. With patio seating and a gorgeous view, you can’t go wrong. A local favorite, Blue Gator restaurant and tiki bar is located just a few miles down the street. Blue Gator is situated on the Withlacochee river and also offers wonderful views as well as live music. If you are looking for a cozier restaurant, Stumpknockers is a quaint little restaurant situated on a quiet part of the Withlacoochee River.
If you decided to come to Dunnellon and visit the spectacular Rainbow River here are some tips for you:
- Come early. Due to popularity, spots may fill up quickly. I would recommend arriving no later than 11.
- Store your snacks in non disposable containers (Tupperware) or you will be made to throw them out
- Wear sunscreen and reapply generously
- HAVE FUN!