Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
For those really hot Northwest Florida summer days, Ponce de Leon Springs State Park offers a cool natural escape. Located a few miles inland from the gulf coast beaches, this natural spring’s revitalizing waters seem like a “fountain of youth” to those who plunge beneath them.
Swimming, snorkeling and wading in the splashing clear waters of the spring run are a great way to while away a summer’s day and regain some lost youth. You can also go hiking, picnicking and birding. Although bisected by Interstate-10, this 406-acre state park located near the town of Ponce de Leon seems miles and centuries away from the rest of the world.
Most of the recreation facilities are near the entrance to the park and include the springs pool and beach area, spring run, nature trails, a bathhouse and showers, a sand volleyball court, and a large picnic area with tables, pavilions, and grills.
There is no evidence that Juan Ponce de Leon ever actually reached Northwest Florida, but the legend of his search for a spring that would keep him forever young has long captured the imaginations of Florida visitors. It is more likely the Spanish explorer was searching for gold and new lands for Spain, but the legend of revitalizing waters has brought countless travelers in search of their own Fountain of Youth.
Historically, both Native Americans and European settlers used Ponce de Leon springs for drinking water. In the 1920’s, the spring was owned by the Smithgall family who built a bathhouse with restrooms and showers, a snack bar, a skating rink, and a wooden retaining wall around the pool. The spring and surrounding land was acquired by the Florida State Park system in 1970 and about 20 acres were set aside for recreation. Today, all that is left of the early resort is the stone wall surrounding the pool, and cool, fresh waters of the natural spring.
Ponce de Leon Springs is made up of two underground springs that meet deep in the aquifer, keeping the water at 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Although it doesn't have the amount of flow of Morrison Springs, its neighbor a few miles south, Ponce de Leon produces about 14 million gallons of pure natural spring water each day. The water accumulates in a pool that is perfect for swimming, diving and snorkeling.
From the pool, the water flows under a bridge and into the shallow Spring Run that is a perfect splash pool for young children and non-swimmers. Spring Run is very walkable until it deepens and meets the tannin colored Sandy Creek where it becomes a perfect fishing hole for catching largemouth bass, catfish, and Bluegill.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and offers opportunities to see mocking birds, great horned owls, pileated woodpeckers, bald eagles, and many other species. Two nature trails, Sandy Creek Trail and Spring Run Trail, meander through the hardwood forest and alongside the two creeks offering glimpses of wildlife and of the nine distinct habitats that are found in the park.
Keep in mind Florida wetlands means Florida alligators. These big reptiles call the park home and can be seen sunning themselves on the creek banks during warm months. Generally alligators avoid humans, but do not approach or feed these creatures. Other wildlife in the park includes deer, foxes, gopher tortoises and bats. Plants that can be found here include mountain laurel, orange azalea and the rare carnivorous pitcher plants.
In addition to swimming, snorkeling, nature walks and fishing, Ponce de Leon Springs State Park offers a large picnic area with grills, and four covered pavilions that can be reserved. Visitors are welcome to bring their own grills, games and lawn chairs and other outdoor activities and spend the day.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is part of the Florida State Park system and is open daily year-round from 8 a.m. until sunset. Admission is $4.00 per vehicle. Pets are allowed on a leash, but not in the swimming area. For more information call 850-836-4281.
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