Weekend Getaways Feed

My Gatlinburg / Great Smoky Mountain National Park Family Vacation


It was around 9 years ago that I first wanted to get some of my family from Michigan to go in on a cabin with us in the Gatlinburg area. It's halfway for both of us, with each having a 9 hour drive to get there. It took years to get someone to do it, but one of my sisters and her family finally did. Last December, we reserved  cabin in the Smoky Mountains, and this week we finally had that vacation. And it was fabulous! I'm writing this post to share my experience, because I know many people from this area take vacations to the Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge area. Some of the info may be helpful or give you some  ideas.

Whether you are a family that likes city activities, such as shopping and entertainment, or you are a family that likes nature, this area will meet both of those needs. Galinburg is located right at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, so you have plenty of access to nature activities, and then can hit the city for shopping, dining, and entertainment. Plus, Pigeon Forge is just minutes away and that city is also filled with restaurants, entertainment, and things to do. We spent most of our time outside of the cabin in the national park, and it was wonderful! However, we did spend some hours walking the downtown area of Gatlinburg to shop, dine, and stroll.

Here's my experience with a variety of things that readers may be interested in knowing:

Cabin. We rented our cabin through Cabins of the Smoky Mountains. They have lots of them and you are sure to find one that suits your needs. Their cabins come in all different sizes. My family and my sister's family shared a cabin, so we found one big enough for 10 people (it would sleep 12). We stayed in the Gatlinburg Falls Resort cabin called Glimpse of Heaven. It had three king-size bedrooms with an attached full bathroom, plus an upstairs loft that had bunk beds, a full bathroom, a pull out couch, a pool table, video games, and an air hockey table. It was perfect! It was actually the third pick, too. The first one we chose was pulled off the market and they moved us to another one that burned down in the fire there last December, so we got moved to this one.  All their cabins are in one big community that is two miles up a mountain. There are no yards, because you are two miles up a mountain, which it's pretty cool. The community also has a pool and hot tub (the cabin also has a hot tub and three large balconies). We did online check-in for the cabin, which was easy. My only complaint is that they don't offer recycling at the community (so we brought our recyclables home to be recycled).

Food. Being that we had a cabin with a full kitchen, we went shopping on the day we got there and bought some food. We had all breakfasts at the cabin, and we made most of our lunches to take on the road as well. Each day, we usually set out to do hiking in the mountains, so we packed a picnic lunch right from the cabin. The Food City grocery store was close by and was well stocked and had affordable prices. We had taken our cooler from home, as well as sandwich containers and our refillable Kleen Kanteen's. We took some cheap dollar-store ice cube trays so we could make ice every night (we left them in the cabin for the next people to use). We also made a dinner in the cabin, as they are stocked with basic cooking items and utensils. One night we brought pizza back to the cabin, one night we went out to a hibachi grill place (which was a horrible experience), one night we went to a nearby Italian restaurant called A Taste of Italy (which was very good), and twice we went out for dinner at No Way Jose's Cantina, which was good. My sister and I also went to Paula Deen's Family Kitchen in Pigeon Forge one day for lunch. The food was good, but the ordering system I don't care for (it's served family style, where you order 2 meats and 4 side dishes and it's $17 per person - you can eat all you want, but can't take leftovers home, so there's lots of waste). Because of the ordering system, I paid $25 for just me to have a plate of veggies and an iced tea. Ouch. 

Shopping. There are lots of little places to shop and many things to find! I loved the All Sauced Up store, which had loads of samples set out, which enticed me to buy peach butter. I absolutely loved The Day Hiker store. It's a store dedicated to day hiking (as opposed to backpacking), and we loved it and spent some money there. We also loved the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Gatlinburg, which is a store like REI (one of my favorite stores). I also shopped at Earthbound Trading Company, which I also like to go to in St. Augustine. We found many little shops as we walked the downtown area and probably spent more money than we should have, but we had a good time doing it!

Hiking. Anyone who follows VCM knows that we are avid hikers, so we were thrilled to get some hiking time in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. There are many hiking trails to explore and choose from. There is also an 11-mile drive that you can take if you prefer to see nature from the car. The drive is called Cade's Cove. We all found it to be a bit torturous to sit so long in the car driving through there. The 11 miles took two hours, which they say it takes 2-4 hours to get through. We did see a bear off in the distance, deer, and a barred owl. The views are pretty, but not more so than what you see in the rest of the park. If you have kids you may either like it so that they can nap through it, or you may not like it because they will be bored sitting so long. You are literally moving along so slowly through it that it's like being in a slow traffic jam. Having been through Cade's Cove once, I wouldn't go back again. I'd much prefer to give those couple of hours to being out on a trail hiking, rather than sitting in a car moving along slowly, and being at the mercy of those who stop on the road ahead of you (there is no way around them and they can sit there for 10-15 minutes looking at something while you wait). So while many love Cade's Cove, I'm not on that list. Give me the trails to hike, please! We did some hiking and it was great. While we are avid hikers, my sister's family is not, so we had to pick a few hikes that were easier going so they could handle them. The hikes we took were:

  • Clingman's Dome - Clingman's Dome is a challenge, because the incline is no joke, but it's well worth the half a mile challenging walk up to the dome. It's a paved walk, so you can even push a stroller, and there are benches along the way if you need to take breaks (and some in our party did). The dome is the highest point in the park and on the Appalachian Trail, offering you 360 degree views of the mountains. It's great and I highly recommend it! Take a jacket along on this one, because it's about 20 degrees cooler when you get to the top. 
  • Laurel Falls - The hike up to Lauren Falls is 2.6 miles round trip. Again, there is quite an incline going up, but it's a beautiful hike and the waterfall destination is gorgeous! My only complaint is that you are taking a hike with 100 non-friends. I'm a bit spoiled hiking trails where you only come across a handful of people. In this park, the more popular ones like Laurel Falls are flooded with people, so you are doing a hike on a trail where there are around 100 other people (I prefer the trail less populated). This hike is mostly shaded and when you get by the waterfall it creates an air conditioned feeling. I recommend this hike.
  • Lynn Camp Prong Cascades hike - This is a nice hike that is about 1.5 miles round trip. There is a slight incline, but it's easy terrain to navigate and the cascades are gorgeous! It's also all shaded. You could hike longer on this trail if you wanted, but you can also make it short with the destination being the cascades. I recommend this hike.
  • 6.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail through Newfound Gap. We really wanted to do a hike on the Appalachian Trail, so we headed out to do that one morning, while my sister's family took a much deserved day of rest at the cabin. We started out the Newfound Gap parking lot and hiked back to the Icewater Spring shelter and back. We stopped at the shelter for about 20 minutes for a break and to chat with a back country ranger (that was interesting!). We came across maybe a dozen people on this hike. This is a gorgeous hike! However, it is very challenging. I'd say it is the most challenging hike we've done. The first couple of miles of it there is a lot of rock scrambling. This is a hike for more for those who are experienced hikers. We had an elevation gain of 1,624 feet. So you are taking on that kind of incline, while traversing some boulders that are on the trail. It was a fantastic hike for us and if you are an experienced hiker I highly recommend it! 

If you pack your lunch to take out each day, you will find there are picnic areas throughout the park. Many people also just stop at a turnout viewing area to have lunch. They sit down on the sidewalk or off the sides of the road and put a blanket down. Either way works just fine. You have lunch with a view and won't feel rushed to leave the park to get food.

Running. My husband and I are runners and we get our runs in even while on vacation. I had tried to find a place to run and found that there is a .25 mile track at Mills Park in Gatlinburg. We went there the first day we ran. The track is nice and free, but it's boring to run on the track, so I set out to find something else for our next run there. I ended up finding the Gatlinburg Trail, which is inside the Great Smoky National Park, but it's right at the edge, so it's where Gatlinburg city area begins. There is a little parking area at the trail head. I love trail runs, so I was excited about this! It's a two mile trail that leads to the visitor center. My husband and nephew did a 4 mile run (2 miles and back), while I did a 3 mile run. It's a gorgeous trail! It's wide, easy to run on (I even saw someone pushing a stroller on it), and the views are great, and the trail is all shaded. It's also not crowded. There were a few people using it, but it wasn't busy. There is some incline, so you have a challenge in your run, but it's great. For just about the whole run you have the water flowing next to you, creating a loud waterfall sound. I don't run with music, as I like to listen to the nature, and it was great. I heard the water and birds the whole time. Fantastic run! We ended up running this trail on two days while we were there. If you want running trails in Gatlinburg, I highly recommend the Gatlinburg Trail, just inside the national park. I also saw quite a few runners just running down the main road, although that didn't appeal to me much. I'd rather do the trail run. Keep in mind that if you will be running in this area that the mountain air/higher altitude is going to slow you down some. You will feel like you are breathing/working harder, yet going slower. Just take it easy, expect a slower pace, and enjoy the views!

Other activities. One day, the dads took all the kids to go white water rafting with Smoky Mountain Outdoors. They had a wonderful time! My sister and I didn't want to do it, because they didn't want to do the easy leisure float. They all wanted something that was going to be more thrilling and challenging. We didn't want to keep them from that, so we sat that one out, while they went. The kids also wanted to go to a trampoline place together, so we went to Top Jump, which is in Pigeon Forge. The place looks great on the outside, but is very disappointing in the jump area. It is over priced and pales in comparison to the Sky Zone and Hangar 15 that we are used to here in the Daytona Beach area. While the kids were in Top Jump (their aunt and uncle watching them all), my husband and I went a few minutes down the road to check out the Alcatraz East Crime Museum. The museum is great! It's filled with historical information and artifacts, including everything from mob history to CSI techniques to police force requirements and tactics. We also stopped at Cooter's Place, because both dads were Duke's of Hazard fans. They even have the famous OJ Simpson white Bronco on display! It was an interesting place from a historical aspect. Every evening, we made our way back to the cabin where we would all sit around and talk, play card games, and just have a lot of laughs.

Our vacation to Gatlinburg area to explore the Great Smoky National Park was wonderful! It was great to spend quality time with my sister, brother-in-law, and four nephews. It was also great to explore the mountains. We even saw a bear cross the road in front of my sister's car (we were two cars behind her) on the city street. It's a gorgeous place and a great family vacation destination!

Jacqueline Bodnar
















Disclosure: Some posts may contain links that compensate me. Please read the disclosure.

Your Ultimate Summer Springs Guide! Springs you don't want to miss! Florida springs


Living in Florida, we are lucky enough to have some amazing natural springs. And I mean amazing! What I love most about summer in Florida is going to the springs. Everyone in my family snorkels, so we have a great time snorkeling to check out the springs. These springs are all within three hours of Daytona Beach. We have been to them all and enjoyed every one of them, so you may, too!

Here are 23 amazing springs throughout Central Florida that you may want to check out this summer. All distances to them are from Daytona Beach. Trust me, some are worth the drive to make a whole day out of it. Others, that are a farther away, you can plan a little get-away and stay the night in a hotel or camp. Whatever you do this summer, be sure to hit the springs The springs maintain roughly a 72 degree water temperature year-round, which makes it refreshing and helps keep amoebas away. Always swim in designated swimming areas only. Entrance fees listed are as of May 2017. All springs are listed in order of distance from Daytona Beach, starting with the closest.

Find additional spring info and pictures (including write ups on those more than 3 hours away) and in-depth reviews at my nature blog: www.floridafamilynature.com or click on the names of the spring to get my in-depth reviews.



DeLeon Springs State Park
40 Minutes from Daytona Beach
601 Ponce Deleon Blvd, De Leon Springs
$6 per vehicle up to 8 people 

This is a spring that is close by, in Volusia County, and is a lot of fun. Not only is the spring great to swim in, but there is also some nice hiking you can do there as well. We like to take the hike (which will get you hot and sweaty since it's summer time) and then cool off in the spring afterward. It literally takes about 30 seconds to cool off in the spring after the hike. There is also an old mill restaurant there where you can make your own pancakes on a griddle at your table. They have plenty of picnic tables and a couple of pavilions, too. There is also a eco tour boat ride you can take, which is fun and informative. This is a family friendly spring. They do have a shallow area for the smaller kids, and there are lifeguards on duty.



Blue Spring State Park
45 Minutes from Daytona Beach
2100 W French Ave, Orange City
$6 per vehicle up to 8 people

This is a popular summer spring in Volusia County. The ground in the spring is a bit rocky, so you may want to wear a water shoe if you plan to go all the way back to the spring. You can take your own tube to go tubing, or you can rent one there. The area where you set up your chairs is a walk from where the spring entrance is, and you can't see the spring from there. Many people may not mind that, but I didn't care for that one aspect. The spring is great, but you can't see your things. This park also has a playground, picnic tables and pavilions, hiking trails, a great eco boat ride, kayak rentals, and an on-site small store. There are also cabins available and tent camping. We have been swimming there in the summer when a manatee came by and swam with the kids for a minute. What a surprise that was!




Wekiva Falls
50 Minutes from Daytona Beach
30700 Wekiva River Rd, Sorrento
$8 per adult, $6 per child (or $25 for a car of up to 6 people)

Wekiva Falls is a large spring located inside a big RV park, but it is open to people who want to swim for the day. The spring offers a beach-like entrance you can walk into and there are plenty of shallow areas for little kids. The snorkeling here was great, with us seeing many fish. They also have a water slide, a playground, picnic tables, and a little store. One important thing to note on this spring is that it is a sulphur spring, so there is a bit of a rotten egg smell in the air. Me, my husband, and my daughter got over it in about 15 minutes and loved the snorkeling there. However, my son is sensitive to smells and he could not take it at all. If anyone in your family is sensitive to smells this is important to keep in mind when it comes to Wekiva Falls. This is a family friendly spring.



Juniper Springs Recreation Area
60 minutes from Daytona Beach
Ocala National Forest, 26701 FL-40, Silver Springs
$5 plus tax per person

This is a beautiful natural spring. There is a store, picnic tables, camping, great trail to hike, and the refreshing and beautiful spring. The spring area here is smaller than some of the others, but it's gorgeous. As you walk up from the parking lot you will be surprised at this little oasis among the tropical setting. There are no shallow areas in this spring, but there is a retaining wall that goes all around it. Kids can sit on that wall and swim over to it. There are no lifeguards on duty at this spring.



Alexander Springs Recreation Area
60 Minutes from Daytona Beach
Ocala National Forest, 49525 County Rd 445, Altoona
$5.50 per person

This is one of our favorite springs to go to! The recreation area has a store, picnic tables, great hiking trail, camping, and an awesome spring! The spring is not deep at all, so it's a great place to take the kids to. When I stand up the water in many areas only comes to my thighs, so younger kids can go out and they will not be in deep water. The only area that is deep is over the spring head, which is a bit of a swim to get to. This is one of the larger springs, so there's plenty of room for people. The water here is so clear and beautiful and we have seen many fish while snorkeling. You can take your snorkel gear and snorkel over the top of the spring area (where a lot of people scuba dive). It's beautiful! This is one of the best springs to take small children to, because there are plenty of shallow areas. This is a very family friendly spring.



Wekiwa Springs State Park
60 Minutes from Daytona Beach
1800 Wekiwa Cir, Apopka
$6 per vehicle up to 8 people

I'm a big fan of Wekiwa Springs! We love to take the RV and camp there, and then head down to the springs. The spring does not offer a lot of shallow areas, so you will want safety devices for the little ones. However, in July 2017, they did create a small shallow area for little kids. This is a great place to cool off and spend the day. It's a gorgeous spring where we have seen fish and have spent many  hours admiring all the beauty. This park offers camping, scuba diving, swimming, a playground, picnic tables, kayak rental, pavilions, and hiking. 



Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area
60 Minutes from Daytona Beach
Ocala National Forest, 5271 Florida 19, Salt Springs
$5.50 per person

Silver Glen Springs is a hidden oasis and a gorgeous gem! This beautiful spring area is surrounded by a tropical setting. There is one entrance into the swimming area, and you enter it like a beach, just walking in. Most of the water is not very deep, with it coming up to around my waist in most areas, although there are not many shallow areas for toddlers. It does get deeper as you get to the spring head. Swimming over the spring head was awesome! It goes very deep and  you can see fish swimming around. It was great! There area also areas on the sides of the swimming area with vegetation. In that vegetation area there were loads of fish, many of them large, all swimming around and eating off of the vegetation. This is a family friendly spring.



Kelly Park / Rock Springs Run
60 Minutes from Daytona Beach
400 E Kelly Park Rd, Apopka
$5 per vehicle up to 8 people

The Rock Springs Run is absolutely beautiful! If you are going to tube it, you can either take your own tubes into the park, or you can rent them a minute away from the park for $5 each for the day. We wanted to snorkel the run, so we skipped tubes, and it was amazing! You walk down to where it begins. There are several areas there where you can make your way into the water. Before going to this area you should ideally find a spot down by the main swimming area to set up your things. That way everything will be there for you when you finish the run. The first part of the run is around 10 minutes long and the second part is around 15 minutes, then there is a walk back to the main swimming area. Snorkeling the run was awesome, but I must also say that it's a little dangerous. The current is strong and it really pushes you, and there are large rocks around, and we did get some scrapes as we hit them. There are some shallow areas in the main swimming area for the little kids.



Salt Springs Recreation Area
70 Minutes from Daytona Beach
Ocala National Forest, Fort McCoy
$6 per person

Salt Springs is another of my favorite springs! We love to take the RV and camp there, spending plenty of time at the spring. They offer hiking, camping (camper trailer and tent), and the beautiful springs. There is a small store that offers a variety of snacks, spring gear (tubes, water shoes, etc.), and drinks. The grounds at this place are immaculate. Everything is so clean and beautiful! They have many picnic tables to use, grills, and clean restrooms with changing rooms. Boats in the river can also pull up and use the spring area. There is some great snorkeling in the springs. We have seen many fish and crabs in there. The spring has a shallow area, and as of 2017 they have added in a set of stairs that goes into the shallow area. There are a lot of small shells in that area that are not comfortable to walk on. If they have some water shoes on it will be no problem (or they can quickly move in away from the stairs to leave the shells behind.



Devil's Den Spring
2 hours from Daytona Beach
5390 NE 180 Ave, Williston
$15 per person weekday, $20 per person weekend/holidays

Devil's Den is an underground spring and is only open to people who are diving or snorkeling. You can't just go in there to swim or hang out. But if you are snorkeling, you are in! My kids went as well and absolutely loved it! Devil's Den is something everyone should experience at least once. You walk down a flight of stairs underground to a beautiful spring that has an opening above that lets in some natural light. There is a wooden platform down there with stairs. The swimming area is not very big, but it's a great time. This place is a must-see! Snorkelers must be at least 6 years old. Outside of the spring (back up the stairs) there are picnic tables, so you can leave things there and if you have smaller children people can take turns hanging out there while others go down to the spring.



Rainbow Springs State Park
2 hours, 10 minutes from Daytona Beach
10830 SW 180th Avenue Rd, Dunnellon
$2.00 per person at the headsprings entrance and $5.00 per vehicle, up to eight people at the tube entrance.
Children under six years old are free.

The spring is quite a trek to get to from the parking area, but it's worth it. The spring is beautiful, with great clear water to snorkel in. The whole swimming area is very deep though, so keep that in mind if you have little kids. There is a smaller area down a little from the main swim area, but even that came up to my waist, so it's not good for little kids (toddlers). That area is also away from the main spring, and it's very small (about the size of an extra large kiddie pool). We loved snorkeling at Rainbow Springs and saw many fish and turtles. You can also take a walk to see their man made waterfalls, or rent tubes and float down the Rainbow River ($15 per person). They also offer camping, which we enjoyed. There are picnic tables and a store there as well. 



Levy Blue Springs (Bronson Blue Springs)
2 hours 15 minutes from Daytona Beach
4550 NE 94 Pl, Bronson
$2 per person

Levy Blue Springs, also called Bronson Blue Springs, is a small county park that offers picnic tables, and a swimming area with a jump platform. The spring is small, but they do have an entrance that is shallow for smaller kids. Swimming over the spring crevice was great, with us seeing numerous turtles, fish, and we also so otters off near the vegetation. There is no re-entry to the park, so be sure to take everything with you when you enter. The water is crystal clear and it provides a fun family time. 



Poe Springs Park
2.5 hours from Daytona Beach
28800 NW 182nd Ave, High Springs

Poe Springs Park is a hidden gem! This place is free and gorgeous. You take a nice 10 minute boardwalk trek back to the spring, that is hidden away in the woods. It's lovely! It is actually one of my favorite springs. I love the setting, that it's free, and the spring is a great place to snorkel. There are some shallow areas, and there is a big deep area above the spring head, where we snorkeled above numerous large turtles. It was great! When not near the spring head, the rest of it is about waist deep on me, so it's a good place for kids. They also have picnic tables and pavilions. This is a family friendly spring.



Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
2.5 hours from Daytona Beach
6131 Commercial Way Spring Hill
$13 per adult, $8 per child, kids age 5 and under free

Weeki Wachee is a state park that is more built up than I care for, but many families will love this place! The park offers three water slides, a jump platform, an underwater mermaid show, wildlife show, boat ride, and more. The price of admission includes the mermaid shows, wildlife shows, and the 20 minute boat ride. The spring and river are gorgeous! Crystal clear water that also has some shallow areas for kids and a separate toddler splash area. There are picnic tables, lounge chairs, snack stands, a restaurant, souvenir store, a dive store, and more. There's plenty to do at this place. You watch the mermaid shows from a 400-seat theater that is underground, giving you a unique look at the main spring. You can see fish, turtles, and of course watch the mermaid show. There are lifeguards on duty here, too. Weeki Wachee is a very family friendly spring that those with younger children will love. 


Lithia-springs-park Lithia Springs Park
2.5 hours from Daytona Beach
3932 Lithia Springs Rd, Lithia
$2 per vehicle, $2 per person

Lithia Springs is run a bit different than most of the other springs. Each swimmer gets a wristband and there are lifeguards on duty. The swimming area is blocked off, and they run safety drills. Every couple of hours, they get everyone out of the water to do a 15-minute safety check, then everyone can go back in. This is a good place for little kids, as there is a lot of shallow areas. We did see a lot of fish while snorkeling in Lithia Springs. There are also picnic tables, restrooms, camping, and there was a small food stand. The water was crystal clear and there were lots of fish swimming around, as well as a nice size turtle. The area around that small spring is gorgeous! It is closed off and protected, but you can still watch it and take pictures. This is a family friendly spring.



Ginnie Springs
2.5 hours from Daytona Beach
7300 Ginnie Springs Rd, High Springs
$14 for adults, $3.73 for children 6-12, free for 5 and under

Ginnie Springs has a beautiful nature setting and the spring itself is awesome. You can also rent tubes or take your own and float down the river. There is a river that you can tube down, you can snorkel, swim, scuba dive into caves, etc. The grounds offer a lot of space. There is a bathroom/showers, volleyball area, children's playground, a small restaurant, and a supply store. While this spring is beautiful, it's also important that parents know it's party central. College students hang out here in big crowds and party here more than other springs. Keep this in mind, because if you go on a weekend you are likely to encounter a partying crowd that gets kind of loud, with people passing the alcohol everywhere. Because of this, I didn't find it to be a very family friendly place. But if you can go on a weekday, when there may not be as many people partying, it's a beautiful spring and we did have a good time.



Blue Springs Park (Gilchrest Blue)
2.5 hours from Daytona Beach
7450 NE 60th St, High Springs
$10 per person 13 and up, $3 ages 5-12, under 5 are free

This spring is absolutely stunning and gorgeous. However, it gets crazy busy and that tends to take away some of the fun. Pick a time to go when there may be less people, so you can enjoy it more. The water is beautiful and blue, the spring run is gorgeous, and there is a boardwalk that goes back to the river, all along the spring run. They also have a platform for people to jump. This place also offers camping and there are picnic tables. This is a family friendly spring with plenty of shallow areas. Recently, the state purchased this spring and will be turning it into a state park.



Itchetucknee Springs State Park
2 hours, 40 minutes from Daytona Beach
12087 US-27, Fort White
$6 per vehicle up to 8 people

The swimming area at Itchentucknee Springs is beautiful!  There are two springs that you can swim at, but the official website said the Blue Hole Spring has a strong current and is only recommended for experienced swimmers. We went to the main Itchetucknee Spring. The spring is kind of small, but it was so beautiful! You cannot take any type of food or drinks down to the spring, but you can take your chairs if you want. There is a short walkway up to an area with picnic tables and grills, where you can leave all of your things. We just left food in the car and took our chairs and bags (towels, snorkeling gear, etc.) down to the spring area. The spring has many slippery rocks, so probably not the best place for little kids, unless you will be taking them out beyond those rocks to help them. You can also rent tubes to float down the river here, which we did and enjoyed.



Fanning Springs State Park
2 hours, 40 minutes from Daytona Beach
18020 U.S. 19, Fanning Springs
$6 per vehicle up to 8 people

Fanning Springs State Park is beautiful! Very clear and clean, many fish to see while snorkeling, and there are shallow areas for those with younger kids. They also have cabin rentals, tube rentals, a playground, a food stand, and more. There are areas near the bigger dock that are pretty shallow and perfect if you have smaller kids. There are also shallow areas up near the bank. The middle and heading over to the spring head is deep and nice to snorkel over. Boats in the river can pull up to the dock and use the swimming area as well.



Manatee Springs State Park
2 hours, 45 minutes from Daytona Beach
11650 NW 115 St, Chiefland
$6 per vehicle up to 8 people

The springs offer several areas to enter. It's has a large swimming area with areas that are shallow and then those that are deep over the spring head. The view is so beautiful! The whole swimming area is lined with cypress trees and it's just a gorgeous spring. In the deep end by the spring head there are rocks you can stand on, otherwise it's pretty deep down there. Snorkeling at this spring is great, as there is a lot to see. We saw many fish, and could get great views down into the springs. There are picnic tables, but watch for aggressive squirrels that have been fed by people, because they were a nuisance. They offer camping, trails, canoe rental, swimming, snorkeling, diving, camping, and more. They have pavilions, picnic tables, a concession stand, and restrooms.



Hart Springs Park
2 hours, 45 minutes from Daytona Beach
4240 SW 86th Ave, Bell
$5 per person, or $15 per car up to 6 people

Hart Spring is a great spring that is hidden back in some farmland. There are two spring swimming areas and they are both great. This is a great spring for younger kids, because there are areas where it enters like a beach and it is shallow in areas. They have a platform you can jump off of, picnic tables and pavilions, a great little walking trail through the woods, camping, and a small store. We really enjoyed Hart Springs! This is a family friendly spring. Very family friendly spring.



Madison Blue Spring State Park
3 hours from Daytona Beach
8300 FL-6, Lee
$5 per vehicle up to 8 people

This spring was voted one of the most beautiful in the country by USA Today magazine. After visiting it, I can see why! This place is stunningly gorgeous. The spring is beautiful, has a lot to look at if you enjoy snorkeling (as I do), and it is surrounded by a beautiful nature setting that leads out to the river. The water is refreshing and it's beautifully crystal clear, too. You can snorkel around to see the spring head, a wonderful cypress root system that is down in the water, rocks, lots of fish, and more. We even saw a turtle swimming right by us. I love when we can snorkel and can see a lot, and this place was perfect for it! This was a spring that I honestly didn't want to get out of, it's that gorgeous. 



Troy Springs State Park
3 hours from Daytona Beach
674 NE Troy Springs Rd, Branford
$5 per group up to 8 people

Troy Springs is on the Suwannee River and the spring run is visible right from the swimming area. It's a beautiful spring that quickly became one of my husband's favorite ones. It's a very large spring swimming area that has a very deep area over the vent, and then there are more shallow areas and a beach-like access for younger kids or those wanting to stay out of the deep area. The water has many limestone rock formations and there is even remnants of a sunken ship from the Civil War. 


Springs slightly more than three hours from Daytona Beach and others you may want to check out:
Lafayette Blue Springs State Park

Otter Springs

Peacock Springs

Royal Springs

Disclosure: Some posts may contain links that compensate me. Please read the disclosure.