A Day on Rainbow River
The magic of kayaking, canoeing or tubing down one of Florida’s most beautiful spring-fed rivers
It’s one of the most invigorating sensory experiences you can have. Say you’ve been canoeing or hiking on a hot day in Marion County. You’ve worked up a sweat. The sun’s beating down.
Time for a refresher.
Florida has more springs than any other state in the U.S., and most other countries. It has to do with the porous limestone in the Florida aquifer, one of the most productive freshwater systems in the world. For instance, 410 million gallons of water flows southward from Rainbow Springs into the Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers.
The easiest way to experience the Rainbow River — which has been a top Marion County attraction since the late 1880s — is to launch your journey from Dunnellon, where you can rent a canoe or kayak if you don’t own one. The 5.7-mile, gently winding waterway is lined by stately homes on the west bank and bordered by the wild greenery of the Rainbow River State Park on the east side. There are plenty of short tributaries to explore. On average, the Rainbow River is less than 10 feet deep, although there are places where it drops 25 feet. Close to the banks, it’s shallow enough to stand. Look out for big branches to jump from and a rope swing or two.
No matter how deep the water gets, you can always see the bottom of the river from your craft. You’ll see fish swim by, weaving in and out of the long grasses on the riverbed swaying with the current. The surface looks like a patchwork of brilliant turquoise spots intermingled with darker shades of blue and green. Similar to the other springs in Marion County, and it is simply gorgeous — even from a distance.
Depending on the day, you’re apt to see large groups of people tubing by and, of course, other paddlers. Fortunately, the Rainbow — which widens and narrows — never gets overly crowded. And most everyone you encounter is in an exceedingly good mood.
About four miles into your river trip, you’ll come upon KP Hole Park, with a cordoned-off swimming area, boardwalk, small beach, picnic pavilions, concessions, restrooms and plenty of places to tie up your craft. Dive down in this area and you can see water gurgling up from the many large spring vents that feed the river.
After a break at KP Hole, you can continue downriver for the remaining couple miles, or head back toward Dunnellon. The current is gently persistent, but not taxing to paddle. Feel free to make as many stops — and take as many dips — as you like.
As mentioned before, there are several other freshwater springs to experience in Marion County — Silver Glen Springs, Juniper Run (prized as one of the top canoe runs in America), Silver River and Salt Springs (so named for the slight salinity not found in other area springs).
Each provides its own unique experience, but they share a common trait. They deliver an unforgettable experience you’re sure to treasure forever.