On the Road: Jax to DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs

Swim in crystal clear Blue Springs during the summer months.

“Summmertimmmmeee, and the livin’ is easy…” Okay, maybe not easy, but at least less scheduled! Thankfully Florida has a ton of state parks, springs, and nature trails to explore! Can we shout ROAD TRIP?!

Have you ever been to central Florida and seen DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs? DeLeon Springs is a mere 90-minute car ride from Jacksonville, and it boasts crystal clear blue waters to swim in, a make-your-own pancake restaurant, a boat tour, and trails so we can explore #RealFlorida.  

Blue Springs is the place to swim near those gorgeous sea cows (a.k.a. floating potatoes, a.k.a. manatees) during the winter months. You can’t actually swim in the water next to them (park rangers make sure everyone complies with this rule), but you can kayak and paddleboard close to them — and if one swims under you, there’s not much you can do about it, right? And during the summer months, you can swim in the springs (see note below).

The laidback swimming area at DeLeon Springs.

From Jacksonville, it is possible to hit up both DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs in one day. They are only about 15 miles apart from each other, with an adorable little town called DeLand in between. DeLand is home to Stetson University (my alma mater — GO HATTERS!) and has a quaint downtown area with shops, restaurants, and cafes. It would be a great place to stop for lunch or dinner when doing this day trip.

Hannah taking in the sights on the boat ride at DeLeon Springs during a previous trip.

During our most recent trip, we arrived at DeLeon Springs just before 10am. We paid our $6 entry fee to get in, and then went to put our name in at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant. When we were at the entry gate the wait said 2-2.5 hours, but because we were a party of two (this time I went with just my son), we were ushered right to a table! We were thrilled, and had a great time pouring our own batter for pancakes, making our own eggs and he made French Toast! 

I do want to issue a warning of sorts. The restaurant automatically adds 18% gratuity. It is written in small print on one side of the menu, but I neglected to see it.
After we were done eating, our server verbally went over everything we ordered and plugged it into her device. Then she turned the device around towards me and the screen was at the tip prompt. I happily put in my 20% gratuity, and off we went, even though the amount seemed a bit high. On the way out the door I saw a sign at a cash register that mentioned the 18% tip, but our server definitely did not mention it to me. I was disappointed in that. So just be aware! 

After eating, we went on the DeLeon Springs River Cruise. It is a 50 minute tour on calm water, and you can view many birds, gators and other wildlife native to the area. We paid $40 for the two of us to take the tour.


Our guide was very knowledgeable about the area, and we enjoyed learning about the rich history of Florida, as well as how plants used to be made into medicines and salves! It was very educational! 

We saw several gators on our boat tour.

The swimming area is really nice because it is separate from the river area, and therefore safe from gators. The swimming area does have a big range of water depth, and it can be deeper on the edge than in the middle! So just know that depending on where you get into the springs, the water could be deep. The water is clear, and the girls LOVED it! Floats are also allowed — they just can’t exceed 5 feet by 5 feet. We brought sturdy pool noodles along, and they worked great, and you can also rent tubes there! Important to note is that there is no lifeguard on duty.

Hannah had fun diving down to the bottom of the springs.

After taking a dip in DeLeon Springs you could head to Tom’s Pizza in DeLand. Tom’s is a longstanding local spot and is only open on weekdays (temporarily not Mondays). It is basic inside (no frills), just good pizza and subs. When we went, we also went on a mission to find the DeLand Wings mural (there are several historic murals in the downtown area). 

Another great local spot is Boston Coffee House, open seven days a week. Aside from the many coffee options, they have delicious wraps, sandwiches, salads, and breakfast sandwiches as well and also have a room for events.

A fun option for lunch is to get takeout from either of these restaurants (or bring your own) and then eat it somewhere on the gorgeous campus of Stetson University, just a half-mile or so from downtown DeLand. The girls and I had our picnic next to Holler Fountain in the middle of campus.  

Holler Fountain in the background of the quad at Stetson University. I am sitting with the statue of the namesake, John B. Stetson.

Our final stop of the day was Blue Springs State Park. NOTE: You currently cannot swim in the springs, as they are stabilizing the shoreline. You can still paddle and kayak in the river. This gem of a park is a mere 8 miles from downtown DeLand. You can do many activities at this state park, such as a 2-hour boat tour, rent a kayak or canoe, take a tour in a kayak or canoe (the boat ride, kayaks, and canoe rentals are all done through Blue Spring Adventures), camp, rent a cabin, hike, swim, tube, fish and even scuba dive. There are manatee viewing opportunities from the boardwalk, and when I went in February I had the luck of seeing these beautiful creatures just lounging around the swimming area. The springs remain a constant 72 degrees, which is perfect for these floating potatoes. There can be hundreds of manatees in the Blue Springs area daily during the winter months.

I will add that you can still take a tour, rent a kayak or canoe, or launch your own paddleboard during the winter months, you just can’t go into the roped-off area where the water is super clear, as that’s the manatee-protected area. 

A manatee lounging in the water this past February.

Visiting DeLeon Springs, Blue Springs, and downtown DeLand is a great way to leave your four walls and social distance while spending a full day experiencing real Florida. Happy trails!

Nicki Wiggins
Nicki Wiggins is a teacher turned stay-at-home mom to three kids, a boy and two girls. She is a wife to her wonderful hubby, Jayme, who works hard to support her Disney obsession. They met at Stetson University in undergrad and have been married for 13 amazing years. When not planning her family’s next visit to Disney, Nicki enjoys time at the beach (with the occasional paddleboarding), volunteering in her kids’ classrooms, hanging with friends and family, and exploring Florida. She recently started a blog called Date Your State, which gives tips and ideas for having fun with your family in this amazing state of Florida. She hopes to be a Floridian for life!


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