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Our children testing the icy waters at one of Florida's cool natural springs state parks
Our Big Family Swimming at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park

We have now swam in the coldest water we've known. It's a frigid 68 °F (20 °C), which might be a little more bearable in summer - but we were there in October! This post tells about our experiences with swimming at one of Florida's beautiful, chilly, natural springs...


When I told a friend about an upcoming trip to Florida, she recommended stopping by a place she knows where there is a very nice, clear blue swimming hole featuring really cold water. She said she stopped there with her family on her way home from the beach area, and the water was freezing but felt kind of nice after all the sun on the beach.

We were staying at a place that had an absurdly late check-in time (4pm!) and we like to start our trips early (at dawn), so this meant we'd have to find a way to pass at least a couple of hours before check-in.

This made a Florida natural springs the perfect lunch stopover for us - we could eat, check out the state park at a leisurely pace, stay as long as we want, and then when we left we'd be only one hour away from the nearest beach town. We packed a cooler with sandwiches and water, and made sure our swimsuits were easily accessible in the trunk.

Cold swimming in a cool natural spring at a Florida state park
Our littlest one modeling on a cypress knee at a natural cold springs in Florida

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, named after the 1500's Spanish conquistador, has a guardhouse where an entrance fee is collected. It is a modest US$4 per vehicle - so for us, about 67 cents per person. There is a building at the entrance parking lot, housing a men's and women's restroom, where you can change into your swimsuits. Before changing, we walked down a little way to the water's edge to check it out and make sure we felt like swimming.

When we first walked down to the water, and I saw how people were shivering in gooseflesh, and yipping like mad when they first entered the water, I figured there was no way we'd be swimming. It was October after all, and who wants to be in cold water when the outside air temps are mild?  It was warm out, but definitely not hot. Then I put my big toe in the water and knew for certain there was no way we'd be getting in that water!

But then the kids put their toes in, and started in with the tried-and-true bit:


"It's not cold, Dad!" 

And I had to admit, as we watched people running and jumping off the concrete ledge into the natural springs - it did look like fun. And the area was beautiful - it looked like a type of swamp, but with clear/blue water so you could see for yourself that you wouldn't be swimming with snakes or alligators. So, the kids won: we ran back to the facilities to get changed.

State park restroom facilities at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
No camping or food or drink is available -
but they do provide restrooms for a changing area

After changing into our suits, we made our way to the steps that lead down into the glacial drink. Again, second thoughts began to emerge. But the kids goaded each other on,

"Go on, try it! Get in!" 
and 
"It's not that bad! You'll get used to it!"

My oldest daughter dove in first, going completely under water, then popping up with a big grin. "Jump in, boys, it's not that cold," she said, gleefully misinforming her brothers.

Swimming in cold water at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, Florida
"It's not that cold!"

I watched my boys get in up to their waists. They reacted as though suffering a mild electrocution. This is the kind of water where eyes get big, and mouths pop open in shock.

After snapping a few pictures, I put the camera aside to follow my kids' example. I walked down the steps and dove in so that I'd be underwater completely before I could truly realize how could it was. It was shockingly frosty. Coldest water I've ever felt.

But, as they say:  You get used to it.

Can you swim at a natural springs in Florida?
The face you make when you realize your body is now frozen solid

We waded slowly around, encouraging the others who hadn't yet braved going more than ankle-deep. Eventually we all got in, and as long as you stayed in the full sun, you eventually could convince yourself that it was "not that bad."

Lots of families were there- including many visitors who spoke other languages. We heard English, Italian, and something that I think was Norwegian. Some families nearby were just testing the waters too, deciding whether they really wanted to get in, and we were all laughing together about how this insanely cold water was something we were getting into for fun, and how perhaps the parents should just watch from the benches.

We got out and went to the other side, where we took turns jumping off the ledge that overhangs the deepest part.  I estimate I went about 10 to 12 feet deep down, and still never touched bottom, when jumping from the ledge.

The kids enjoyed putting on their goggles and looking for fish in the shallows near the cypress trees. After a while, and a few more dives into the arctic springs, we got changed into dry clothes and had our lunch at a shady picnic table under the trees.

Our Tips:

#1 Don't Be Chicken, Swim!
This water has the kind of chill that can make you doubt the sanity of getting into it, but it's extremely invigorating and refreshing. We all felt really good after we got out. Hmm, maybe that was relief, eh? But no, I think the effect of swimming was beneficial, and of course, fun!

#2 Pack Swimsuits Last 
Since there are no overnight facilities at this state park, any stop here will involve just a swim and then driving away at the end of it.  So you'll be wanting those swimsuits to be where you can get to them. We've had so many times on trips when we were ready to swim at a beach or lake, but we had to take out every bag and dig to the bottom of each, to find the various pieces of swimwear for each person. When done from the back of a vehicle, while all the kids are chomping at the bit to hit the water, this can be a tiresome exercise. So finally we figured out the solution is to either a) carry a "swimsuit bag" featuring everyone's swimsuits, goggles, sunscreen, flip flops, etc., or b) make sure that each person's bag gets the swimsuit added last - so that they are right on top. 

#3 What to Eat
The park does not sell food or beverages. Packing a lunch would be ideal. There are a ton of picnic tables, most of them with full shade. There are covered pavilions you can reserve. If you've shown up with no food, there's a gas station called Wayne's Grocery very nearby, which sells a few gas station-type foods. We stopped by there briefly on our way out. They sell chicken wings, pizza, corn dogs, and stuff like that. Mostly it's the sort of stuff that is made elsewhere, shipped-in frozen, then warmed up or deep-fried on-site. Their hours are, roughly, 5am to 7pm most days, with shorter hours on Sundays, and staying open an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays. However, food is served only at mealtimes - not all day.


Is there anything to eat at Ponce de Leon Springs State Park?
Place to Eat Near Ponce de Leon Springs State Park Entrance
Wayne's Grocery

#4 Double-check the GPS suggestions
I found this place very hard to locate using GPS, but only because there are so many places with similar name variations. When you start typing "Ponce de Leon" as a destination, your phone or device may offer you some wrong alternatives, like:


Ponce de Leon (the town itself, nearby)
or
Ponce de Leon Lighthouse (somewhere else)
or
Ponce de Leon Inlet (somewhere else)
or 
Ponce de Leon Bay (somewhere else)
or
De Leon Springs State Park (a different state park 5 hours away from here)
or
Ponce de Leon, Missouri

The place we describe here is Ponce de Leon Springs State Park, located at 2860 State Park Road, Ponce de Leon Springs, Florida, 32455. 

Ponce de Leon Springs State Park - not to be confused
with De Leon Springs State Park or one of the other
49 places around the country named after that guy

#5 Or Choose from Dozens of  Springs
If this state park's natural springs don't happen to be near your travel route, there are 600+ (possibly 1,000) natural springs in Florida. Around 40 of them have facilities, and/or are located inside state parks. For us, this one was only a 10 minute detour off the main road. Here's a few more to consider:  http://www.floridasprings.org/visit/map/

And if you're headed that way because you are on your way to a Florida beach, be sure to check out our post on red tide first (that article is here).

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What About You?
What's the coldest water you've ever entered? Ever swam at a cool natural springs? Which one(s)? 

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