The vibrant reefs of the Florida Keys and excellent drift diving off the South Florida coast are well known in the dive world. But in the heart of the Sunshine State lie a few dive sites that aren’t as well known. These freshwater sites aren’t the world-class cave diving reserved for specialists, but spring-fed caverns and rivers that offer a splendid change of pace for the well-traveled boat diver. Being based in Central Florida, it’s a wonderful luxury to be able to pack up the truck and check out Florida’s best freshwater dive sites on a half-tank of gas. Check out the videos below and see if these Florida gems are worth a trip of your own.
Highlights: Head to the town of Dunnellon, Florida, to find this crystal-clear spring-fed lake. Rainbow River — about 30 minutes northeast of Three Sisters Spring, the famous site for manatee encounters — winds gently for 5.7 miles, starting at Rainbow Springs in the north. This lovely, lazy drift dive in a shallow body of water is beautiful for its simplicity. Sunbeams shine down into the water as bass, brim and gar swim by; sand boils bubble with freshwater on the floor; and anhinga’s dive into the water for a swift catch. And, hey, if you’re lucky you just might find a turtle hiding in the grass. This dive bottoms out at 25 feet, staying more shallow for the most part. You’ll head out on a boat, get dropped off in the river and make your way downstream as the boat follows along. It’s a wonderful chance to experience freshwater diving in a relaxed, beautiful (yet chilly at 72 degrees F) environment.
Contact: American Pro Diving Center
Highlights: Like most of Florida’s spring-fed dive sites (including each one on this page), the water temperature in Devil’s Den Spring is a consistent 72 degrees F. So when the air chills in the winter, steam will rise from the relatively warm water, rising upward through the mouth of the cave and earning this site its name. Divers can head down to 50 feet in this spring, exploring swim-throughs, observing fossils in the wall and checking out air pockets. Keep an eye out for the resident catfish and take a moment to appreciate the beautiful sunbeams at this site.
Cost: $38 (tank $12)
Contact: Devil’s Den Spring
Highlights: Alexander Springs offers a great location for snorkeling in clear spring water and scuba diving if you want to fully explore the 25-foot basin. Divers can swim about 20 to 25 yards in 3 to 6 feet of water, looking for freshwater fish or turtles that may be hiding in the grass along the way. Then, Alexander Springs deepens, and you can descend to see the openings where water gushes forth and fin around looking for more fish. If you’re really lucky, you may spot an otter playing in the water. The park has plenty of picnic tables for eating or setting up gear, and a small beach area where you can soak in the sun between dives.
Cost: $4 (no air fills or equipment available on-site)
Contact: Ocala National Forest
Highlights: This privately owned freshwater cavern is perfect for those who want to venture deeper. This dive site begins at the 80-foot-wide opening of the cavern — which lets plenty of sunlight in. There are three platforms at about 30 feet and higher, allowing divers to gain their bearings or practice skills. The overhang of the cavern begins at about 30 feet, where you can slip under an air bell and pop out your regulator for a fun chat with a buddy. Inside the cavern, you can navigate about the rocks or check out the fossils in the walls. If you want to fully explore Blue Grotto, there is a permanent guidelines that leads you down into a more narrow traverse, which descends to 100 feet before turning back up toward the open cavern. It’s a great opportunity to get a tiny taste of what cave diving might be like while staying in a cavern environment. And the best part of all? Blue Grotto has a resident turtle named Virgil who will swim right up to you in the shallower portions of the site.
Cost: $45 entry (tank $12)
Contact: Blue Grotto Dive Resort
This article was originally featured on our sister site, Sport Diver