The 5.6 mile long Rainbow River at Dunnellon, Florida, is notably one of the clearest rivers and is designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway. As such it has special regulations applied to it that help maintain its pristine state. It is unlawful for visitors to transport food or drink in disposable containers or packages while on the river, and possession of alcoholic beverages is not permitted. While these special conditions may seem extreme to some, they do help to keep trash out of the river.
Visiting Rainbow Springs State Park
Paddling, swimming and snorkeling are only allowed in the buoyed swim area of the head springs located within Rainbow Springs State Park, however fishing, scuba diving and tubing are not permitted. Other items not allowed in the head springs are rafts, inflatables, balls or tubes. Life vests and “swim noodles” are the only approved forms of flotation allowed within the head springs.
Within the state park visitors can wander along hiking and nature trails that meander past three picturesque man-made waterfalls, azaela and native gardens. The area is a natural draw for birds of many species and a guided bird walk is offered the second Saturday of each month except during the months of June, July and August when temperatures are high.
Below the head spring boundaries visitors are once again free to tube, snorkel and scuba dive. The Rainbow River is a no-wake idle-speed only river making it perfect for kayakers, canoeists and tubers. Tubing is available within the portion of the park accessible from the east entrance on SW 180th Avenue Rd, Dunnellon, and located about 1 ¼ miles south of the park’s campground. Visitors pay a fee and are shuttled two miles upriver to leisurely drift back to the Tube Concessionaire.
Although houses line much of the river, visitors can still expect to see plenty of wildlife on Rainbow River. Otters, fish, birds and turtles are all frequently seen as are alligators, although the tubers don’t seem to be bothered by their presence. It may also calm some nerves to know that the park service relocates those alligators that exceed 6 feet in length.
Accessing Rainbow River
Paddlers considering putting in at the state park, located three miles north of Dunnellon on Hwy 41 at 81st Place Road, should know that the portage from the parking lot to the put-in is about 1,800 feet. Most paddlers put in at K.P. Hole County Park ($3 entrance fee required) and paddle upstream to the park where they will then be required to pay a landing fee of $1 if they wish to swim in the head spring or explore the park.
Continuing downstream paddlers and tubers who start at K.P. Hole can take out at the 484 Bridge in Dunnellon. The river continues on past the bridge to join with the Withlacoochee River. For paddlers leaving a vehicle at K.P. Hole, be sure to leave enough time to retrieve it before the gates lock at 5:00 p.m. sharp.
Paddlers wishing to combine camping with a bit of kayaking or canoeing may wish to stay at the Rainbow Springs campground. The campground is 1 ¼ miles north of the Tube Entrance and 9 miles south of the park’s day use area. The campground also makes a good base camp for paddlers wishing to explore nearby paddling destinations including the Chassahowitzka River in Homosassa and Crystal River at King’s Bay.