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Guide To Kayaking At Rainbow Springs, FL

Nicola Burridge
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A Rainbow Springs kayaking trip can be an incredible experience, with clear, azure water allowing you the chance to discover an amazing underwater world without diving beneath the surface,

Float through thousands of years of human history, surround yourself with Florida wildlife, and embark on an aquatic adventure that takes you back to nature at a speed anyone can get on board with. 

Why Kayak At Rainbow Springs

Rainbow Springs is one of the largest natural springs in Florida and has one of the world’s largest spring runs: the Rainbow River. The springs produce over 400 million gallons of water every day.

> Best kayaking places in Florida

The park is located almost halfway between the Crystal River and Silver Springs State Park, in southwest Marion County, Florida. It’s less than two hours from Orlando and Tampa, making it a great spot for a day trip.

The Rainbow River, which is an aquatic preserve, stretches just under six miles from the headsprings to where it flows into the Withlacoochee River. 

One of the main draws for kayaking at Rainbow Springs is the crystal clear water. This turquoise river lets you view the underwater world as you paddle through the beautiful scenery of the lush Florida landscape, alongside moss-covered cypress trees, following thousands of years of cultural history.

The springs maintain a year-round temperature of 72 degrees, making the waters the perfect place to cool off during the summer heat. There’s a designated swimming area at Rainbow Springs State Park.

Rainbow Springs State Park surrounds the headsprings and follows the eastern shores of the river for almost its entire length.

Wildlife To Look Out For While Kayaking At Rainbow Springs

Being Florida, you’re never too far from wildlife and that’s no different at Rainbow Springs. 

Alligators are found at Rainbow Springs, in the Rainbow River, and in the Withlacoochee River, just like almost every body of freshwater in the state. So you should always be on your guard while paddling and particularly when swimming in the springs or hiking the trails. 

As well as alligators, you’re likely to see lots of turtles, including loggerhead musk turtles, snapping turtles, and various other turtle species. It’s also a fantastic place to spot river otters and you might see the occasional water snake. The water is clear enough to see various fish swimming along below the boat while you’re kayaking.

It’s also a popular spot for bird watching and forms part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. You could spot bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites, and the protected wood stork, tricolored heron, and little blue heron. 

Best Times For Kayaking At Rainbow Springs

You can kayak along the Rainbow River all year round. But the best time to paddle is between fall and spring. 

The hot summer months can be very busy, as it’s a popular place for tubing. That doesn’t mean you can’t kayak during the summer. It just means you won’t have the river to yourself. 

From fall through spring, Rainbow Springs can often be busy on weekends and during holidays. So if you want to avoid the crowds opt for a weekday kayaking trip. 

Other Activities In Rainbow Springs

Rainbow River Tubing

Rainbow River tubing trips are extremely popular during the summer as the Rainbow River is a great place to stay cool in the hot Florida weather.

Rainbow River tubing is not allowed in Rainbow Springs Headsprings. To go tubing, you will need to park at the Rainbow River tubing entrance of Rainbow Springs State Park. The tube rental includes a shuttle that will take you two miles upstream so you can casually float back. 

You can also bring your own tubes and pay the fee for the shuttle from the Rainbow River tubing entrance to the tubing launch site. The Rainbow Springs tubing entrance is located off of SW 180th Avenue Road, a few miles south of Rainbow Springs State Park headsprings entrance.

Explore Rainbow Springs State Park On Foot

Rainbow Springs State Park has lots to see on foot as well as on the water. Because of the park’s history as a private attraction park, there are three man-made waterfalls and beautiful ornamental gardens to check out, as well as the gift shop. 

One of the highlights of the park happens in the early spring, when the azaleas are in full bloom, transforming the gardens with a wash of color. 

Walking along the nature trails provides a good opportunity to spot the various species of birds. Take a seat on one of the benches and listen to the birds and the tranquil sound of the waterfalls.

Snorkeling In The Rainbow River

The waters of the Rainbow River are so clear that they provide the perfect opportunity to delve beneath the surface for a closer look. 

If you want to snorkel in Rainbow Springs State Park, this is allowed only in the swimming area at the Headsprings entrance. 

However, once you’re out of the state park, you can snorkel anywhere along the river, giving you a chance to see the underwater landscape and the many fish swimming beside you. 

Some of the kayak rental companies offer shuttles if you want to snorkel or go scuba diving in the river. The Rainbow River Water Taxi offers shuttles on the river but you need to bring your own equipment.

The Rainbow River headsprings range from 10 to 18 feet deep. The deepest spot on the river is the Devil’s Elbow, which is 20 to 25 feet deep and can be an ideal place for scuba diving and snorkeling. 

Remember, you need to have a dive flag for snorkeling on the Rainbow River outside the swim zone.

Learn more about kayak safety flags.


As well as the designated swimming area in Rainbow Springs State Park, you can swim at any point along the Rainbow River at all times of the year. However, remember, alligators can be found anywhere in the river at any time. 

There is no lifeguard on duty along the river or at the designated swim zone. All children should be supervised for safety reasons, as the water is at least 10 feet deep.

Noodles and life preservers are allowed. 

Rules For Kayaking On The Rainbow River

Before you kayak along the Rainbow River, there are a few rules you need to be aware of. 

One of the most important rules is that you cannot bring disposable food and beverage containers to the river. This applies along the entire stretch of the Rainbow River as well as in Rainbow Springs State Park. Make sure you have a reusable water bottle, not a disposable one.

I also recommend you bring sunscreen and bug spray with you. Stay hydrated while you’re on the water and wear sun protection, such as a hat and sunglasses.

  • Disposable food and drink containers are prohibited
  • Coolers are prohibited
  • Alcohol is prohibited
  • You must not fish within 1700 feet of headsprings
  • Paper napkins, paper towels, boxes, paper bags, and plastic utensils are not allowed
  • Children 6 years and under must wear life preservers (while tubing or kayaking). PFDs (Personal Flotation Devices) are required for every person on a kayak or canoe.

Best Places To Kayak In Rainbow Springs

KP Hole County Park 

KP Hole County Park can be a better place to launch to paddle the Rainbow River than the Rainbow Springs State Park. 

The KP Hole Park launch is located close to the parking lot so you don’t have to haul your kayak a great distance. However, be sure to get to the launch site early, as this parking lot fills up fast. 

You’ll find restrooms, a picnic area, concessions, and a swimming area at this county park.

Launching at KP Hole Park, you can paddle upstream to reach Rainbow River Springs. It’s only a mile and a half upstream from here to the headsprings. You can also paddle four miles downstream to Blue Run.  

Kayaks, canoes, tubes, and paddleboards can be rented from the park. You can also arrange a shuttle service for the return trip if you want to paddle downstream. The shuttle service is available for privately owned vessels as well as rentals, so it’s easy to bring your own kayak.

Class of Rapids rating: 

Class I – easy, slow-moving flatwater

Where to Launch & How to Get There:

KP Hole Park, 9435 SW 190th Avenue Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432

Rainbow Springs State Park

Rainbow Springs State Park is where you’ll find the clear waters of the headsprings of the Rainbow River. 

If you’re bringing your own kayak or canoe, this is not the best place to launch, as you will need to carry your kayak around 1800 feet along a trail from the parking lot to the launch area. For convenience, I recommend renting a kayak here rather than bringing your own.

Rainbow Springs State Park has kayak, SUP, and canoe rentals on-site next to the launch. 

From the state park, you can paddle downstream, with the slow-moving current, past the multiple vents from underwater caves that create the springs. 

It’s a six-mile trip along the entire length of the Rainbow River but you can paddle as short or as long a distance as you want. 

As well as kayaking, Rainbow Springs State Park also has other activities, such as swimming, hiking the trails, and exploring the sights of the historic park, including the man-made waterfalls. You’ll also find a snack bar and a gift shop, as well as picnic areas.

Class of Rapids rating: 

Class I – easy, slow-moving flatwater

Where to Launch & How to Get There:

19158 SW 81st Pl Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432. Parking is on the north side of the road and it’s around 1800 feet to carry your kayak to the launch point next to the swimming area.

Blue Run Of Dunnellon Park

Blue Run can be a great place to launch if you want easy access to both the Rainbow River and the Withlacoochee River. It’s located close to the end of the Rainbow River, so it’s an easy paddle (around half a mile) to the dark waters of the Withlacoochee. 

You can paddle upstream to reach Rainbow Springs and experience the true beauty of the Rainbow River along its entire stretch. 

Because the water flows at a very slow speed, it can be easily paddled upstream, even for beginners, making it a great spot for the whole family. There are occasionally motorized vessels on the river but these are only allowed to go at an idle speed since the whole river is a designated no-wake zone.

In recent years, Blue Run has been known for having a lot of big alligators, so I recommend being extra alert when using this launch area. 

The launch is a wooden dock on the south side of the bridge opposite Swampy’s Bar.

There are no kayak or canoe rentals available at Blue Run but this is a popular exit for Rainbow Springs tubing trips.

Class of Rapids rating: 

Class I – easy, slow-moving flatwater

Where to Launch & How to Get There:

Blue Run of Dunnellon Park, 19680 E Pennsylvania Avenue, Dunnellon, FL 34432

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Rainbow Springs

KP Hole Park

KP Hole Park offers canoes, paddleboards, and single and double kayaks for rent by the hour. Down-river rental packages are for the day and include a return shuttle service.

There are no guided tours. All trips are self-guided.

Rainbow Springs State Park 

Rainbow Springs State Park Guest Services offers kayaks and canoes for rent by the hour or for the day. There are no shuttles for kayakers from Rainbow Springs State Park. However, you can rent tubes, and a shuttle to the tubing launch is included in the fee. 

Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak

Rainbow River Canoe & Kayak is the longest-running shuttle service on the Rainbow River. Rainbow River Canoe and Kayak are based at the confluence of the Rainbow and Withlacoochee rivers. 

The outfitter shuttles you and your kayak upstream on either of the two rivers and you can float back to your car.

You can rent canoes, sit-in kayaks, and paddleboards. There are no guided tours.

Rainbow River Kayak Adventures

Rainbow River Kayak Adventures is located near the confluence of the Withlacoochee and Rainbow Rivers. 

You can rent single or double kayaks (or clear kayaks) and you will be transported via shuttle to KP Hole Park where you can paddle at a relaxed pace downstream on the Rainbow River to the private take-out point. From the take-out, the shuttle will take you back to the outfitter.    

Get Up & Go Kayaking

Get Up & Go Kayaking is a kayak tour company based in KP Hole Park. They offer guided day tours in clear kayaks along the Rainbow River to Rainbow Springs. They also offer a sunset tour of Rainbow Springs. 

The tours are guided so you can find out about the local wildlife and history of the river. You also get a chance to stop for a swim and go on a nature walk. Tours start and end at KP Hole. 

Final Words

The Rainbow River offers some of the best kayaking in Florida, with crystal clear water, easy river access, and plenty of wildlife. 

This is a fantastic way to discover some of the real Florida without traveling too far from the big cities. 

As with all lakes and rivers in Florida, always be aware of alligators and avoid disturbing them (it’s against Florida law to feed or harass alligators). Remember to stay hydrated (with a reusable bottle), pack your sunscreen and bug spray, and stay safe on the water.

Have you been kayaking at Rainbow Springs? Tell us about your adventures.

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