For more than 7,000 years, the spring that flows into the St. Johns River has been visited by people. Many shell midden mounds line the banks of the spring run. Two dugout canoes (5,000 to 6,000 years old) found in the spring are some of the earliest known dugouts ever to be found in the United States.
In the 1940’s the Ponce De Leon Springs Hotel was constructed at the spring. It featured a casino and some of the best surf and turf meals you could find for hundreds of miles. By the 1950’s the park began to take shape as state attraction.
In 1952-53 a monkey island was set up and a jungle river boat cruise was available to customers. Old Methuselah, an ancient 400+ year old bald cypress was the star of the jungle cruise. By the mid 50’s the new star of the show became Sunshine Sally, a giant water skiing elephant.
Today the park is still a popular place-minus and skiing jungle animals. Swimming and snorkeling in the spring boil is a constant chilly 72 degrees and can range in depths from 15-30 feet deep. If you’re not a good swimmer, you can still find shallow areas along the edge. The swimming area is huge; ten times around the buoys and you’ve gone a mile.
But you don’t have to get your feet wet to enjoy the springs and surround 10,000+ acres of lakes, marshes and streams that surround De Leon Springs State Park. Canoe rentals are available at the parks concession to explore the entire Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Paddle boats are available to for the perfect romantic adventure down the springs run.
For those who prefer dry land can use the parks nature and hiking trails. A four mile loop trail is available for those who like a rugged hike while the ½ mile paved trail takes you near the 400+ year old bald cypress
Once you’re done having fun in the great outdoors, visit the parks restaurant, “The Old Spanish Mill Restaurant. This park fills up quickly on weekends for breakfast. The restaurants signature meal is a pancake breakfast you make at your own table. Kids love this part of the trip best! The restaurant is open 9-5 on weekdays and 8-5 on weekends and is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
For more information on directions, fees and hours of operations to this great Florida state park, visit the website here.