Destin is a popular Florida vacation destination known for its white, sandy beaches stretching miles down the coast. Unbeknownst to many tourists, some of the most exciting beaches aren’t on the Gulf but on one of the many natural springs just a short drive out of the city.If you have four wheels–or two, if you’re feeling especially fit–it’s an easy journey into some of the best nature Florida has to offer. Whether you’re on the prowl for wildlife, itching to inspect the world underwater, or looking forward to floating above it, check out one of the natural springs below, none of which are hot springs, but most are considered “warm” year-round.
Here are the nearest warm springs to Destin, FL, in order of proximity.
Morrison Springs County Park – 52 miles
Morrison Springs County Park is one of the best spots for scuba diving in northwest Florida because of its diverse fish and cypress tree knees open for exploration. Locals favor it for its clear water and soft, sandy bottom 250-300 feet below.
With the water temperature hovering between 65℉ and 68℉ all year, it’s ideal for those who find cool water refreshing. Swimmers and snorkelers are also welcome. On dry land, there is a lovely boardwalk for taking a stroll through the park and watching for wildlife.
Boats are also allowed in the spring, and the ramp is strategically located a distance away from the diving dock. Restrooms and showers are also available on-site.
Ponce de Leon Springs – 54 miles
Less than an hour outside Destin, Ponce de Leon Springs has been reinforced with a retaining wall in an effort to prevent erosion. The water typically sits at 68℉ whether you visit in August or January.
Trails lead nature lovers and fishermen around the spring to find a quiet spot away from all the activity. Along with typical wildlife like deer and tortoises, you may also run across alligators and bats. The carnivorous pitcher plants are an interesting attraction, too, as they capture and eat insects to survive.
Grills and pavilions are for anyone to use, and picnicking is a favorite pastime among visitors. Restrooms and showers can be found on the property as well.
Vortex Spring – 58 miles
Vortex Spring is perfect for the whole family with plenty of space to swim or soak. The local outfitter, Vortex Spring Adventures offers a playground, plus kayak, and other boat rentals. There’s even a zipline that guests can ride over and drop off into the cool 68℉ water.
As one of the largest diving facilities in Florida, they offer multi-level NAUI certification courses with top-notch instructors. Divers who are trained can explore the underwater cave system, though some openings are grated off for safety reasons.
Lots of open space around the massive pool makes for excellent sunbathing either in the grass or on the small, sandy beach. Those who want to extend their trip can stay overnight in primitive campsites or pick a space with water and electric hookups to take advantage of some of the luxuries of home. Multiple different lodge options and cabins are also open for reservations.
Pitt and Sylvan Springs – 64 miles
Pitt and Sylvan Springs can be accessed by car or by taking a boat down Econfina Creek. Pitt Spring is directly next to the parking and picnic areas, but Sylvan is a short walk on a boardwalk nature trail that connects the two. There are composting toilets near the former, as well.
Steps leading into the water of Pitt are as functional as they are protective, acting as a type of retaining wall for the spring. Wax myrtle trees and Carolina willows, among others, were also added as part of the 2006 restoration project. The prohibition of ATVs and alcoholic beverages on the property also aids in its preservation.
The striking teal water is only four feet deep in both springs, and you can see all the way to the bottom. The extensive, well-marked trail system along the waterway is a lovely way to see the diverse underwater wildlife from dry land.
Cypress Springs – 65 miles
Unless you’re up for a rough and muddy trail, Cypress Springs is only accessible by river. Paddle in or call a water taxi to get to this swimming hole in the woods, located just a quarter of a mile downstream from Cotton Landing.
Locals love swimming here and exploring underwater caves and tunnels. The floor of the pool is only about 25 feet down, and at 100 feet in diameter, there’s plenty of space for all of your friends and family.
The sandy beach makes this pristine swimming hole feel ocean-like with the perks of a lake. Climb up a nearby tree to reach a rope you can use to swing on into the cool 70℉ water. When you’re ready to head home, you can paddle upstream the way you came or go with the flow 0.75 miles down to Culpepper Landing.
Just remember to be on guard, because like other inland bodies of water in Florida, you’ll find the occasional snake and alligator.
Jackson Blue Springs Recreation Area – 102 miles
Blue Springs Recreation area is a hot spot for summer family fun. Jackson Blue Springs flows into Merritt’s Mill Pond, a 202-acre reservoir giving swimmers a lot of space to move around. On one side, there’s even a slide and a diving board.
Water as clear as bathwater helps make Jackson Blue one of divers’ favorite springs to explore, including the spring’s main vent in a 5,000-foot-long limestone cave. Fishing, along with your standard motorless water sports is allowed in the massive pool.
Bring your dog and your towel. There’s plenty of open grassy space to lay out and soak up the sun, plus a small sandy area and a volleyball court next to the water that adds that beach feeling. It’s a seasonal park that opens in late May for the season.
Edward Ball Wakula Springs Park – 143 miles
Edward Ball Wakula Springs Park hosts the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. If that’s not enough of a reason to check it out, here’s another: It was used as a backdrop to the 1970s film Airport 77, and you can still explore part of the passenger plane that served as an underwater set. Artifacts and dinosaur bones have also been discovered in the 68-70℉ water.
The historical lodge was built in the 1930s by the original owner of the springs and offers many room options (affiliate link) for overnight stays, some of which include prime water views. One thing to note is that, in true historical fashion, not every room is equipped with wifi.
Guests can dine on farm-to-table specialties and traditional southern fare in the Edward Ball Dining Room. The old-timey soda parlor and gift shop also add to the nostalgic ambiance.
Destin, Florida is a stunning location to enjoy some fun in the sun, but don’t count out the natural springs on this list. There are plenty of turquoise waters to enjoy inland as well as on the coast.