Beyond Destin: Vortex Springs
Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured on Wednesdays, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Chastain, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
October seems to me to be the best month in Northwest Florida. The mornings and evenings are cool, but the days are still warm enough to allow for fun water activities. So before the weather gets any colder I want to share one of my favorite finds of the year; Vortex Springs.
Vortex Springs is just one of many recreational springs in Northwest Florida area, but while most springs are open for swimming and diving, Vortex Springs has become known as a the largest facility for dive training in the area and a local favorite for it’s many thrill features.
The day my husband and I ventured out, we arrived at Vortex Springs around noon and found it already bustling with people swimming, diving and starting up grills for tail-gate style barbeques.
After checking in, we grabbed our inner-tubes and jumped into the deepest part of the spring, right away shocked by its 68 degree chill. As with all of the springs in Northwest Florida, Vortex keeps a year-round constant temperature of 68 degrees as the bubbling fresh-water aquifer permeates through a maze of limestone to make its way to the surface.
After a few minutes in the water however, the cold wore off a bit and I noticed the numerous activities available. There was a bar swing from a 10-foot platform, a high and low dive, a zip-line, and a kid’s area. I also spotted a large canvas waterslide on a small pond across from the spring that was not yet open for the day.
We decided to hit the bar swing first. A bit timid, I walked up to grab hold of the metal handle and found it heavier than I expected. My short self could only grab hold of the bar with one hand so I pitted my weight against and winced at the precarious situation I was in. I had a momentary freak-out as I pictured myself plummeting from the platform into the shallow water below, (as the deep part is out in the center of the spring) but thankfully my husband came to my rescue and helped pull the bar back for me to get a better grip. I finally swung out over the spring, let go and landed with a splash, happy and unharmed.
Next we checked out the zip-line, which again was a bit scary. Swimmers climbed up a platform resembling a hunting stand to reach the zip-line’s handlebars and ride out to across the spring, careful once again to only let go in deepest area of the water. The zip-line had been built to reset itself after each ride, which was awesome until it somehow got tangled and stopped working for the day.
We ate a picnic lunch at one of the many picnic tables throughout the park and noticed that charcoal grills were also available for use near almost every table. The kids section was nearby our lunch spot and offered a small water-slide, floating alligator toys and a castle play-house on the beach.
After lunch the large water slide in the pond opened and suddenly it was the new hit attraction. I’d never seen a slide quite like it, a wooden structure covered with white canvas that had an upturn at the end of the chute to propel riders into the water.
However, the upturned end of the slide was both a blessing and a curse. For some it truly launched them further into the pond, but for others it left them stranded at the end, forced to jump into the water, embarrassed. I was of the unfortunate camp. Four times I tried different sliding strategies only to loose momentum and get stuck at the end. What made matters worse was when I did jump into the water my foot found a metal rod under the slide, twice. Needless to say, swimming and activities in Vortex Springs are fun and thrilling but definitely at your own risk.
After a few hours at the springs a large black cloud rolled in bringing with it a thunderstorm, so it was time to pack up and leave. We stopped on our way out to watch some divers come out of the spring and learned that Vortex Springs is a favorite training ground because it offers one of the largest clear-water diving spots in the area, has caverns to explore, and offers classes for several different diving certificates.
Vortex Springs is located at 1517 Vortex Springs Lane, in Ponce de Leon. The park cost $6 per person for swimming and $20 per person for diving. Diving equipment is available for rent, as well as tubes, paddle boards and canoes for use in the springs. There are no lifeguards so swimming is at your own risk, and waivers must be signed before entering the water. Vortex Springs also offers camping and cabin-style lodging by reservation. For more information visit www.vortexspring.com or call 836-4979.