Ponce de Leon Springs State Park
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 will follow the wanderings of reporter Savannah Vasquez and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
The elongated warm weather we have been experiencing this fall called for swimming and keeping cool. When the thermometer recently hit 92 degrees, Cristian and I packed up our things and headed to the coolest spot we knew of, the year-round 68-degree spring waters of Ponce de Leon Springs State Park.
Although this was our first visit to the park, our experience from several other Florida springs prepared us to expect cold waters and a scenic view that only the clear yet beautifully blue-hued waters can create.
Ponce de Leon Springs did not disappoint. In fact this particular spring was named after historic Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon who, legend has it, was searching for a fountain of youth during the early 1500s. Even if the story about the search for a youthful fountain is a myth, after one dip at Ponce de Leon Spring, it’s easy to see why the chilling water would be named after such a quest. As I eased into the spring, the chill of the water definitely took my breath away but left me feeling revitalized and inspired to explore.
Cristian and I donned our snorkel gear and took in the underwater scene, noticing a marshy bottom with spring grasses, cypress tree stumps and several small fish. One sight that took us by surprise, however, was a person free-diving straight into the center of the spring. We watched as he dove down, disappeared into a hole and then reemerged from another hole on the other side of the spring.
When he came to the surface he explained that he had swam through an underwater cave about 25 feet below us. Although impressed by this feat I would not advise this to anyone besides professional divers and free-divers as the risk of drowning far outweighs the thrill of swimming through a mysterious cave.
The spring itself is about the size of a neighborhood pool, but the underground aquifer produces 14 million gallons of fresh water per day which flows out from the spring into Sandy Creek. On the day we visited we noticed a group of small children and their parents taking advantage of the adjoining creek as the water there is only a foot deep and better suited for young children to enjoy.
Ponce de Leon Springs State Park also offers plentiful picnic tables throughout the area and even pavilions with grills that are available for reservation. But don’t fret if you don’t get a pavilion, as the tall pines provide shade over most of the area surrounding the springs, and you are even welcome to bring your own grill to the park for a picnic.
The park is well equipped for a day at the springs as a large restroom and changing facility is at the entrance of the park. Also for swimmers' convenience, a deck has been built around the spring much like a pool deck. There is even a diving plank, several ladders for climbing into and out of the spring, and a walled seating area on one side of the spring.
However, if swimming is not your thing, you can check out the nature walks along Sandy Creek and Spring Run. Both offer a short 10-minute hike through the hardwood forest along the banks of the creek. Cristian and I hiked both loops in under 20 minutes and enjoyed the beautiful natural scenery. So if the hot fall weather is making you sweat, or you are just in need of a beautiful get-away, check out Ponce de Leon Springs State Park.