North Central Florida is blessed with hundreds of natural springs. Though few are accessible, those that are, are primarily known for their stunningly turquoise swimming pools and great canoeing opportunities. However, De Leon Springs is known for so much more, especially pancakes.
We’ll explain what pancakes, manatees and the Fountain of Youth has to do with De Leon Springs. Plus, we’ve included our top eight tips for making the most of your visit.
So, grab your swimsuit and towel, we’re off to the springs.
Avoid the Crowds
Despite being only an hour from Orlando, few tourists are aware of De Leon Springs. However, locals love it. So, the park gets very busy on weekends, and throughout the spring and summer school holidays.
You’ll find the springs quiet in the mornings, especially during the weekdays when locals are at work and school.
Visit De Leon Springs in March
I’ll take my advice one step further. If you have the luxury of picking the perfect time to visit De Leon Springs, and Florida in general, come in early March.
Not only is the weather typically perfect, with fewer storms and a lovely mild warmth, but Florida is also bursting in color. First thing you’ll notice is the vivid pink azaleas surrounding 100-year-old Live Oaks as you enter the park.
Oh, and of course there are also manatees in March.
Fill Your Car with Friends
Admission to the park is great value at $6 per vehicle for up to 8 people (2021). So, bring some friends with you to enjoy the park.
If you’re alone, ask for the Single-Occupant Vehicle admission and pay only $4. Note that most Florida State Parks do a single-occupant discount.
Make Pancakes at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill
Funny enough, the busiest area of De Leon Springs is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill. This family operated griddle house opened its doors in 1961, though the history of the waterwheel dates to the 1830’s. However, it’s not the historical features that bring the crowds to this little pancake house.
Each table is kitted with its own tabletop grill. Think hibachi style, but for pancakes. For $5.50 (2021) per person, everyone comes for the all you can eat, cook at your table pancakes. Yes, there are other things on the menu, but other than a side of bacon, why would you care? We’re talking pancakes. Nuff said.
There’s a little catch to visiting the Sugar Mill. Unless you get there for opening, or on a very slow day, don’t come starving. The wait averages 1.5 to 3 hours!!! It’s not as bad as it seems. Let’s talk about all the things you’re going to do as you wait.
You’ll need to pay admission to the park to enjoy breakfast at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill.
Take a Ride on the Fountain of Youth
De Leon Springs is one of only a handful of springs that still offer pontoon boat rides. The 50-minute tour runs a few times a day, from the dock at De Leon Springs, out to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge.
The tour not only provides an historical overview of the area, but it’s also the best way to see the wildlife.
Purchase tickets from the Old Spanish Sugar Mill. Best part is, you won’t lose your place in line if you’re waiting for those pancakes.
Spot the Wildlife
You definitely have the best chance of seeing wildlife by getting out on the water, but it’s not strictly necessary.
On the far side of the park, near the boat launch, is a floating dock. From December through April, keep your eyes peeled for manatees. You may also spot turtles and alligators along the shoreline. If you’re really lucky, scan the treetops for eagles and osprey.
Learn a Little History
To the left of the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, several signs and historical items explain the land’s long and challenging history. This land served once as a plantation, then a sugar mill, then a tourist attraction, before eventually becoming a state park.
A giant stone wall, or rather the Fountain of Youth, is hard to miss. Built as a tourist attraction in the 1880’s, the park was named after Ponce De Leon. Leveraging the legend of the Fountain of Youth, northerners were lured to the park by the fountain’s “deliciously healthy” water.
Take a Swim
I’ve saved the best for last. Of course, no visit is complete without a dip in the magical waters of De Leon Spring. Florida natural springs, including De Leon, stay a refreshing 72-degrees year-round. It’s always a good time for a swim or snorkel.
The giant pool is over 500-feet in circumference. It ranges from a shallow 18 inches to a depth of 30-feet at the spring boil.
You can even scuba dive the spring, though you’ll need to join an instructional class to do so.
After your swim, spread a blanket and enjoy the warm sun as you spread out on the lawn surrounding the pool. Could there be a better way to spend a day?
Where to Stay for De Leon Springs
The best places to stay are closer to DeLand or Orange City. This also makes it very convenient for visiting other nearby springs, such as Blue Springs or Wekiva Springs.
Books on Florida's Natural Springs
If you’re spending a bit of time in Florida and want to visit more springs, it’s worth picking up a guide book.
- Touring the Springs of Florida – The main authority on Florida natural springs.
- Canoeing and Kayaking Florida – If you plan to travel any of our river systems outside the standard park routes, this is a must.
Florida’s Healing Waters: Gilded Age Mineral Springs, Seaside Resorts, and Health Spas – Florida’s history is fascinating. Learn about the days when tourists flocked to the state in search of healing waters.