Take a Dip In the Fountain of Youth at Ponce de Leon Springs
I've always had a bit of a fascination with history--particularly the kind that is surrounded by mysterious legends and myths. One of these legends is the "Fountain of Youth."
A Quick Backstory on the Fountain of Youth Legend
If you do a little digging, you can easily find a dozen legends from different cultures that claim they found healing waters while exploring the uncharted portions of the world. Possibly the most famous explorer linked with such a miraculous discover is Ponce de Leon (although research shows that he never mentioned a fountain of youth in any documentation).
Despite Leon's apparent lack of a search for the fountain, the legend continued through the years linked to his name. My generation probably has Pirates of the Caribbean to thank for this misinformation.
Back in the early 1900s, a woman known as "Diamond Lil" purchased land within St. Augustine, Florida, and claimed that the on-site well was Ponce de Leon's mystical fountain of youth. This park is now the most famous "Fountain of Youth" site in Florida.
However, many people claim the water here tastes sulfurous and much of the focus is on the historical experience with shows, exhibits, and even a Timucuan Village.
But, this isn't the Fountain of Youth I want to tell you about today. There is another location that is largely overlooked, but much closer to what I would expect a Fountain of Youth experience to entail.
Ponce de Leon Springs Offers a Refreshing Experience Over a Tourist Experience
Located next to the small town of Ponce de Leon, Florida (go figure), you'll find the beautiful oasis of Ponce de Leon Springs State Park. The park's tagline is: "VISITORS MIGHT REGAIN THEIR YOUTH BY TAKING A DIP IN THE COOL, CLEAR WATERS OF THESE IMMACULATE SPRINGS." After my experience, I honestly don't know why this gorgeous fresh spring isn't more popularized as the "real" fountain of youth, but the lack of crowds is a bonus for the experience.
The Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is a small, wooded area, perfect for picnicking and peaceful walks through two different trails. Tall trees shade the majority of the park, and covered eating areas dot the scene. At first glance, it doesn't look so different from many other state parks. But the prized centerpiece is its crystal-clear springs.
Simply put: I have never seen water so blue and clear. The freshwater springs here reminded me of pictures I've seen of the Caribbean because they were so vibrant! Standing at the edge of the springs, I could look all the way to the bottom and see the sand, schools of glistening fish, and--farther off--the algae-covered roots of the massive trees rising from the springs' center.
Two sides of the Ponce de Leon Springs are barricaded in with a concrete ledge, creating a solid place to sit with your feet in the water or jump right in. These sides also offer several ways to enter the spring: by ladder, walking down steps, or leaping off the diving board.
Why I Thought the Ponce de Leon Springs Were so Magical
When we arrived in late July, a decent summer crowd occupied the space with us, but that did nothing to spoil our experience. Having just come from the over-crowded beach, the spring had some sprawling real-estate in comparison. The springs are the size of several swimming pools and a lazy stream flowing down toward the Sandy River offers another place for visitors to spread out.
We had no problem finding a shady bench to hold our things and a quiet spot along the concrete barrier to dip in our toes.
We watched, fascinating for several minutes as silver and gold-colored fish darted about around our toes. The summer sun created ever-changing patterns of light along the white sand of the springs-floor. From the wall, I could see where the water deepened because the color changed from light blue to aquamarine the further you went. It was so beautiful.
Finally, we decided to jump in and experience the "fountain of youth" for ourselves.
On the first impression, the water was COLD! (I'm a bit of a wimp for anything under 72 degrees) But I definitely felt alive as I splashed around! However, one of the "magical" aspects of these springs is the fact that they maintain a constant water temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round due to the underground water sources. So no matter what time of year you visit, the springs will feel just as fresh and rejuvenating!
After we adjusted to the temperature change, Daniel and I embarked on our own miniature exploration to see what the springs were like.
My first stop was one of the giant trees growing from the springs' center. Up close, it was fascinating to look straight down and see the fish swimming in and out of the roots, as well as right between my legs.
It was like half my body was submerged into a completely different world!
Unfortunately, we didn't have any snorkeling gear. But, Daniel's iPhone was waterproof, so we were able to capture some pretty cool shots from underwater and view them later.
Cool Finds in the Rest of the Park
After we'd explored the main springs, we embarked on a short trek along one of the wooded paths. Half of this path threaded right along the sandy river (which looked absolutely disgusting and brown after the springs), and the second half trailed back beside the springs' exit flow.
The path hairpins on a little peninsula where you can see the two water sources meet. It was so cool so see the bright blue water collide in an almost solid line against the murky brown river water.
Walking along the springs'-side of the path, we also enjoyed some pristine wooded views with the crystalline water weaving between the banks and found several interesting plants and fun mushrooms. If I had any talent whatsoever at bird watching, a sign at the entrance promised a good number of them were flying about, so I would have probably enjoyed that aspect, too.
Thankfully, we didn't stumble across any alligators!
All in all, the park is very small, but if you're looking for an actually refreshing "fountain of youth" experience, this is the place to go. In the less-populated areas, I could completely imagine what it would have been like if Ponce de Leon stumbled across this gorgeous spring in all it's wild glory. Plus, unlike the hype of the St. Augustine location, Ponce de Leon Springs actually delivers on a refreshing and rejuvenating swim in spring that looks as beautiful and pristine as you'd expect the fountain of youth to be! If you're ever in the Florida Panhandle, be sure to add this stop to your list--no matter what time of year it is!
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See you next week!