Blue Springs Recreational Park
Jackson Blue Spring is the heart of this popular county park, located approximately five miles east of Marianna. An average of 77 million gallons a day flow from the spring. The headwater area is popular for swimming due to the clear water and shallow bowl around the spring vent. Paddle boats are also available for rent. The spring emerges from an underwater cave complex that houses two rare species—the Georgia Blind Salamander and Dougherty Plain Cave Crayfish. Open-water scuba diving and cave diving require proper permits from the county. The Old Spanish Trail passed by Blue Springs and was described many times over the years by Spanish missionaries and officials. The park is open during the summer, from July to September.
Merritt’s Mill Pond
This unique 202-acre spring-fed impoundment with crystal clear waters extends from Blue Springs, and is renowned for its trophy Redear (Shellcracker) fishing. The pond currently holds the state record for Redear at 4.86 pounds and until recently held the world record fish. Largemouth Bass and Bluegill are also present. Merritt’s Mill Pond is about 4 miles in length from the dam to the springs. There are a large number of submerged logs just beneath the surface; therefore it is best accessed by canoe, kayak, or small boat. Paddlers can put in at the south end of the dam at the Arrowhead Campground for a small fee and paddle north to Jackson Blue Springs. Alternate put-in locations are the public boat ramp at Hunter Fish Camp Road or at Jackson Blue Springs Park itself. The easy current isn’t a problem no matter where one launches. In addition to fishing, visitors can enjoy swimming and snorkeling in the crystal springs. Certified divers can explore Shangri-la, Twin Caves, Hole-in-the-Wall, Gator Hole, and Indian Washtub caverns.
Morrison Springs is one of the most popular swimming, snorkeling, and diving spots in northwest Florida and is well-known throughout the southeast. The large, sandy-bottomed spring is surrounded by a 161- acre park that is managed by Walton County. The spring discharges an average of 48 million gallons of crystal-clear water each day to create a 250-foot-diameter spring pool and a spring run that flows into the Choctawhatchee River. There are 3 cavities reported at the bottom of the spring pool, one of which is 300 feet deep. The natural floodplain setting is also popular for birding, photography, and nature walks. Amenities include a picnic pavilion and restroom facilities. A large wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, with an overlook, links the springs to the floodplain along the spring run.
Pitt Springs Recreation Area
Pitt and Sylvan Springs are just two of many springs along Econfina Creek and among one of the most popular. The 10-acre recreation area, managed by the Northwest Florida Water Management District, is in a natural setting of native forest that includes trails and access to other springs. The District recently completed restoration activities and recreational improvements, including an extensive trail and boardwalk system. One of the trails/boardwalks leads from Pitt Spring to the Sylvan Spring area, and includes an overlook and a tubing put-in dock. A tubing take-out dock has been constructed at the confluence of Pitt Spring run and Econfina Creek. Swimmers can access the water by stairway. Covered picnic pavilions and restroom are available in the uplands around Pitt Spring.
Ponce De Leon Springs State Recreation Park
This beautiful spring is named for Juan Ponce de León, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513-as legend has it-in search of the “fountain of youth.” Visitors might well regain their youth by taking a dip in the cool, clear waters of Ponce de Leon Springs where the water temperature remains a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. The main spring is a convergence of two underground water flows, and produces 14 million gallons of water daily. Visitors can take a leisurely walk along two self-guided nature trails through a lush, hardwood forest and learn about the local ecology and wildlife. Rangers also conduct seasonal guided walks. Picnicking is a popular activity at the park; grills and pavilions are available.
Vortex Springs Inc. is the largest diving facility in the state of Florida. The spring produces approximately 25 million gallons of crystal-clear water per day at a year-round temperature of 68 degrees. The basin is 50 feet deep at the mouth of the beautiful ledge-like cavern. The room is well lit from surface light and Catfish, Freshwater Eels (harmless), Redhorse Suckers, and very rare and exotic “Shadow Bass” are common companions. Located on 360 acres of rolling hills and majestic pines, the facility offers a dive shop, lighted campgrounds, picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, R. V. dump stations, bathrooms with showers and a newly remodeled 75-foot long “Pinewood Lodge,” with air conditioned rooms, showers, and kitchenettes overlooking Otter Creek. Visit www.vortexspring.com for more information.