Home Environment The perfect 30(ish) hour NW Florida Spring Itinerary

The perfect 30(ish) hour NW Florida Spring Itinerary

Spring fever is almost upon us! And I am not talking about the allergies that come with an onset of a new season. When I first moved to Pensacola six years ago, the only emerald waters I knew of were the waves crashing under a giant beach ball tower and Pensacola Beach fishing pier. Little did I know, the ‘real Florida’ and most mesmerizing emerald waters lie in the hundreds of springs populating the panhandle and beyond.


Not just any emerald water either — real-life Disney Princess, Arielle lives here, type of beauty. I knew I had to see these Florida gems for myself. Wasn’t it every 90’s girl’s dream to grown up, become a  mermaid and rebel against their parents?

My fellow Midwest friend and I hit I-10 with one spring in mind, a Holiday Inn Express booked and hopes of finding at least a few more swimming holes before our spontaneous road trip ended.

Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

Distance from Pensacola: 331 miles

Drive time: 4 hours 52 minutes

Pack your snacks, bring your buddy and download your favorite podcasts for this roadtrip because it is that perfectly annoying amount of time where you start to get restless by the end.

I chose this spring based off of the google reviews, the Instagram photos I stalked and the availability to easily rent paddle boards and kayaks as we did not bring any. We left Pensacola around 6am and arrived around 12pm (keep in mind the time change).

This spring delivered everything we wanted and more. 44 million gallons of 72 degree pristine waters and a 1/4 mile spring run leading to several other springs in the Santa Fe River which are equally as beautiful. The spring run paddle was actually our favorite part and the most mesmerizing with long bright green algae rippling under crystal clear blue water.

After about 4 hours on the river and springs, we headed to the Holiday Inn Express in High Springs for showers before hitting the notorious Pink Flamingo Diner for dinner. If you can, leave yourself some time to explore High Springs, a true old Florida town with some adorable shopping and dining.

Madison Blue Spring State Park

Distance from Pensacola: 259 miles

Drive time: 3 hours 47 min

From our hotel, Madison Springs was about a 45 minute drive. Being early birds, we were out the door by 8am and at the springs by 9am —which proved to pay off in a big way. We had the entire spring to ourselves.

Madison Spring is special for more than it’s deep blue color and depth; it’s surrounded by a picturesque, lush green forest making it straight out of a fairy tale. The first thing I thought when we arrived was that it didn’t feel like we were in Florida anymore. It felt like we had time travelled to a Balinese rainforest or Captain Hook’s Return to Neverland. This place is truly breathtaking.

There is no rentals here so make sure you bring your own tubes or flotation devices if you plan on swimming around for awhile. The spring’s gentle flow is like a mini lazy river and will guide you and your tube straight to the river’s edge.

This was by far my favorite, and one of the most magical places I have visited. It’s no surprise that Madison was voted the No. 1 swimming hole in the country by USA Today.

Pitt and Sylvan Springs

Distance from Pensacola: 127.5 miles

Drive time: 1 hour 57 minutes

After a few hours at Madison Springs, the crowds came and we continued on our journey back in the direction of home. Eagerly google searching for one more dreamy sanctuary to dive into on the way back, Pitt & Sylvan caught my attention. Right outside Panama City, in Youngstown, Florida.

Arriving around 1:30pm on a hot July day, we found this spring to be the most crowded of them all, but also the most family-friendly. The water is equally as emerald and clear, but shallow enough to stand and  plenty of areas with shade for picnics.

We took our final instagram shots and polar plunges before embarking on the last leg of the trip home. With sun kissed cheeks and refreshed souls, we didn’t realize how much life this mini little roadtrip would give us.

Our day and a half nature bath served it’s purpose in the literal sense that our Missouri mermaid dreams came true, but also in another way. The not so literal “bathing” in the energy and clean air of the woods brought a sense of inner peace — there are so many things to enjoy about spending time in the natural wonders of our sun-drenched, palm-studded, aqueous state. Who’s ready for spring time?

Elli Gentile