De Leon Springs and DeLand are both located in Volusia County, Florida, less than an hour from Orlando and a little over an hour from St. Augustine and even closer to Daytona; making them both a great place to visit for a day trip! I have visited De Leon Springs twice since living in Florida and DeLand once, but plan to visit them both again for sure! De Leon Springs is most known for its state park where you can swim in a natural spring that is 72 degrees year-round, go kayaking/canoeing, go on a boat tour, go on a hike, and of course eat at the Sugar Mill. I will share a few photos below from the Park, but I’m also going to share with you about a hidden place to visit in De Leon Springs. Deland is nestled amongst lakes and beautiful parks, and of course, the St. Johns River and home to Stetson University, Florida’s oldest college. I am going to share with you a little bit about the Boat Tour on the River in DeLand.
A Visit to De Leon Springs State Park
My first visit to the State Park was back in the summer of 2015 with my family. We enjoyed swimming in the spring. lt sure felt great on a hot summer day! We also enjoyed our meal at the Sugar Mill. My boys loved making their own pancakes right at the table!
Tips for your visit:
- Go early! The park opens at 8 am. The cost of parking is $6.
- As soon as you arrive, put your name on the list at the Sugar Mill Restaurant. The day I went with family, we had over an hour wait, but the wait can be even longer. For instance, I tried to visit with some friends just for lunch and the wait was around an hour and a half or longer, so we had to leave and go somewhere else. I recommend visiting for the day and not just for lunch.
- Bring some chairs. If you are not swimming, you will want a place to sit and relax while waiting to be called for the restaurant.
- You can take the boat tour (50 minutes) if you have time to kill while waiting to be seated at the restaurant.
- No lifeguards on duty, so the swimming is at your own risk.
- Flotation devices cannot exceed 5 feet in size.
- Bring sneakers if you plan to hike the trails!
- There are restroom facilities, no lockers available.
- If you are interested in bird watching and/or wildlife, bring a camera!
We spent several hours at the park, so we didn’t go anywhere else in town that day, however, on our way back to St. Augustine, we made a stop at a neat eclectic roadside shop in Barberville. Barberville Yard Art Emporium sells very unique yard art, pottery, statues, fountains, and more! I highly recommend visiting, whether to shop or to browse, it’s worth the stop! Here are some photos from my visits to the emporium.
A Day Trip to both De Leon Springs and DeLand
This Spring I went on a fun day trip down to De Leon Springs and DeLand with some neighborhood friends. Our day trip included visiting a local nursery first (Select-Growers), then visiting Smooth Waters, then lunch at a local BBQ place in Deland, then on to an awesome boat tour on the St. Johns River with Blue Heron River Tours, and finally stopping at the Barberville Yard Art Emporium. What a fun day! I highly recommend visiting all the places mentioned. I am going to share a little info and some photos below for Smooth Waters Wildlife Park and Blue Heron River Tours.
A Visit to Smooth Waters Wildlife Park ~ Home to the largest alligator in Volusia County, Florida
This is the hidden place I mentioned in the beginning … there are many people that do not know of this hidden Florida gem yet, so my goal is to spread the word. The park was established in 2016 with the purpose to educate the public about crocodilians and to promote conservation. I happen to know the owner’s parents, so I guess I am a little biased, but I can tell you from my experience, that it is a great place to visit and it makes a great stop on a day trip to the area! The park is open 6 days a week (closed on Mondays) from 9 am to 2 pm. (great first stop on a day trip!) What you will see while at the wildlife park: alligators (Trapper is the coolest!), a variety of crocodiles, Caiman, Asian Water Monitors, tortoises, a cute little pig, and more!
I highly recommend doing the interactive-tour. You get to hold an alligator and feed the tortoises (see photos of me below). The highlights of the visit for me were not only the interactive parts but seeing the relationship Nathan (the owner) has with the crocodilians as well as how knowledgeable he is … what a great personal tour! I learned a lot and liked being up close and personal with the wildlife and enjoyed seeing Nathan interact with Trapper the alligator. I look forward to going back for another visit! For more info, photos, and videos, check out Smooth Water’s Facebook Page.
Blue Heron River Tours
This Spring was my first visit down to DeLand and I can’t wait to go back! I definitely want to explore the area more (I will have to do a follow-up post when I do) and I will most certainly do the River Tour again! Located at the St. Johns Marina in Deland, the boat tour departs from the St. John River KOA for a two-hour tour at 10 am and 1 pm daily (reservations required). This eco/nature boat tour is fabulous and you never know what you might see! In fact, the captain, Josh, mentioned to us that you will see different wildlife each season (I must go back when there are more manatees!) The day of our tour in May, we saw a wide variety of birds including limpkins, egrets, eagles, ospreys, herons, vultures, anhingas, ducks, and gallinules. We also saw manatees, turtles, and alligators and the view, in general, was beautiful and peaceful. The boat tour takes you along the river and into some of the shallow tributaries. I loved seeing all the wildlife in their natural habitat. Below are some of my photos.
Josh did a great job educating us about the river, the birds, other wildlife, and more! He did an awesome job getting us close to the wildlife as well. One incident in particular that was very cool was seeing an osprey in her nest up close (without disturbing her). See the photos below. The cost of the tour is $26 (we were fortunate to find a Groupon at the time), but I can tell you its worth the money! Check out Blue Heron’s website and Facebook Page for more information and to make your reservation.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post and I have inspired you to check out De Leon Springs and DeLand, Florida! Just writing this post is making me want to go back, soon! I love exploring natural Florida and all it has to offer. Be sure to sign up to follow my Blog for more informational posts about places to visit in St. Augustine and Florida. You can also follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. Now, get out there and explore and I’ll see you soon! ~Kristina~