Best Places to Kayak on Florida's Rainbow River

Paddleboarding the Rainbow River
© George E. Sayour

One would think it should be rather easy to kayak the six-mile stretch of water known as the Rainbow River. Since the Rainbow River is solely spring-fed, this first magnitude spring is a favorite among paddlers and tubers alike. However, it’s a bit tricky to figure out where and when to put-in and take-out when attempting to kayak, paddleboard, or float this crystal clear cool paddling experience.

Here are some of the landmarks and locations to help you plan your kayak trip to the Rainbow River.

Rainbow Springs State Park Headsprings

(352) 465 - 8555, 19158 S.W. 81st Place Road, Dunnellon, FL 34432
The Rainbow Springs State Park is broken up into three different areas. The location at the headsprings has a swimming area and a place to launch canoes and kayaks. There is an 1800 foot portage from where you can park your vehicle to where you can launch your kayak. It is 1 mile from here to the Rainbow Springs State Park Campground and almost 5 miles to the Route 484 Bridge in Dunnellon.

Rainbow River State Park Campground

(352) 465 - 8550, 18158 SW 94th Street, Dunnellon, Florida 34432
The Rainbow River State Park Campground is 1 mile south of the headsprings on the east side of the river. Not suggested by the address, the campground is located off of 180th Avenue. You can only launch here if you are camping at the state park.

That is a huge benefit of camping here since you can drive down to the river and drop you kayak off. They also have kayak trailers that you can drag between your campsite and the kayak launch. From here you can paddle downstream to Dunnellon or upstream to the headsprings.

K.P. Hole County Park

352-489-3055, 9435 SW 190 Avenue Rd Dunnellon FL, 34432
The K.P.

Hole County Park is run by the County of Marion and not the Florida State Park System. It is located 1.25 miles south of the headsprings and not far from the Rainbow Springs State Park Campground. Downstream, it is 3.2 miles to the Highway 484 Bridge in Dunnellon. The word is that it can get pretty crowded in season and they lock the gate once parking is full. Also, if you launch here, be sure you are back before they close the park or they will lock your car inside the park. Even if parking is unavailable, this is a good option to launch from as it is quite common to park in town and get a ride to the park.

Rainbow Springs State Park Tubing

(352) 465 – 8525, 10830 SW 180th Avenue Road, Dunnellon, Florida 34432
The tubing entrance to the Rainbow Springs State Park is 1.4 miles south of the campground. That places this entrance right between the headsprings and the Route 484 Bridge, as it is about 2.3 miles from each. Tubing is closed from October through March, is open on weekends in April and May, and is open 7 days/week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. This entrance is for the purpose of tubing through Nature Quest Kayak, the concessionaire licensed through the park. It is not an option for putting in or taking out your private canoe or kayak.

If you want to rent a tube or kayak you can park here and they'll shuttle you upstream and you'll float back down to this location. Reservations are recommended because they do fill up and once parking is full, they stop letting cars in until some leave.

Dunnellon Bridge – SW County Highway 484

We’ve been told mixed things about launching from the “old” tubing loading area on the east side of the Dunnellon Bridge on Highway 484. But, from what we can tell this is legal. From the bridge to the headspring it is almost 5 miles. You can also paddle downstream from here into the Withlacoochee River.

Route 41 Dunnellon Public Boat Ramp on the Withlacoochee River

It is about a half mile from here upstream to the Rainbow River. The headsprings are about 6.5 miles upstream. Since this is a public boat launch, this is a definite option, if only as a last resort.

It is, however, a 13-mile round trip to get to the headsprings and back. Of course, the paddle back will be with the current and therefore it will feel like a breeze.