Rainbow River and Devil’s Den

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The family has summer vacation plans. A family member develops a strange cold and a threatening scratchy throat. Family member says, “#%$$@%%*&.” Family member takes COVID-19 test. Family vacation falls apart.

That was our situation shortly before a flight to Costa Rica. We canceled and started climbing Insurance Claim Mountain. After quarantine and recovery, however, everyone was itching to move away from the works of William P. Hulu.

We booked an Airbnb two hours north in Dunnellon and loaded the truck up for ADVENTURES, EXPLOITS and… TUBES. As a bonus, we stumbled upon an enchanting field of sunflowers. who ever needs a chocolate tour at the foot of a volcano, am I right? Actually, I don’t want to talk about it.

Let’s break down a three day itinerary for your Florida trip:

Tubing on the Rainbow River

I envisioned floating down a river to be elegant and simple, like a Regency-era duchess taking a bath. Foolish! Fool!

First the basics. Tubers can start from Rainbow Springs State Park, $22 per person for a two-hour ride, or from KP Hole Park, $30 per person for a four-hour ride. Both include tube rental and shuttle service. First come, first served and weekends get busy so get there early. We opted for the two hour drive. Honestly four hours anything except sleep is too much. In my next article I will discuss why all movies should be 90 minutes long.

Because my family left first, I got stuck on the dock like a broken donut. I asked strangers for a nudge. Into a river! For fun! I expected to get carried away, relax and watch cormorants, nervously playing “Alligator or Textured Log?” But I found myself tossing and turning grotesquely to create movement, trying to remember Michael Phelps.

Dark clouds shielded the sun after an hour, and a breeze finally pushed me forward. My elegant dreams came true. Then, uh, the clouds rumbled into a deluge. We floated near someone’s private dock (I know that’s a no go but I didn’t want to perish) and finally finished our float. We got out while the workers informed the horrified group in front of us that they had two hours left.

Still, it was magical enough. A pair of river otters swam right towards us! The water was stunningly blue and peaceful, minus the people playing rave music on a bluetooth.

TIP: Wear a roomy, waterproof hat so you can yell “I’M SO GLAD I HAVE THIS HAT” between the rain and sun.

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Related: 3 Unusual Florida Vacation Spots 4 Hours or Less from Tampa Bay

Snorkeling in Devil’s Cave

The ladder leading down to Devil's Den, a prehistoric sinkhole and snorkeling attraction in Williston, Florida.
The ladder leading down to Devil’s Den, a prehistoric sinkhole and snorkeling attraction in Williston, Florida. [ STEPHANIE HAYES | Times ]

The next day we took a 30 minute drive to Williston to snorkel in a prehistoric karst hole named after Satan. Relax! Legend has it that early settlers named the cave Devil’s Den because of the morning steam.

Important: Diving is walk-up, but snorkeling is by reservation only. It’s not the most intuitive site and we may have accidentally booked 12 times. When we called nobody answered. However, you have to reserve. The dive shop has signs that say, “We don’t care how far you’ve gone, check the website.”

Snorkeling is $15-22 per person, with mask, snorkel and fin rentals an extra $10. We waddled down the hole past influencers doing the squat thing with asses in front and heads Exorcist around (what’s that?).

I hadn’t snorkeled since I was 12, which… Break for math… no matter. At first it felt strange, like drowning in 72 degree water. After clinging to the railing and thinking about the Chocolate Tour in Costa Rica, I relaxed and breathed through the tube. We enjoyed 90 minutes of mind-blowing mermaid action as Bluegill swam past our masks. gorgeous. This is honestly a Florida wonder not to be missed.

Following a tip from Kristen Hare’s book, 100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die, by Times contributor Kristen Hare, we had a massive country lunch at The Ivy House. So good. I asked about the secret ingredient in the stewed tomatoes. Ritz Crackers.

TIP: Get a waterproof phone case for epic photos, or at least some blurry shots of a turtle.

Sunflower picking at Cannon Farms

A sunflower at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, Florida.  The farm is open to the public for flower picking in May and June.
A sunflower at Cannon Farms in Dunnellon, Florida. The farm is open to the public for flower picking in May and June. [ STEPHANIE HAYES | Times ]

I’ll start with the bad news: this stop is closed for the season. However, it is worth mentioning for the next year, when you still have to mentally go through a field of flowers.

We drove past the Cannon Farms trading store and were told it is open to the public for parts of May and June. It costs $5 to walk through the fields of sunflowers and zinnias, take photos and snip a sunflower. The prices for filling a plastic cup or a bucket are increasing.

This was really bucolic stuff, a calm ending to all the jarring waters. We bought a yellow watermelon and a jar of peach jam, refreshed and ready to return to William P. Hulu.

TIP: you like corn? Corn seems to be the hottest farm produce, but it’s not always available. Follow the farm’s Facebook page for updates on corn supplies. Don’t say I didn’t cornet you. I am sorry.

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