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Rainbow Springs: Rescued Lost Florida Attraction

by Mike Miller
(Mount Dora, Florida)

Rainbow Springs Mermaid

Rainbow Springs Mermaid

Rainbow Springs Mermaid
Rainbow Springs Submarine
Rainbow Springs Postcard
Rainbow Springs Bahama Belles

Rainbow Springs is just north of Dunnellon, Florida, and at one time it was quite a popular tourist attraction. It was not as big as Silver Springs further up north in Ocala, but it did pretty good.


Sometime in the 1930s the original owners copied the idea of glass bottom boats that had been so popular in Silver Springs. A bit different, however, than the Silver Spring boats was the deep draft of the Rainbow Springs boats that allowed visitors to sit below the waterline and look out into the clear waters through glass windows.

Rainbow Springs had a lot of competition from other watery attractions in addition to Silver Springs. Among these was Weeki Wachee Springs with it's mermaids, and Homosassa Srpings. But it survived and was able to stay in business.

They added mermaids and had a swimming bunch of pretty girls named the Bahama Belles. Still, things were tough because the competition had better locations.

In the late 1960s some investors came along and pumped a lot of money into the attraction. Birds and animal shows were started and a simulated paddlewheel riverboat chugged up and down the Rainbow River. The park had a monorail that went through the leafy branches of trees, similar to a zip line experience of today but you were sitting in a monorail car.

These were all good things, but the timing was lousy. Walt Disney World opened in October 1971, and Rainbow Springs couldn't survive. People just drove on by and spent their money in Orlando. They finally closed the park in 1973.

In the meantime, the area around the park was being developed, especially by the huge residential subdivision of 6,200 acres known as The Villages of Rainbow Springs. This development started in 1977 and has been very successful.

Finally, in 1990 the State bought the former attraction of Rainbow Springs and turned it into a State Park. With a lot of help from local volunteers, the park was officially opened in 1995. The glitzy tourist attraction part is gone, but you can still see the beauty of the springs, the Rainbow River and the beautiful wooded site.

The State Park is a great place to camp, canoe, kayak and just enjoy nature.


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Comments for Rainbow Springs: Rescued Lost Florida Attraction

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Jun 07, 2018
Fun
by: Maggir

My daughter & her 2 kids & I camped in RV here several yrs. ago and had a great time and spent a day at springs swimming & picnicked.

Great place to relax and just enjoy yourself!

May 02, 2018
Visit to Rainbow Springs 1976
by: Bob Thompson

I worked for an Architectural Engineering firm in Naples,Fl that had a Client interested in Rainbow Springs. I spent a week in 1976 surveying and documenting the built facilities on the property. Stayed at the Dinner Bell Motel in nearby Dunnellon, FL. I remember the facilities were still in reasonable condition.

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

This makes you a pioneer. As a civil engineer I worked on many large developments in the 1970s, but not Rainbow Springs. It is a nice one as those things go.

Apr 29, 2018
The Villages of Rainbow Springs
by: Catherine White McIntosh

My Grandfather and father’s real estate company in Miami, FL bought the 6,200 acres (or part of it) to develop. They built the golf course and country club, while subdividing the land into smaller tracts for homesites. We had 2 company planes that flew prospective buyers from Miami on Saturday and Sunday, for the day to look at the property. My sometimes job as a high school junior and senior was to act as flight attendant. I would serve coffee, juice, and danishes on the flight up. Then I spend the day swimming in the Springs or laying out at the pool. For the flight home I would put out nuts and cocktail makings. It was a beautiful spot and felt at times like it was my own little oasis.
I am very glad to hear the the state once again owns it and has returned it to the citizens of Florida to enjoy. Can’t wait to revisit it.
On a side note- I was told (can’t remember by who) that they at one time filmed some sciences for Tamara (the Ron Ely version) at the Springs. Any truth to this?

FLORIDA BACKROADS TRAVEL SAYS

We don't know about the Ron Ely film. We do believe, however, that the Rainbow Springs development was one of the nicest for its era in Florida history. I have friends who live there and love it.

Mar 08, 2017
Rainbow Springs in the late 80's
by: Tom

We lived outside Dunnellon, FL from 1982 until 1985. I ventured to Rainbow Springs site to look around as I heard it was once a tourist attraction. Very sad sight, weeds growing up through cracks in the parking lot. Nothing much left of the original park as nature and the wet humid Florida climate had already reclaimed most of the land. I'm glad it is now a state park and has been cleaned up as it was a beautiful tropical area.

Jun 03, 2016
The 50's
by: John Wheeler

There was a group of us going thru high school in Gainesville who went to Rainbow Springs and went swimming down river. We made it a point to go around Christmas each year.

In 1956 five of us went into the Navy together and when we finished up boot camp we got together and went down there for the last time.

Would not know the place now.

Sep 29, 2014
Visited Rainbow Springs in 1973
by: Douglas F

I visited Rainbow Springs as a child in summer of 1973 with my family on our way back to Atlanta from Sarasota.

We rode the forest flight monorail through the aviary (really fun!), saw the rodeo, and then rode the underwater boats. This must have been just before the park closed down.

Years later, in 1992 I went scuba diving with a group at the head spring (where the submarine boat dock was) and told the young instructor about the former Rainbow Springs park. He refused to believe me that there ever was a monorail, boat dock, and other attractions there. Well, I showed him! I found an old souvenir pennant I had bought as a kid with pictures of the monorail, paddle wheeler, and submarine boats! And I even found some old slide photos I had taken with a Kodak 126 Instamatic camera of the boats at the head spring! Great memories!

Aug 17, 2013
I Visited Rainbow Springs
by: Greg May

I remember visting Rainbow Springs back in the early 70's. I remember the rodeo show, the 'Forest Flite" Monorail ride and especially the Submarine Boats. I saw a HUGE gar through the portholes of the Submarine Boat. During the ride we got stuck on a sandbar and another boat had to come and bump us along.

Rainbow Springs was a nice, clean attraction. A friend of mine was recently at Silver Springs and he said it was dead. Sad that these great old attractions are disappearing.

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