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While it feels like it couldn't possibly get any hotter outside, the Florida summer is just around the corner. Luckily, there are tons of ways to get wet, stay cool and have fun in and around the Gainesville area. Even better, most spots are FREE or very cheap. Here is a huge list of places you'll want to put on your summer bucket list! If you're looking for swimming lessons before visiting these fun places, visit the Fun4GatorKids site for a list of swim lesson locations and instructors!
LOCAL WATER FUN
River Ranch – On selected Sunday's from April through July, the River Ranch at Camp Kulaqua opens to the community! There is a lazy river, wave pool, and water slide, plus picnic areas! Admission is only $11.50 per person for an entire day of water fun. To see a list of dates the River Ranch is open, visit the website. (pictured right)
Alachua Splash Park – This well-known sprinkler pad, best for younger kids (although my 10-year-old still loves it) is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm and is FREE. There are select times when the splash park closes for private parties, so be sure to check the calendar before you visit!
Lake Butler Splash Pad – The splash pad in Luke Butler isn't as well-known but is just as fun! It's free to enjoy, is open every day, and sits right next to a beautiful lake.
Wild Waters – Wild Waters, located in Ocala, opens May 28 for the 2016 season! There is something for everyone at this water park, from splash areas and smaller slides for the littler ones to bigger and more daring water slides for the more adventurous visitors. Plus there is a wave pool for the whole family to enjoy. Right now, season's passes are only $69.99/person if you purchase the tickets online. (pictured left)
Depot Park – Another splash pad is scheduled to open this summer in Gainesville! This splash pad will be just one part of a much larger area – Depot Park – that will be perfect for families to spend the day. In addition to a splash pad, this multi-million dollar park will feature a water's edge promenade with scenic overlooks, outdoor grilling pavilions and nature trails running through a braided stream and wetlands. Updates will be posted on the site!
Springs, Lakes and Rivers – On the Fun4GatorKids website, there is a list of 15 different springs, rivers and lakes where you can spend the day exploring Florida's freshwater systems. While every destination on the list offers an abundance of activities, from swimming and tubing to canoeing and kayaking, there are a handful of springs that are best for families. Blue Springs has a large zero-entry area that's shallow for younger kids to enjoy. Other must-visit springs include Rainbow Springs, Poe Springs, Lafayette Springs and Juniper Springs. The Itchetucknee River is another well-known place for tubing, plus there's Bob's River Place (perfect for older kids) that has log rolling, a tall slide, and a tall rope swing. To see a list of ALL the springs, rivers and lakes in and around Gainesville, visit the Fun4GatorKids site. All of the information you need to plan your visit – location, hours, prices, a list of amenities, etc – is listed on the site. (Rainbow Springs and Blue Springs pictured below)
DAY TRIP WATER FUN
Buccaneer Bay –This spring-fed water park is located in Ocala. It features a sandy beach area, kiddie pool, flume rides, lazy river and more. Buccaneer Bay is currently open weekends only, but will be open daily beginning June 9.
Rock Springs Run – This beautiful "natural lazy river" is south of Gainesville in Apopka and is a definite must visit. The water is crystal clear! When planning your trip, be sure to arrive early in the day as the park is usually at capacity by mid-morning during the summer months.
SunWest Park – While this water destination is a bit more of a drive, it's the perfect place for a day trip this summer! Kids (and adults) will have a blast playing on the "Aqua Park" - a huge inflatable obstacle course and slides that actually float out on the water! SunWest Park, located in Hudson, also has a large beach area, paddle boarding and kayaking! (pictured left)
Shipwreck Island – This fun water park is less than 2 hours away from Gainesville! The Kids Play Area is open various days beginning May 16. The entire water park opens with limited hours late May, with full hours beginning in June. Be sure to check the calendar before planning your visit.
Here is a list of the more popular water parks in Florida. You can find details for each water park on the Fun4GatorKids website.