What do a hike, a boat ride, swimming in spring water, and pancakes have in common? You can experience all of these things and more at De Leon Springs State Park. Located just outside of DeLand, Florida it is a great day trip from Orlando. I’ll be honest I came for the pancakes, but I was impressed with how much there is to do at the park!
De Leon Springs State Park – The Basics
- Address: 601 Ponce de Leon Blvd. De Leon Springs, Florida 32130
- Driving distance from select Florida cities:
- Orlando: 1 hour
- Jacksonville: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Gainesville: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Tampa: 2 hours 30 minutes
- Miami: 4 hours
- Hours: 8 AM until sunset, daily
- Entrance fee: $6 per vehicle; $4 single occupant vehicle or motorcycles
- Activities: Boat tours, boating, fishing, hiking, paddling, scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming
- Pet Friendly: Pets must remain on a 6-foot leash at all times
The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant
One of the most unique things at De Leon Springs State Park is the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant which is inside the park boundaries. You can make your own pancakes and eggs on the griddle right at the table. This is such a fun experience for the entire family! You will have to pay a park entrance fee to go to the restaurant, but I think it is well worth it!
I recommend the first thing you do at the park is to put your name on the wait list for a table at the restaurant. The restaurant can get very busy, but you can explore the rest of the park while you wait. They have a speaker system so you can hear when your name is called. Also, the restaurant saves your spot if you chose to go on the boat tour. The restaurant does not currently accept reservations.
Sugar Mill Restaurant Hours
- Monday through Friday: 9 AM to 2 PM
- Saturday and Sunday: 8 AM to 2 PM
- Holidays also have extended hours opening at 8 AM
- Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
The restaurant served breakfast and lunch daily and has a variety of items on the menu at a reasonable price. However, all you can eat pancakes at $5.75 a person are certainly a highlight. There is also a lot of delicious toppings including fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips that you can order to add to your pancakes. The restaurant serves two types of pancake mix, an Early American pancake made with unbleached white flour and their very own unique mixture of 5 fresh stoneground flours. They will bring you both, but I really enjoyed the 5-grain and added blueberries to my pancakes! Gluten free pancakes are also available for any dietary restrictions.
You can also order additional sides such as eggs or breakfast meat. If you order eggs, they will bring your eggs for you to prepare at the table. However, all breakfast meat is cooked in the kitchen and will be brought out to you fully prepared. More information on the Sugar Mill Restaurant can be found here.
Fountain of Youth Boat Tours
There are Fountain of the Youth ECO history boat tours at the park and it’s the perfect activity to spend an hour while you are waiting on table at the restaurant. There is a minimum requirement of at least 6 tickets sold for the boat tour to run.
Unfortunately, there was not enough people to go on the tour when I was there. There was not a very long wait at the restaurant which I think contributed to less people choosing to take the boat tour.
The boat tours are approximately 50 minutes long and run daily at 10 AM, 11 AM, noon, and 1 PM. The tour is narrated and takes you through the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. The cost for the boat tour is $16 and children under 4 are free.
Hiking at De Leon Springs State Park
There are a couple short trails in the park that are perfect for anyone from a beginner hiker to the experienced pro. First you will want to access the 0.5-mile paved nature loop trail. This trail also connects to a short, beautiful boardwalk. The boardwalk takes you to Old Methuselah which is a huge cypress tree that is over 500 years old!
Next, there is a short 0.25-mile Monkey Island Trail that can be accessed from the nature trail. This is an out and back trail that passes through monkey island, home to many monkeys int he 1950s and 1960s when the park was an attraction on the jungle cruise tour boat.
The last trail that can be accessed from the paved nature loop is the Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail. This trail is recommended for a more experienced hiker. Before starting on the trail, you should check in with the ranger station and obtain a map. The trail is a 4.2-mile loop and it is recommended to give yourself at least 3 hours to complete the trail.
Swimming, Snorkeling, and Scuba Diving
The water at De Leon Springs is a consistent 72-degrees which makes it the perfect place to cool off in the summer. You can swim directly at the head springs in De Leon Springs State Park and the depth of the water ranges between 2 feet to 30 feet. There are no lifeguards on duty, so please swim at your own risk!
The total swimming area is about 500 feet in circumference and if you are looking to get some exercise 9 laps is equivalent to a mile. The swimming area is open daily from 8 AM until a half-hour prior to the park closing. Floats and rafts are allowed in the swimming area if they do not exceed 5 feet by 5 feet for circular floats and 4 feet and 6 feet for rectangle floats.
The swimming area is also a great place to snorkel. The beautiful turquoise waters are perfect to snorkel in, but please remember all artifacts are protected and should not be disturbed. If you are looking to scuba dive that is also an option, but only by participating in the instructional dive classes taught by an instructor that has a current Florida State parks dive permit. No recreational diving is allowed at the park.
Paddling at De Leon Springs State Park
Canoe and kayak rentals are available within the park. De Leon Springs State Park provides access to Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and the St. John’s River. There is a 4-mile paddle (one-way) along Spring Garden Creek to Lake Woodruff and a 10-mile paddle (one-way) to the St. John’s River. Alternatively, you can take a relaxing paddle to Spring Garden Lake. The water will be much clearer when you start out closer to the head springs and quickly darken as you paddle away from it.
- Canoe: $18 first hour; $10 each additional hour
- Single Kayak: $15 first hour, $7 each additional hour
- Tandem Kayak: $18 first hour, $10 each additional hour
Final Thoughts on De Leon Springs State Park
If you’ve never been to De Leon Springs State Park before I highly recommend you add it to your bucket list. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant was certainly a unique highlight for me. I also really enjoyed the hiking trails and I hope on my next visit I can experience some of the water activities! Have you ever been to De Leon Springs State Park? What was your favorite part or if I missed something let me know in the comments below!
Looking to visit other Florida springs in the area? Check out this post on Blue Spring State Park
The information above was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit De Leon Springs State Park I recommend verifying information with the Florida State Park website.