Rainbow River and Devil’s Den

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The family has summer vacation plans. Family member develops curious sniffing, ominous scratched throat. Family member says “#% $$ @ %% * &.” Family member takes COVID-19 test. Family vacations are falling apart.

That was our situation just before a flight to Costa Rica. We canceled and started climbing Insurance Claim Mountain. After quarantine and recovery, however, everyone itched after leaving the works of William P. Hulu.

We booked an Airbnb two hours north of Dunnellon and loaded the truck for ADVENTURE, EXPLOITS and … INSIDE PIPES. As a bonus, we stumbled upon an enchanting field of sunflowers. Who even need a chocolate ride at the foot of a volcano, am I right? I really do not want to talk about it.

Let’s split up 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 Duchess Regency taking a bath. Silly! Fool fool!

First the basics. Tubers can be launched from Rainbow Springs State Park, $ 22 per person for a two-hour float, or KP Hole Park, $ 30 per person for a four-hour float. Both include tube rental and transportation. It’s first come first served and the weekends are busy, so go early. We chose the two hour journey. Honestly, four hours with anything except that sleep is too much. In my next piece I will discuss why all movies should be in 90 minutes.

Because my family pushed off first, I was stuck on the dock like a broken donut. I asked strangers for a push. Into a river! For fun! I expected to be taken along, relax and watch cormorants, nervously play “Alligator or Textured Log?” But I found myself flopping around to create movement, trying to remember Michael Phelps.

Dark clouds shielded the sun for an hour, a breeze finally drove me. My elegant dreams came true. So, uh, the clouds rumbled to a deluge. We hovered near someone’s private pier (I know, this is a no-no, but I did not want to perish) and finally we completed our flow. We jumped out while the workers informed the terrible party in front of us that they had two more hours.

That said, it was magical enough. A pair of river otters swam right up to us! The water was wonderfully blue and peaceful, minus the people playing rave music on a Bluetooth.

TIPS: Wear a wide, waterproof hat so you can scream “I AM SO HAPPY I HAVE THIS HATE” between alternating rain and sun.

Planning your weekend?

Subscribe to our free newsletter with 5 things to do

We deliver ideas every Thursday to go out, be at home or spend time outdoors.

You are all registered!

Want more of our free weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Related: 3 unusual resorts in Florida, 4 hours or less from Tampa Bay

Snorkeling in Devil’s Den

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

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

Important: Diving is walk-up, but snorkeling is reservations only. It is not the most intuitive website and we may have ordered 12 times by accident. When we called, no one answered. However, you must reserve. The dive shop has signs that say, to paraphrase, “We do not care how far you drove, check the website.”

Snorkeling is $ 15- $ 22 per person, with mask, snorkel and find rentals an additional $ 10. We strolled down the hole, past influencers who did the squat thing where the buttocks are forward and the heads Exorsist around (what is it?).

I had not snorkeled since I was 12 years old, which … break for mathematics… forget it. It felt strange at first, like drowning in 72-degree water. After grabbing the railing and thinking about the chocolate trip in Costa Rica, I relaxed and breathed through the tube. We enjoyed 90 minutes of fantastic mermaid action with blue gills swimming past our masks. Gorgeous. This is, frankly, a Florida wonder you can’t miss.

Following a tip from Times contributor Kristen Hare’s book “100 Things To Do In Tampa Bay Before You Die,” we ate a huge country lunch at The Ivy House. So good. I asked for the secret ingredient in the stewed tomatoes. Ritz biscuits.

TIPS: Get a waterproof phone cover for epic photos, or at least some blurry footage of a turtle.

Sunflower picking at Cannon Farms

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

I start with the bad news: This stop is closed for the season. However, it is worth noting for next year, when you still mentally need to go through a flower field.

We drove past the commercial business Cannon Farms and were told that it is open to the public in parts of May and June. It’s $ 5 to walk the fields with sunflowers and zinnias, take pictures and cut a sunflower. Prices for filling a plastic cup or bucket are going up.

These were real bucolic things, a calm end to all the harrowing bodies of water. We bought a yellow watermelon and a jar of peach jam, rested and ready to return to William P. Hulu.

TIPS: Do you like corn? Corn seems to be the hottest farm item, but it is not always available. Follow the farm’s Facebook page for updates on corn supplies. Do not say I did not take you. I’m so sorry.

Get Stephanie’s newsletter

For weekly bonus content and a look at columns by Stephanie Hayes, sign up for the free Stephinitely newsletter.

Related: Read more columns by Stephanie Hayes