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The outstanding feature of the 625 acre park is the spring, overlooking beautiful Spring Garden Run, producing 19 million gallons of water a day at 72 degrees year-round. The swimming area is accessible by stairs, ramp and a swimmer lift. Lifeguards are provided during the summer months only and pets are not allowed in or near the swimming area. SCUBA Diving is limited to classes by certified instructors only. Snorkeling is a popular activity, but access into the cave is prohibited.
If you prefer to stay above the water, canoes, paddleboats and kayaks may be rented from the park's concession. The park's paddling trail provides access to the 22,000 acre Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, with lakes, creeks and marshes to explore. The free boat ramp, with dock, can accommodate boats up to about 20 feet, with the St. Johns River a distance of about 10 miles. Fishing is excellent in the spring run from the shore or the fishing dock. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required for visitors between 16 and 65 years of age. Bow fishing is permitted in the park's section of the spring run between sunset and 8 a.m. Birding is great, and the park is on the Great Florida Birding Trail.
Picnic tables, grills and a playground are available under the grand live oak trees, with four pavilions available for rent. Two additional pavilions are free, first-come, first served. All are near the spring and restrooms. Visitors can hike the 4.2 mile Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail or take a leisurely stroll on the one-half mile paved Nature Trail to see the 600 year-old cypress tree. The Butterfly Garden has about 500 plants for the benefit of resident and migrating butterflies and hummingbirds. The park offers interpretation of its cultural and natural history through kiosks and signs throughout the park and exhibits in the Visitor Center. Park Ranger programs, covering a variety of topics, are offered during the Fall and Winter months.
The popular Sugar Mill Restaurant, located in a 100 year-old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill, features cook-your-own pancakes at the table and freshly made bread and cookies. Books and gift items are also available. The Fountain of Youth Eco/Heritage boat tour aboard the M/V Acuera, departing four times daily, is a 50 minute trip through Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, where alligators and birds abound.
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Native people known as the Mayaca lived here for at least 6,000 years. Pedro Menendez, the founder of St. Augustine in 1565, first described the Mayaca after an encounter with them several miles north near Lake George, in 1566. In the late 1500s, Spanish missions were established in the area.
England took possession of Florida from 1763 to 1783, but did not occupy this area. Spain regained control in 1783 and land grants were given to U.S. citizens, starting with William Williams, who had 2020 acres here, along with the first enslaved Africans. He named his property Spring Garden Plantation.
Subsequent owners further developed the plantation, planting cotton and sugarcane. John James Audubon visited the plantation in 1832, exploring the waterways and painting the limpkin.
The first water-powered sugar mill in Florida was built here in 1832--some of the brickwork and machinery is preserved behind the restaurant. In 1835, Seminoles attacked the plantation, destroying the mill and stealing slaves and cattle. Troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor finally drove the Seminoles out two years later. The mill was rebuilt in 1849 and continued to produce cotton and sugar, with up to 100 slaves performing the work. During the Civil War, in April, 1864, Union troops, upon hearing the owner was providing supplies to the Confederate Army, destroyed the plantation. This was known as Birney's Raid.
By the late 1800s, Spring Garden became a tourist destination with a steamboat and the railroad providing transportation to the area. To attract tourists, local residents changed the name from Spring Garden to Ponce de Leon Springs and referred to the spring as the Fountain of Youth. The Ponce de Leon Springs Hotel and Casino was built in 1925 (Casino refers to a large room for events and dining, not gambling). With only 14 rooms, it catered to the wealthier northern visitors. The property became one of over one hundred roadside attractions in the state when it opened as Ponce de Leon Springs in 1953. It featured tropical gardens, a jungle cruise, tram tour, and a water skiing elephant! Interstate highways and air travel combined to cause the attraction to close after about 16 years. The property was then operated as a private recreational park until 1982, when the State of Florida and Volusia County purchased 55 acres that became De Leon Springs State Park. Additional land purchased to protect the spring resulted in the park's current size of 625 acres.
Getting Involved Opportunities:
Opportunities for volunteering are plentiful and varied - park interpretation, exotic plant removal, preserving historic structures and artifacts, office and clerical work, trail maintenance, mowing and landscaping, carpentry, plumbing, fund raising, events... We have something for everyone! The park also offers two sites for work campers to spend up to four months living in the park while volunteering 25-30 hours per week. Contact the park to get started.
8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year.
The Sugar Mill Restaurant is open everday except Thanksgiving and Christmas, from 9:00 to 5:00 on weekdays and 8:00-5:00 on weekends and holidays, serving until 4:00.
The park is located about 6 miles north of Deland. From I-4, take Exits 114 or 118 west to US 17 then north to the town of De Leon Springs. Turn left on Ponce de Leon Blvd. and proceed 3/4 mile to the entrance. From Ocala and I-75, take SR 40 east to US 17 in Barberville then south 7 miles. Turn right on Ponce de Leon Blvd.
$6 per vehicle: 2-8 people
$4.00 per vehicle: one person only
$4.00 per motorcycle
$2.00 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists and extra passengers
Pavilions 1 & 2 are $75.00 plus tax. Each seats 50-60 people, has a large grill, water, and electricity.
Pavilions 3 & 4 are $45.00 plus tax. Each seats 40-50 people, has a large grill and water but no electricity.
Divers - Instructional diving only. Instructors must have a dive permit, which is $200 plus tax. Students pay the park entrance fee.