For most people, two things come to mind when "Florida" is mentioned: sunny beaches with swaying palm trees or swampy wilderness filled with alligators.
The city of Dunnellon falls under the second category, but it far surpasses the murky waterways and dangerous wildlife.
It's the home of crystalline springs, wide and gentle rivers, flourishing forests, and other natural attractions.
Nature and wildlife lovers will surely have an unforgettable experience exploring the outdoors of this city—you won't even think that it was once a mining town for phosphate.
There are also a few modern attractions within the city proper and farther out in the rural areas, which perfectly complement the nature tours.
So for your next vacation, why not make this your top choice?
Here are the 15 best things to do in Dunnellon, FL:
Try Birdwatching at Halpata Tastanaki Nature Preserve
Covering 8,146 acres of forests and swamps, Halpata Tastanaki Nature Preserve is a large destination offering a wide range of activities.
This area is teeming with wildlife owing to the diverse habitats within the park, such as floodplains, sandhills, and woodlands.
It's also a historical site, named after Seminole leader Halpata Tastanaki, a chief during the Second Seminole Indian War of the 1800s.
You can go hiking the many trails crisscrossing the park, fishing in the small ponds and streams, camping in designated sites, and horseback riding through the wilderness.
For those who love biology, you're welcome to explore the many plant communities dotting the part, each distinct from the next because of the varying habitats and soil compositions.
Birdwatchers are also encouraged to visit and watch out for the local avian species, including the rare Florida scrub jay.
Dive Into the Waters of Rainbow Springs State Park
There's something quite magical about still, silent, and crystalline blue waters surrounded by tall trees in the middle of nowhere.
That's the ambiance you'd feel when visiting Rainbow Springs State Park, a 1,460-acre attraction on the northern edge of Dunnellon.
While it's not in the middle of nowhere, the park is still relatively isolated and underdeveloped to preserve the pristine forests, and springs found here.
Chief of these springs is Rainbow Spring, the primary source of water for the Rainbow River.
It produces more than 2.3 million gallons of fresh water every day— clear and cool water that creates a glowing blue pool.
This irrigates the surrounding area and helps the forests flourish, resulting in an abundance of wildlife.
So once you're done swimming the pools of Rainbow Spring, explore the trails within the forests to see owls, woodpeckers, deer, and other animals.
Stay Awhile at Rainbow Springs Campground
To preserve the woodlands at Rainbow Springs State Park, the lodging for visitors is in a separate area: the Rainbow Springs Campground.
This spacious place is a destination by itself, surrounded by forests and a segment of Rainbow River on the eastern edge.
With well-maintained grounds, modern amenities, and shady spots, the campground can serve as the home base for your adventures within Dunnellon.
You can bring RVs, pitch a tent, or rent the cabins—whichever you choose, you're guaranteed a convenient and hassle-free stay.
It's also near KP Hole Park, giving you easy access to Rainbow River itself.
Usually, campers bring their own gear and boating equipment, but there are many outfitters near the campground where you can rent what you need.
Cruise the Gentle Currents of the Rainbow River
Rainbow river maintains the same characteristics as its source: pristine waters, tree-lined banks, and a peaceful ambiance.
Many people come here to enjoy water-related adventures, such as river tubing, paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing.
Some businesses even offer specialty rides, such as boats with transparent bottoms, singing river tours, and airboat tours.
And since the water is so clear, you can try snorkeling and spot turtles, otters, fish, and other creatures swimming underneath.
In sections of the river far from human activity, you can try catching blue catfish, largemouth bass, and trout.
There are also trails that run parallel to the river for those who don't want to get wet just yet.
Hiking these paths gives opportunities for wildlife encounters, with animals like gators, herons, and kites basking on the river banks.
Take on the Challenging Withlacoochee State Trail
Withlacoochee State Trail is the longest and most scenic trail in Florida, spanning more than 46 miles.
Starting from Trilby all the way to Citrus Spring, this well-paved route takes you to some of the best manmade and natural attractions in the state.
You can begin at the starting point on Gulf Junction, which sits next to the southern borders of Dunnellon.
Follow the path and reach attractions like Withlacoochee State Forest, Silver Lake Recreation Area, and Croom Wildlife Management Area.
You'll see several cities, rivers, lakes, and many other destinations along the way—it’s a pure Florida experience that any outdoor or biking enthusiast must try.
Go on a Nature Walk at Blue Run of Dunnellon Park
Unlike Chaplin A. Dinkins III Memorial Park, this destination is definitely not for swimming.
It's created more as a kayak and canoe launch point for those who want to travel upstream to Rainbow Springs.
However, the three-acre park also has forest trails and a large pond for nature walks and explorations.
And this pond has the more swampy characteristics typical in Florida, a departure from the clear waters of the adjacent Rainbow River.
There are turtles, waterfowl, frogs, and insects that call this place home, and you can see them feeding and hunting while exploring the edges of the pond.
Board a Kayak at KP Hole Park
This segment of Rainbow River deserves a special mention, as it is one of the top destinations in Dunnellon.
It was established as a retreat during the 1920s, evolving over the years into a local favorite that offers a wide range of activities.
Sitting on a scenic bend of the river and near Rainbow Springs Campgrounds, this park has boat launches, equipment rentals, and many other amenities.
It's also open year-round, so you can visit any time.
One of the best activities here is river tubing, where you can lazily float along the gentle currents downriver.
At the end of your cruise, there's a point where you can be picked up by your tour service back to KP Hole Park or Rainbow Springs Campgrounds.
You can also kayak upstream towards Rainbow Springs, then float back to KP Hole Park for some added fun!
Play a Few Rounds at Juliette Falls Golf Club
Set in the northern Dunnellon, Juliette Falls Golf Course is a favorite golf course for beginners and professionals.
And that's saying something, considering how Florida is home to more than 1300 courses.
It's designed by John Sanford, a celebrated golf architect with more than three decades of experience in the area.
A scenic 18-hole course with a well-planned layout, well-maintained fairways and greens, and hazards that seamlessly blend with the surroundings.
Because of these features, Juliette Falls Golf Club has graced the lists of top golf courses in the country by numerous magazines and award-giving bodies.
Perhaps the most striking feature is the artificial waterfall and pond, which adds an ambiance reminiscent of nearby Rainbow Springs.
Because of the overall beauty and excellent service here, this course has served as a venue for many events and occasions—a testament to its popularity.
Explore the Winding Paths of Withlacoochee River
Dunnellon has no shortage of rivers, and on its southern end, the Withlacoochee River lies waiting for intrepid adventurers.
It's wilder than Rainbow River, with sharp bends, murky waters, and slower currents—it's the more classic Florida river.
So you can expect another kind of scenery here if you join a kayak or canoeing tour.
Along the riverbanks of more isolated segments, you'd find majestic bald cypress trees, fields of water lilies, cattail bushes, and other flora that grow well in slow-moving waters.
Of course, these habitats serve as the home of wildlife, and you can expect more alligators, fish, turtles, and the occasional snake wandering within the vegetation.
It's really far from Rainbow River's relaxing ambiance, making this destination a haven for those who want challenging river adventures.
Have a Fun Family Day at Chaplin A. Dinkins III Memorial Park
If you need to take a break from nature and enjoy a fun family day within the city proper, then head over to Chaplin A. Dinkins III Memorial Park.
It's located right where Withlacoochee River and Rainbow River meet, so there are wonderful views to take in while relaxing here.
In addition, there are many amenities and modern conveniences that make for a hassle-free stay, such as shady picnic grounds, restrooms, and grills.
The playground is also well-equipped with slides, swings, and other play structures so your kids can have fun all day.
Instead of a beach, there is a riverwalk that provides access to fishing and swimming.
So if you're still up for some water-related fun, you're welcome to take a dip in the clear waters near the park.
Gallop Through the Trails of Goethe State Forest
Goethe State Forest is the largest natural attraction in Dunnellon, reaching into other towns and cities near the gulf.
It's also one of the largest parks in the state, donated by James Tillinghast Goethe to the government to help with preservation efforts.
Today, the park remains a sanctuary for many of Florida's flora and fauna, and it's a favorite nesting ground of the rare and endemic red-cockaded woodpecker.
Visitors have tons of activities to choose from: camping, hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and more!
Horseback riding is a popular practice here, as the trails are wide and well-paved enough for a group of horses to race through.
But aside from the occasional hooves thundering through the forests, this park is one of the quietest places in the state.
It's a great place to get far from civilization and commune with nature.
Play With Horses at Grandview Clydesdales
The Clydesdale is a beautiful horse breed known for their stunning bay coats and feathered legs that look like tassels when they walk.
They're actually the perfect show horses, haughtily trotting in parades and showing off their magnificent posture and coloring.
You can get up close and personal with these horses by joining a farm tour at Grandview Clydesdales.
The facility is an award-winning destination recognized for its excellent animals, breeding program, and shows.
So you can expect a world-class experience while you're here.
Join one of their guided tours, where you will learn about this horse breed, see the farm's daily operations, and interact with a few of the horses.
Pick a Ripe Pumpkin at the Pickin' Patch
The Pickin' Patch is a seasonal destination that welcomes kids and adults every October.
It's a fall attraction with hayrides, live Bluegrass music, mazes, and of course, pumpkins that are perfect for picking!
You'd find a great variety of these gourds here, whether you're looking for the classic orange ones for Halloween, bumpy-skinned varieties for autumn decor, or sweet ones for pies.
In addition, you can pick vibrant sunflowers to bring home or give as gifts to loved ones.
And if you want a fall-themed photo shoot for an event or special occasion, the owners allow shooting sessions on their quaint fields for a fee.
Set up Camp at Ross Prairie State Forest
On the easternmost edge of Dunnellon lies another large and important natural attraction: Ross Prairie State Forest.
This 3,532-acre destination is a public conservation land that harbors Florida's native flora and fauna in habitats similar to neighboring Halpata Tastanaki Nature Preserve.
Ross Prairie, the area from which the state forest is named after, is located on the northern edge.
It's a freshwater basin marsh filled with water during the wet season and dry during the summer months, resulting in different plants and animals in each period.
Because of this diversity, the forest has become a hotspot for those who want to see the wildlife of Florida in its most undisturbed form.
You're welcome to explore these habitats, camp at designated sights, and try other activities like fishing and birdwatching.
Ross Prairie State Forest is also a favorite for horseback riding tours, with gentle trails that can accommodate a small group of horses.
Bring Home Souvenirs From Grumbles House Antiques & Garden Shop
Grumbles House Antiques & Garden Shop is a remnant of a time when Dunnellon was still a booming phosphate mining time.
And so fate saw it fitting that this historic home should be turned into an antique shop selling rare and beautiful items.
That's what the owners did after acquiring the home in 1996, and it now stands as a favorite for locals and visitors looking for unique trinkets.
From the wonderful to the odd, you'd find a wide range of home decor, furniture, dining implements, jewelry, and artworks here.
There are also gardening supplies and plants grown by the owners themselves.
It's probably one of the best places in town to find a memorabilia of your trip to Dunnellon.
The appeal of Dunnellon is as clear as the waters of Rainbow Spring.
Everywhere you look, Florida's natural beauty jumps out, from the forests to the rivers, from the golf courses to the pumpkin fields.
So if you want low-key adventures into the state's most undisturbed wonders, make this city your top destination.