Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
If you're looking for a great place to cool off try Morrison Springs. A second magnitude natural spring in Walton County, Florida, this popular scuba
diving spot is also great for swimming and picnicking and features year-round water temperatures between 65 and 68 degrees.
For years the privately owned spring was a locally-known swimming hole and the site of a commercial dive operation. Then in 2004, the state of Florida purchased the 161-acre parcel of land and water located in the Choctawhatchee River floodplain, and leased it to the county, which maintains it as a park, free and open to the public.
Morrison Springs is a cool place for a day of family fun, both figuratively and literally. Surrounded by giant cypress trees, the spring pool is over 250 feet in diameter with a sandy beach on one side. The beach is a great place for small children to splash in the water’s edge and dig in the sand, while grown-ups and older kids can swim and snorkel in the crystal clear water. Be aware, there is no lifeguard on duty, so swim at your own risk.
There are a few picnic tables scattered around the park as well as a large pavilion with picnic tables underneath. Grills is available, or you can bring your own, and you can set your chairs and coolers just about anywhere.
Two wheelchair-accessible boardwalks out over the water allow for great views of the beach area and down the spring run toward the boat ramp. Plaques on the railings identify some of the plants and trees, and birds and wildlife can often be seen in the surrounding forest.
Other park amenities include two diving docks, one located at the end of one of the boardwalks and one anchored in the middle of the spring pool. There are also restrooms, showers, and wash stations for dive equipment. Like its neighbor Ponce de Leon Springs State Park about four miles north, this is a day-use only park, so there is no camping.
Boaters can launch from the boat ramp a hundred yards or so away from the swimming area. A road from the parking lot goes around to the ramp where there is separate parking for vehicles with trailers. From the boat ramp, the Choctawhatchee River is less than a mile downstream. Paddlers can launch easily from the boat ramp as well, but there are no take outs until you get to the river, which can be treacherous during times of high water.
Not all scuba diving in Florida takes place in the gulf. With over 700 identified springs, many of them karst or artesian springs rising up from deep within the state’s limestone base, springs diving is popular throughout the state. Morrison Springs is known to have an extensive underwater cave system and exceptional water clarity which makes it a “must dive” for divers from all over the southeast.
The sandy floor slopes from the beach to the center of the pool where three vents, the deepest at about 300 feet, release the flow of water at a rate of 48 million gallons per day, making it a second magnitude natural spring. The spring has been known to produce as much as 70 million gallons a day, which is a first magnitude (64.6 million gallons or more per day).
The water is light blue and crystal clear with a prominent “boil” on the pool surface above the vents. Cave divers report that the water remains clear in the cavern and cave system. A permanently mounted divers’ flag floats on the surface to mark the diving area.
Underwater wildlife is abundant and the spring is known for the many eels that inhabit its caves along with varieties of fish and other creatures. Diving these caves is risky business, setting a challenge for experienced divers, but inexperienced divers should not venture in.
There is no onsite diving equipment rental or air fills. The nearest dive shops are in Panama City Beach, South Walton, and Fort Walton Beach some 35 miles away, so be sure you have everything you need for a safe dive before you arrive.
However, there is a fun place to stop on your way to the park. Just south of Morrison Springs on Highway 81 is the community of Red Bay where you’ll find the Red Bay Grocery, a great place to grab some provisions for the day, homemade ice cream, or a piece of homemade pie.
Whether you’re set for a challenging inland dive, or looking for a great place for a family picnic, Morrison Springs offers a cool alternative as a place to beat the heat.
Morrison Springs Road off CR 181
Lat. 30° 39’ 28.38” N., Long. 85° 54’ 14.18” W
Walton County, FL
Walton County Parks Department
DeFuniak Springs, FL
Hours of Operation:
Open daily, sunrise to sunset
Swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, photography, nature walk/boardwalk, birding, boating, paddling, picnicking
From I-10, take Exit 96 onto Highway 81. Go south for about 6 miles. Turn left onto County Road 181. Go east for 1.5 miles, then turn right onto Morrison Springs Road (there is a sign for the park) and follow to its end.