Florida lays claim to a globally outstanding share of freshwater springs: more than 700 of them to be exact, many situated on the Florida Panhandle. A classic example is Williford Spring right along the border of Washington and Bay counties northwest of Youngstown: a lovely, out-of-the-way spot that makes a popular swimming hole.
Williford Spring is one of the numerous spring complexes that contribute groundwater to the flow of Econfina Creek, which ranks among Florida’s most beautiful streams. That meandering waterway drains southward to the reservoir of Deer Point Lake, the main source of drinking water for Bay County (including Panama City).
The single vent at Williford Spring is located about at the center of the large pool lying at the head of the spring run. The spring’s outflow pulses out from under a limestone ledge situated some 10 or 12 feet under the surface of this beautiful “blue hole.” Other springs feed into the Williford Spring run as it makes a 443-foot course to Econfina Creek.
Releasing more than 16 million gallons of sparkling water per day, Williford Spring is classified as a “second-magnitude” spring. (“First-magnitude” springs are those producing on the order of 65 million gallons per day—some 100 cubic feet of water per second—or better. Florida boasts more than a dozen of those big groundwater gushers!)
The Northwest Florida Water Management District oversees Williford Spring as part of its 41,000-acre Econfina Creek Water Management Area. Swimmers, soakers, and snorkelers can access the pool safely courtesy of steps and handrails, relishing a cooling dip on a hot afternoon.
Around the spring you’ll find a trio of first-come, first-served picnic pavilions, restrooms, and a boardwalk linking the blue hole and Econfina Creek. You can also stroll a hiking trail to reach the nearby Pitt and Sylvan springs. (Birdwatchers will be interested to know that the Pitt & Sylvan Spring Recreation Area—also part of the Econfina Creek WMA—is a designated stop along the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail. In summer, you might spot anything from northern parulas and Kentucky warblers to the magnificent swallow-tailed kite in the vicinity.)
Where the boardwalk meets Econfina Creek, meanwhile, paddlers can launch canoes and kayaks into this stellar stream; boats aren’t allowed in the spring pool, though.
Free to access and open sunrise to sunset, Williford Spring’s a great destination for beating the heat with a little aquatic recreation—and appreciating firsthand the importance of the Florida Panhandle’s freshwater springs in its beautiful watersheds!
-If you’ve got a canoe or kayak, consider combining a soak in Williford Spring with a few hours on the awesome designated paddling trail on Econfina Creek between the Scott Road Bridge and State Road 388. This 24-mile route makes one of the most scenic paddles in all of Florida; its challenging upper 11 miles are only suited to experienced paddlers, but the spring-nourished lower reach is a great option for beginners.