Forget slimy June grass and sandy feet. Forget your eyes stinging from the saltwater or searching desperately for a parking spot. Instead of heading to the beach, head north and take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear springs.

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In this occasional series, the Daily News offers leisure alternatives to avoid the tourist crush along Emerald Coast beaches.

Forget slimy June grass and sandy feet. Forget your eyes stinging from the saltwater or searching desperately for a parking spot. Instead of heading to the beach, head north and take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear springs.

Just 5 miles apart, Morrison Springs and Ponce de Leon Springs each are unique. Both provide a cool alternative to crowded beaches during the summer.

In Walton County, Morrison Springs is one of the most popular diving spots in Northwest Florida. The sandy-bottomed spring discharges an average of 70-million gallons of water every day — 48 million of which is crystal clear. You can dive into the 250-feet diameter spring pool from the diving platform or take a paddleboard onto the water.

Morrison Springs once was a privately-owned swimming hole, according to the University of Florida Sea Grant Extension. In 2004, the state of Florida purchased the land and springs as part of the Choctawhatchee River floodplain.

"It's always been a very popular spot," said Brad Alford, facilities and park manager for Walton County.

It's definitely popular among divers who come to the spot year-round to explore the underwater caves, the deepest of which is about 300 feet.

There's a whole world underwater, including nocturnal freshwater eels and fish including alligator gar, flounder, bluegill and catfish. You can find numerous YouTube videos from divers who recorded what lies beneath. Divers can even make special arrangements to dive at night, Alford said. The park recently hosted a group of divers who conducted some research.

The park is owned by the state and maintained by Walton County. As a state park, it is regularly checked by the Department of Health for a threshold of bacteria, similar to advisories posted at beach accesses or the coastal dune lakes of South Walton County. Heavy rainfall causes the Choctawhatchee River to back up into the springs, which can increase bacteria levels. Morrison Springs is one of 13 springs that flows into the Choctawhatchee River.

That doesn't mean you're prohibited from swimming, Alford said.

"(Without heavy rainfall) the springs are really clear and pretty," said Louis Svehla, public information officer for Walton County. "And it's probably a little safer than beaches. You don't have to worry about riptides."

Ponce de Leon Springs in Holmes County is a state park with lots of amenities, but of course the biggest draw is the crystal clear 68-degree water. The springs are named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida around 1513. The legend goes that the expedition was to search for the Fountain of Youth.

Explorers didn't find their youth, but they did find a source of refreshing drinking water.

The main spring is a convergence of two underground water flows that produce 14 million gallons daily.

According to the Florida State Parks website, the springs were owned by the Smithgall family in the mid-1920s. During that time, they added amenities to the property such as a restroom with showers, an eatery and even a skating rink. They also added a wooden retaining wall around the spring to prevent erosion.

Today, the park is back to the basics with picnic tables, grills, restrooms and two nature trails. That hasn't stopped locals and visitors from jumping in.

"There's a lot more to do at springs," Svehla said. "Paddleboard down the springs, go snorkeling. And you don't have to worry about freshwater burning your eyes."

Not the Beach Checklist Location: Morrison Springs, 874 Morrison Springs Road. Ponce de Leon Springs, 2860 State Park Road.

Hours: Morrison Springs, dawn to dusk. Ponce de Leon Springs, 8 a.m. to sunset Restrooms: Yes Fees: Morrison Springs, free. Ponce de Leon, $4 per vehicle, $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists What to do: Pack a picnic to enjoy by the picturesque springs. Both parks have have grills. At Morrison Springs, there is a boat and canoe access, which is unique. At Ponce de Leon, you can dry off walking one, or both, of the two nature trails. Rangers offer seasonal guided tours, but you can take a self-guided tour year-round. Bird lovers may enjoy hearing and seeing brown creepers and golden-crowned kinglets. Of course, you'll want to go swimming. Bring your snorkel and look beneath the surface to see the underwater life. Fishing is allowed in certain areas at Ponce de Leon. And don't forget about geocaching when you're exploring new spots. What to pack: Swimsuits should be mandatory, even if you just want to take one dip. Although the parks have plenty of shade, you don't want to skimp on sunscreen. If you have a GoPro or any underwater cameras, make sure to capture some cool footage underwater. Pack your snorkel gear to take advantage of the views. If you want to relax by the water, bring a folding chair or hammock for maximum comfort. You'll want to pack your own snacks and drink since restaurants are not close by. And the Ponce de Leon park fees go by the honor system, so bring exact change. Make it a day: In DeFuniak Springs, you'll want to stop by another neat body of water — Lake DeFuniak. The circular lake is the hub of the city's historic district. Check out the Victorian homes and the historical Chautauqua Center. Nearby is the Walton-DeFuniak Library, which is one of the oldest continuously-operated  libraries in the state. In Ponce De Leon, you may want to visit On the Wild Side Ranch, where you can meet wolves, tigers and other animals born in captivity. 
Websites: For more information about Morrison Springs, visit co.walton.fl.us. For more information about Ponce de Leon Springs, visit floridastateparks.org.