Fanning Springs State Park
Fanning Springs State Park has one of Florida's natural treasures -- this Florida State Park boasts a first-magnitude spring. There are only 33 of them in the entire state, so it's a pretty cool thing.
Think about it -- 65 million gallons or more of fresh, sweet, crystal-clear water comes bubbling up every day of the year. Fanning Springs State Park encompasses 200 acres of natural Florida, so the spring itself isn't the only thing to enjoy.
Way Down Upon the Suwannee River
Fanning Springs State Park isn't very well known, probably because it's in a relatively un-visited portion of the state. That's kind of a shame, because it does have a lot to offer.
Fanning Springs is right next to a big loop of the Suwannee River, so not only is there the springs to enjoy, but the river as well. And to make it even more fun, you can boat on up to the park from the river side.
But you know, maybe it's not such a bad thing, that Fanning Springs State Park isn't that widely known. It means when you go there you don't feel like you are at one of the Orlando attractions.
You can snorkel and swim, picnic and hike and not feel like a sardine in a can. Relax. This is what Florida is supposed to be all about! A beautiful day outdoors.
Be on the Lookout For...
When I last stopped by Fanning Springs (August 2005), I saw the most interesting lizards and salamander. Naturally, as soon as I went for my camera they scurried off. The salamander was especially noteworthy -- it was practically neon colored! I have never seen anything like it -- the lower half of the body and tail were a glorious magenta that gleamed in the sunlight. So be on the lookout and maybe you'll have better luck with getting him to stay still long enough for a photo.
White-tailed deer and raccoons occasionally make an appearance, and do expect to see squirrels. Some of the birds you might see include woodpeckers, barred owls and red-shouldered hawks. A cardinal peeped on by me too, so keep your eyes open for them.
I hear that manatees sometimes show up in the winter, when the spring water is nice and warm for them. Well, relatively warm that is -- it's about 70 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. If you've never seen a manatee (or a "sea cow" as they are sometimes called), they sure are big and funny-looking! They are also quite fascinating to watch, especially if there is a group of them. But probably they think we're the ones who are funny-looking.
So What Is There To Do at Fanning Springs State Park?
So what else is there to do, outside of swimming and animal/bird watching? How about:
There are some boardwalk trails around the spring that are quite nice. You go back into a cypress swamp, and it really does seem like you've gone back in time. Some of the trees are humongous! Keep a lookout and you'll probably see some pretty big spiderwebs, along with spidey keeping watch for a goodie or two.
Primitive camping is available for a fee, but it's walk, bicycle or canoe up to get it. No cars in the park overnight at this time.
Scuba diving is possible, but there is an extra charge. You'll want to check out the park service for that. You will have to show proof of certification, and you cannot dive alone -- you need to have a scuba buddy.
Want to get wet but don't want to scuba? Bring a snorkel, mask and fins and enjoy the springs that way! No extra charge applies for snorkeling. The spring is only about 12-14 feet at the deepest, so even if you do scuba, you might just want to snorkel instead.
You can bring in your own canoe and/or kayak, or you can rent one from a park concessionaire. Fanning Springs is located just 7 miles north of Manatee Springs State Park on the Suwannee River, so it's a nice paddle. You probably want to call ahead, though, to the park and check if the concessionaires are operating - they weren't when I was there (again, due to the flooding).
As far as picnics and other food goes, there is a concession that operates during times when lots of people are expected in the park. Normally, that is around April/May through August/September. However, when I went the concession was closed because there was no swimming due to the black water. The soda machines did work, so that was good (in my case). I'd say that if you really do want to eat something during your day at Fanning Springs that you bring your own food. There are grills scattered around, so you might get a chance to use of the of them too.
A Notice About Water, Weather and Insects
As always when in natural Florida, be aware of the strong sun, plentiful insects and possible rainshowers. Make sure to bring sunblock, sunglasses and at least have some insect repellent available. When I was last there (August 2005) the mosquitoes were quite manageable without using any repellant, but better safe than miserable.
The Suwannee River snuggles up next to the springs, and when the Suwannee's waters get really high they overflow into the springs. When that happens, there is no swimming permitted; they call it "black water". It's not really black, but it sure isn't the crystal-clear that the spring normally is. If you have your heart set on swimming, please call ahead and see if the springs are open (phone number is in the next section).
Time and Place
Fanning Springs State Park is open year-round from 8 AM to sunset. The entrance and other fees are as follows:
The main entrance to Fanning Springs State Park is on Highway 19 in Fanning Springs, on the west side of the road. Highway 19 is the main north/south road in this part of Florida, and the sign to the park entrance is easy to spot.
To check on what's available as far as swimming, diving, etc. call the park for an update-- the phone number is (352) 463-3420.
Fanning Springs State Park is between Central and North Florida near the Gulf coast. The closest city is Fanning Springs, and the closest airport is Gainesville.
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