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Ichetucknee Springs, Florida's Hidden Wonder

Ichetucknee Springs really rates in a list of cool Florida vacation spots, and it's a place that few people seem to know about.

Imagine a crystal-clear river, slowly meandering underneath shady trees and blue skies. You're sitting on an inner tube, or floating in a small raft, just enjoying the water, trees and sun. You'll float for a couple-three hours, letting the cares of everyday living just dissolve away.

Sounds like a dream, right? Well it's not! Such a place really does exist, and its name is Ichetucknee Springs! It's a gorgeous park in North Florida, little-known except by the students at nearby University of Florida in Gainesville and Florida State students in Tallahassee.

If you like rivers and springs, along with the great Florida outdoors, you'lll like Ichetucknee Springs, too. Some of the things you can do at Ichetucknee are:

  • Tubing
  • Ichetucknee Springs, Florida -- The Blue HoleCanoeing
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Swimming/Snorkeling

Tubing the River

We'll start out with the one that is nearest and dearest to my heart - tubing. Picture a great big inner tube and then picture yourself on it, floating down the spring-fed river. Green tree branches form a canopy overhead, and when they break apart, sunshine cascades over you. The waters are on the chilly side at around 70 degrees but on a hot summer day it's so refreshing.

There are two entrances for tubing - the north and south entrances. The south entrance is open year-around, while the north entrance is only open May to September. The float time from the south entrance to the last take-out point is roughly 1.5 hours. The float time from the north entrance to the last take out is about 3.5 hours. If you want to float the entire river, arrive early! Only 750 people are allowed to tube from the north entrance per day.

Tube rental prices vary based on the kind of tube you choose, but figure around $5 per tube as the average. You'll have to rent the tube outside the park -- none are available inside.

Just to let you know, Ichetucknee Springs is a popular place with the college crowds from University of Florida in Gainesville. Weekends in the summer are guaranteed to be crowded, so go during the week to have a better chance of getting into the north entrance.

One more note about the North Entrance. During the Summer, there is a tram that takes people from the parking lot at the south take-out area to the north entrance. However, here's what happens. You drop everyone off at the North entrance (along with all the tubes, etc.) and drive to the parking lot. From there, the tram takes you back to the North entrance.

Canoeing - All Aboard!

Like the thought of floating down the river but don't want to really get wet? Try canoeing the Ichetucknee.

You can either bring your own canoe, or you can rent one in the park. The canoe launch is from the north entrance, and it's about a 2 hour trip down to the take-out.

If you are canoeing off-season (after Labor Day, before Memorial Day) and you brought your own canoe, you'll need to make arrangements to get your canoe from the take out back to your vehicle. (You can try a canoe outfitter near the river.)

May through the beginning of September, park shuttles are available to transport you and your canoe back to the parking area, but you'll want to make a reservation in advance.

Hint: During the season, your best canoeing can be done on weekdays, when it's less crowded.

Canoe rentals vary in cost, but $15/person is an average price.

Picnicking - What Did Ya Bring?

I think it's time to eat now, and since picnicking is allowed at the park...what did ya bring me? There are picnic areas at both the north and south entrances, with tables and
grills. There are also some pavilions available, that is when they haven't been reserved ahead of time. Kick back, relax, do some noshing and then take a quick nap in the sun.

Ichetucknee Springs, Blue Hole TrailHiking - Walk on the Wild Side

Now that you have eaten you can hit the hiking trails and walk off some of that lunch. There are three trails in the park, and they are all located at the north entrance. The trails vary from mile to 2 miles each. Check with the ranger office to see if there is a guided walk available. The three trails are:

  • Blue Hole Trail: A half mile walk through the Ichetucknee forest and cypress flood plain, which leads to the largest spring in the park (naturally called the Blue Hole). One-half mile in length each way.

  • Trestle Point Trail: Winds along the crystal clear spring waters of the Ichetucknee river. Just about mile in length.

  • Pine Ridge Trail: A frequently overlooked area of the park is the sandhill, with its towering longleaf pine and wide open vistas. Two miles in length.
Swimming and Snorkeling - Cool, Clean Fun

So, did you work up a sweat hiking? Cool off with a quick dip in the main spring, called Blue Hole, located at the north entrance. The depth ranges from about 2-1/2 feet to over 16 feet. The water is crystal-clear in Blue Hole, and the spring is quite large. If you are not a strong swimmer, though, do not try to swim over to the main spring unless you have a tube or raft of some sort -- the current is powerful!

Blue Hole is not connected to the river, so you cannot tube to it -- you must hike the Blue Hole Trail to get to it. The trail is nice, though, and not difficult.

One of the neat things to do at the Blue Hole is go snorkeling! It is totally amazing to see the spring from an underwater perspective. Once again, though, please be careful of the current.

Camping

Nope, no campgrounds inside the park. Don't despair though - there are campgrounds close by.

Your best bet for a really great campground is O'Leno State Park, located in High Springs. Because it's a Florida State Park, it's well-kept and there are other outdoorsy things to do. There are 61 sites with water and electricity. It's not terribly far away -- around 12 miles or so.

If you'd rather stay close, try Ichetucknee Springs Campground, near the springs, but off towards I-75. It's a much smaller campground, but location, location, location! For more information, contact them at (368) 497-2285.

If you're looking for a motel, head towards I-10 for the closest ones .

Time and Place

The park opens at 8:00 AM, 7 days a week, year 'round.

From Jacksonville: Take 10 west to US 90 exit, follow 90 to Lake City to 41 south, follow 41 south to SR 47 south, follow park signs.

From Tallahassee: Take US 27 south and follow signs, or take I-10 east to I-75 south to exit #423 (old exit #81), take SR 47 south, follow park signs.

From Gainesville: Take US 441 north to High Springs, US 27 north to Fort White and follow signs, or take I-75 north to exit #399 (old exit #78), take US 441 north to High Springs, US 27 north to Fort White, and follow signs.

Florida Pieces-Parts

Ichetucknee Springs is located near Fort White, Florida in the northern part of the state. The closest cities with large or medium-sized airports are Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tallahassee.

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