Ichetucknee Springs, Florida's Hidden Wonder
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 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?
canoeing the Ichetucknee.
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
Hiking - 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 ½ mile to 2 miles each. Check with the ranger office to see if there is a guided walk available. The three trails are:
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.
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.
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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