We had a busy summer, but we wanted to squeeze one more trip in before school started for our ninth grader and college freshman. We wanted a short drive, and a destination that didn’t cost a lot. Also, we wanted a destination that my parents would enjoy, so we decided on Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
Fort White is the nearest city to the park. It is about a five-hour drive from Naples, where we live, and isn’t too far from the Florida/ Georgia line. The springs are in the middle of the state, so there is no quick drive to the Atlantic or Gulf of Mexico beaches.
Ichetucknee Springs is a 2,241 acre Florida State Park and National Natural Landmark. The six-mile stretch of the Ichetucknee River is fed by seven natural springs which rise to the surface from the aquifer. What does this mean? Well, the water is crystal clear, and very cold. The river’s year round temperature is 72 degrees.
The entrance fees to the park are $6 per vehicle, 2-8 people, $4 single occupant vehicle, $4 motorcycle fee, 1-2 people, and $2 for pedestrians and bicyclist. The tram service is $5 per person.
First Things First
We moved to Florida from the Chicagoland area one year ago. The one thing almost all transplanted Chicagoans miss is Portillo’s, an American restaurant chain serving hot dogs, Italian Beef, sausage, etc. It is so good that my sweet in-laws mailed Italian beef from Portillo’s to us for Christmas. How sweet!
We knew Portillo’s recently built a restaurant in Tampa, so we had to make it one or our stops.
We stayed at the Home2 Suites by Hilton, in Lake City. We chose this hotel based on its ratings, so it wasn’t the closest hotel. Actually, it was about 30 minutes away from the springs. We were glad we stayed there because it was well-appointed with a separate t.v. area, kitchenette, and desk. The beds were very comfortable. Also, there were plenty of amenities close by, such as a variety of restaurants, and STARBUCKS! It isn’t civilization without Starbucks. Is it?
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
When we arrived at the park I was surprised how much the area reminded me of northern Wisconsin. The area is rural with a lot of pine and oak trees. I kept saying “Where are the palm trees?” There were slight hills, and streets named CR105.
We tried to go tubing when we arrived at the park, but they stopped renting tubes at 5:00, however, the park is open 8am until sundown. Our next option was the Blue Hole Spring and Head Spring located at the North park entrance. Both can be accessed from the same parking lot.
Blue Hole Spring
About 1/2 mile from the parking lot, through a trail in the woods, you will find the Blue Hole Spring. The spring forms a round pool that is crystal clear and shines blue in the sunlight. The hole is about forty feet deep, and there is roughly 500 feet of cave at the bottom. It’s a great spot to snorkel, or to scuba, if you are licensed.
I found this image on Pinterest, but there are a lot more amazing pictures to see online.
This was our first experience in the 72 degree water. Let’s just say we did not jump in, but took one step at a time. Brrr!
From the deck, the water looks dark, but that is due to the grasses on the bottom. After we got somewhat acclimated to the water temperature, we did notice how clear the water was.
We had to fight a slight current as we swam to the Blue Hole. It was pretty awesome, but once I saw it, I swam quickly back to the steps. There is just something about being above a forty-foot hole with a current:)
The next stop was at the Head Spring, which was just a short walk from the parking lot. This was my favorite spot. It didn’t have a lot of grasses, so you could see to the bottom. However, it did have a lot of rocks, so you had to be careful. It was fun watching everyone tip toe in, or being encouraged to get in. I just love the pictures from this spring. Amazing!
Tubing the Ichetucknee River
The next day we had rain. No blue sky to be seen. We prayed that the Lord would stop the rain, so our last day wasn’t a bust. The Lord was faithful! By the time we went tubing, the skies cleared, and we had beautiful weather. In fact, we had beautiful weather the rest of the day.
We went to the South main entrance to rent our tubes. My parents decided this was something they could do. Something about not having to get in the water? We rented our tubes at the general store, and took the tram to the north part of the river. We took the 1 3/4 hour float tour.
The park has a variety of tubes, inflatable boats, kayaks, and canoes to rent at the South park entrance. You can also choose a1 3/4 hour tour, like we did, or a 45 minute float time. If you want to save some money, bring your own vessel.
You can launch at the North end with your own tubes. You will need to follow instructions on-line for this option. The float time is about 3 1/2 hours.
We chose two tubes with headrests, and two 3 passenger boats. Realistically, it was a two person boat with room for some gear, like snorkels, snacks, towels, etc.
Mr. V did some research, so he was prepared with rope to tie our tubes together, and a dry bag for towels, snacks, cameras, phones, etc. We bought the dry bags at Walmart.
Our Journey Down the River
The river runs trough woods dappled with Spanish moss, turtles, birds, and more. It was so beautiful! I do have to mention that alligators have been seen there😳. Yes, even in that cold water!
My family decided to get in the water, because it was getting hot. Some snorkeled, while others held on to the floats, and floated down the river.
We all thought the water in the river was warmer than in the springs. However, it was still cold.
I must caution that the river moves at a good pace. There were rocks and logs that you can’t see unless you were snorkeling. I came home with a few bruises, and a ripped swim skirt. One rock was determined to take it off me😳
We did go back to the Head Spring for a little snorkeling, and then headed home. Guess where we stopped on the way back? You guessed it, Portillo’s. This time we left with their famous chocolate cake!
Tell me what you think. Is this a getaway you would like to take, or maybe you have been there before. Let me know. I always enjoy hearing from you!
Where will the next Florida adventure be? We are thinking about taking a trip to the Dry Tortugas National Park or the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo.
Until next time, May your Nest be Blessed!