One could spend all day comparing Florida state parks, especially the ones that include springs, and there several in this state.
But why bother? Why not spend that day lazily going down a spring-fed river or paddling up to the swimmable spring head?
One could do just that at Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
Like many of its fellow sister springs — Weeki Wachee, Rainbow, Rock Springs Run — Ichetucknee is a hidden, turquoise-watered, 72-degrees year-round paradise, and it’s found in the most unlikely of places.
It offers a day’s worth of paddling up its 6 miles, or plenty of time to head down on a tube, similar to the other spring parks mentioned above.
And, like its sister springs, Ichetucknee is definitely Worth The Trip.
As is true for many sites and natural land formations in Florida, this one involves phosphate.
More than 70 years ago, the land now occupied by Ichetucknee Springs State Park was owned by the Loncala Phosphate Company. During the 1950s and ’60s, people discovered tubing, which brought college students from Gainesville to the river and springs as a summer ritual.
In 1970, Loncala sold the property to Florida for the protection of the spring-run ecosystem (and also to the tune of $1.85 million).
After it was cleaned and facilities were built, the river and springs were declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972.
The park contains hardwood hammock and limestone outcrops. Like many rivers in this part of North Florida, the Ichetucknee is fed by natural springs that boil up from the aquifer.
And, that is some of the most gorgeous water visitors will ever see.
Its blue-green currents will zip tubers and paddlers down the river.
The Ichetucknee Springs River, unlike the Weeki Wachee Springs River, has considerably less or no places to wade around.
Weeki Wachee, however, recently put an end to visitors beaching, grounding, mooring or anchoring their watercraft on the shores to prevent deterioration.
At Ichetucknee, expect to see plenty of wildlife, from otters and manatees and turtles, and maybe even an alligator or two.
Of course, you’ll also see typical birds, such as herons and ducks.
And, in the water there will be crayfish, bream, bluegill, largemouth bass, mullet, catfish and several types of minnows.
Blue by you
Ichetucknee Springs State Park offers tubing, paddle-boarding, kayak, snorkeling and scuba diving, so it’s not reinventing the wheel in terms of adventurous activities.
But it offers different views and landscapes than its fellow parks.
For starters, the river is deeper and stronger than Weeki Wachee and Rainbow River, and its shores are larger and taller.
Also, just below the unreachable spring head at Ichetucknee Springs, there’s the Blue Hole, or swimming area, that can be enjoyed by all. It’s roughly the size of a very large pool, but about as deep as an Olympic-style pool. It’s a popular spot for snorkeling.
Near the swimming hole are picnic tables and the Riverside Grill where lunch and snacks are served. Additionally, there are nearly 2 miles of boardwalks and trails surrounding the woodlands in this area.
Visitors have options, in terms of exploring the nine-springs-fed river.
Everyone checks in at the general store/visitor center, and visitors can put in at Dampier’s Landing, which is just a five-minute walk. Here, boarders can go out and paddle up river, while tubers can do a quick float down to the South Takeout.
Both paddlers and tubers can take a tram to the Midpoint Launch. The North End Launch, which is close to the aforementioned Blue Hole and Riverside Grill, is no longer open due to environmental concerns.
Still, visitors can take a nice float down the river, to the end of the state park.
In all, Ichetucknee Springs is worth the trip for the same reasons nearly every other springs in Florida is worth the trip: it’s a free-flowing, watery oasis that should be on the must-see list of every weekend warrior, paddle-boarder, influencer and adventure seeker.
It checks every box that one would want out of a day on the fresh water — from its crystal clear water, to its natural surroundings, wildlife and swimming.
And, like many state park destinations, right here in Florida, nothing else quite compares.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Where: 12087 Southwest U.S. 27, in Fort White
Details: A 2,241-acre Florida State Park and National Natural Landmark featuring a scenic, 6-mile, nine-springs-fed river. The attraction lets visitors experience the natural beauty of its blue-green waterways year-round. The gentle current of a bright turquoise river guides swimmers, tubers and paddle-boarders through shaded hammocks and forests of cypress, maple, oak and pine. Pets are permitted inside Ichetucknee State Park, however, they are not permitted on or near the water. Fishing and camping are not allowed in the park.
Info: Visit Ichetuckneesprings.com, or call 386-497-1500.
Revised August 04, 2023