The saying “Floridians live where everyone else vacations” proves true time and time again, but not just with the stereotypical “tropical paradise.” The state of Florida is home to over 900 freshwater springs. Still, many overlook the fact that we are so fortunate to live in an area surrounded by such beautiful environments, most of which are an hour drive from Greater Gainesville.
Just down the road from High Springs, this shallow-water spring pumps about 45 million gallons of water each day. Its depth is ideal for families with children. Families can also enjoy the kayaking, wildlife viewing, picnic areas, playgrounds, hiking trails, soccer, volleyball courts and softball fields available at Poe Springs. Typically not crowded, the spring is known for being peaceful and relaxing. The basin is accessible from both the Santa Fe River and a boardwalk near the parking lot. As the spring is in Alachua County, it takes less than an hour to get there from Gainesville. This park also has no entrance fee and is open Thursday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Famous for tubing and wildlife, Itchetucknee Springs State Park has eight major springs and remains a cool 72 F year-round, making it the perfect stop for a hot summer day. Tubing, snorkeling and diving equipment can be purchased or rented from private vendors in Fort White, which is only a few miles outside the park. The Itchetucknee River runs 6 miles and flows into the Santa Fe River, which ultimately leads to the Suwannee River. Most visitors find turtles, egrets, otters and turkeys around the river and, occasionally, the well-known alligator. The Itchetucknee River is good for tubing, swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, wildlife viewing and picnicking. It also allows dogs. The park entrance fee is $6 and is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. until sundown.
Located about 7 miles northwest of High Springs and south of the famous Santa Fe River, Ginnie Springs is most popular among divers. The spring offers both open water and cave diving, but its cave system is not the only attractive quality of Ginnie Springs. The area is privately operated and has picnic areas, a children’s playground, volleyball courts, campgrounds, kayaks and more. The hours vary but can be found on their website: ginniespringsoutdoors.com.
Rainbow springs proves true to the title with its scenic water. The fourth largest spring in Florida, this state park is located in Dunnellon. Visitors can snorkel, tube, kayak, hike, view wildlife and gardens, camp and picnic. The spring is shallow, but the crystal clear water flows over vibrant plants, limestone and sand. Entrance fees vary but are found on the Florida state park website. The park is open every day of the year from 8 a.m. until sundown.
Located in the Ocala National Forest, this 7-mile creek flows through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area before joining Lake George. While canoeing and kayaking are extremely popular, there is also a 1-mile hiking trail from Juniper Springs to Fern Hammock Springs. Other available activities include camping, wildlife viewing, swimming and picnicking. Constructed in the 1930s, this recreational area is one of the oldest and best known on the East Coast. The hours are generally from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and entrance fees can be found on their website: juniper-springs.com.
Photography by John Sloan and Staff