Tubing Florida's Ichetucknee River
Author: Robin Draper
Date: July 12, 2015 7:00 pm
Category: Where to Go
Region: North Central Florida
Location: 12087 SW US 27, Fort White, Florida 32038
If You go
12087 SW US 27, Ft. White, Florida 32038
My feet are dangling in the fresh, cool, clear water as the warm Florida sun radiates to the sandy bottom below. I’m firmly planted in my inner tube and I’m effortlessly drifting down one of Florida’s most beloved rivers, the Ichetucknee.
Fed by aqua translucent springs, I’m guided by the gentle flow that prepares me for the only thing possible: complete relaxation. It’s early morning and I am one of the first to leave the dock for the three-hour “chillaxing” drift downstream. At this very moment, the slow meandering river owns all of me and I'm blissfully “one” with the legendary Ichetucknee.
I’m well into my Zen-like fog when I begin observing the abundance of beauty around me. Shaded by overhanging trees and green luscious foliage, the Ichetucknee’s popular reputation is undeniable and I am reminded why so many love this river. As the summer temperatures rise, the constant 72 degree water becomes one of the best antidotes for escaping Florida's heat and humidity.
Slowly floating through the shaded hammocks and wetlands, I spot egrets, wood storks and ducks, limpkins, ibis and scads of turtles sunning on submerged logs. I watch the beauty of this river as I pass by the marsh river grasses and white lillies, while otters swim beneath me. Nearby, under a canopy of oaks, I see a grazing white tailed deer.
Located in Fort White, northwest of Gainesville, the Ichetucknee Springs (9 total) and River has been a destination for campers, college students and Floridians seeking the delightful experience of floating down the six-mile river before it empties into the Santa Fe. Parents continue to pass along their memories and tales to their children and grandchildren, who come here to carry on this “rite of passage” and family tradition.
Thousands of years ago, early Native Americans used the river and later, the Spanish built the Mission de San Martin de Timucua, which flourished during the 1600s, just one mile from the head spring. Later, during the 1800’s, weary travelers stopped to relax in the cool water while quenching their thirst.
The State of Florida wisely secured over 2,200 acres to develop this popular park and designated it as a National Natural Landmark. From late Memorial Day until Labor Day, the Ichetucknee Springs State Park resembles a bustling summer camp. Visitors camp, hike, picnic, snorkel and tube. Church groups and families raft and tether their tubes down the river. Yet still, in some areas, you will have the river all to yourself. And one thing is certain for all who go – everyone on the river gets to enjoy one of Florida’s most authentic pleasures.
“Getting the Drift” - Tips for enjoying your trip
To thoroughly enjoy the Ichetucknee, here are a few suggestions to maximize your experience: Go early, and if possible, go on a weekday. Holidays and weekends are crowded and the park limits tubing to the first 750. Also, call ahead to the park to check the water conditions. Sometimes the river will be closed if the water is too low (at the start of the season) or too high (especially after a major storm).
If possible, consider arriving the day before your journey. Nearby towns are Ft. White and High Springs. Camping is also popular at nearby local campsites. It’s nice to get an early start to plan your trip before your day on the river.
After you find a place to stay, decide where you will rent your tube (unless you bring your own). There are numerous outfitters outside the state park off SR 238 or 47 and reservations are not required. You’ll pick your tube up the day of your trip.
If you want the full Ichetucknee experience, begin your journey at the north entrance located at the Ichetucknee State Park (there are other points of entry to begin, but I recommend starting here).
Drive to the Ichetucknee State Park, where you will leave your tubes at the designated “drop area.” Park rangers are on hand to watch the tubes and answer questions. (Note that you are not permitted to bring food and/or drinks on the river.)
Once you have left your tube, drive out of the state park (get a map from park ranger) to the south entrance, off Hwy. 27, where you will park your car. A van will return you to the state park where you will begin your journey. At the conclusion of the trip you will reach the final point, where you cannot continue any further. If you would prefer to shorten your trip and depart from Dampiers Landing, the main concession area where your car is located, you can do so. However, it’s worth the final hour trip and the park provides a tram ride back to your car if you complete the journey to the end.
Now, ask yourself: how often do you totally unplug and spend time meandering down one of Florida’s best rivers surrounded by stunning wildlife? Well, it's time to plan this trip and create your own legend. It’s sure to be a memorable and relaxing one.
One More Thing
We all want our springs to remain clear, clean and fun to enjoy, but they are in danger of being further depleted and polluted. For more information on how you can help keep the Ichetucknee and other springs pristine for future generations, refer to the Florida Springs website.
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About the Author: Robin Draper is a Florida native and blogger devoted to the simple and delightful pleasures for Florida living. This article is connected to Robin's Google+ profile.
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