Florida Parks

Ichetucknee Springs State Park in North Florida

Ichetucknee Springs State Park is both well known and totally unknown.  To residents of north Florida and the Panhandle, it’s legendary.  But as you go further south in Florida, fewer and fewer people have heard of it.  And by the time you  get to South Florida, people say “what?”.Ichetucknee Springs State Park - Blue Hole

And they don’t know how very much they are missing!

Long lazy tubing down a crystal-clear river.  Picnics in the cooling shade of trees.  Walks on the nature trail.  And testing the waters at the Blue Hole, a first-magnitude spring.

Sound interesting?  Let’s head off to Ichetucknee then.

Where is Ichetucknee Springs State Park?

It’s located in North Florida, near Ft White.  The closest cities of decent size are Jacksonville (to the east), Tallahassee (to the west) and Gainesville (to the south).

  • From Jacksonville: Take 10 west to US 90 exit, follow 90 to Lake City to 41 south, follow 41 south to SR 47 south, follow park signs.
  • From Tallahassee: Take US 27 south and follow signs, or take I-10 east to I-75 south to exit #423 (old exit #81), take SR 47 south, follow park signs.
  • From Gainesville: Take US 441 north to High Springs, US 27 north to Fort White and follow signs, or take I-75 north to exit #399 (old exit #78), take US 441 north to High Springs, US 27 north to Fort White, and follow signs.

Springs – Tubing, Canoeing and Kayaking

Ichetuknee SpringsHands down, the most popular activity is taking a tube ride down the river.  “Tube” loosely refers to both inner tubes and rafts (depending on how wet you want to get).

If you’ve never done tubing, picture strolling to the launch area with inner tube in hand.  Sit down on it, get comfy and push off and let the current carry you down the river.

The water is spring water, so it’s naturally crystal-clear and you can see the fish and the grasses and the like if you look down.

Looking up, you see the trees that bend their branches over the river and sunshine.  Blue skies or puffy clouds, either way makes for a wonderful ride.

And it is quite a ride, too — it takes anywhere between 1.5 and 3.5 hours to ride down the Ichetucknee, depending on which entrance you’re starting from.

Note:  You cannot rent tubes inside the park — you must bring them in from outside.  There are a lot of tube rental places by the side of the road leading up to the park, though, so it’s really easy to get one.

However, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, you can rent a canoe inside the park.  Outside of those months, you will have to bring your own canoe if that is what you’d like to do.  And something else to note:  outside of the summer season, if you wish to launch a canoe or kayak from the north entrance, it must be Coast Guard certified.

And just one more thing about the summer — there is a tram service that goes between the parking area and the springs.  Off-season, there is no tram — you have to make your own arrangements for getting yourself and tube/boat back to where you need.

Take a Hike

Boardwalk at Ichetuknee SpringsThere are some nature trails you can hike down, but the best one leads to the Blue Hole (about 1/2 mile).  This is a magnificent spring (photo at the top of this post) that pours its water into a little lagoon-ish area.

However, there are two other trails as well:

  • Trestle Point Trail:  Around 3/4 of a mile long, this follows beside the river.
  • Pine Ridge Trail: This features a sandhill ecosystem, with its towering longleaf pine and wide open vistas. This trail is around 2 miles long.

Note:  all three of these trails are at the north entrance.

One Park – Two Entrances

There are two entrances to the park — north and south.

The north entrance is open for tubing from May through September, and if you tube down it, you’ll have a lazy 3 to 4 hour trip.

From the south entrances (which is open all year long for tubing), the trip downriver is around an hour and a half.

During the summer months (and especially weekends in the summer), this is a very popular park.  If you show up late morning or early afternoon you may find the park closed at the north entrance.  They do this to help protect and preserve this wonderful piece of natural Florida.

Other Things to Do at Ichetucknee Springs

Of course you can picnic, but you can also camp in the adjacent campgrounds.  There is a food concession at the south entrance, but no food concession at the north entrance.

You can swim in the springs, but only experiences swimmers should go into Blue Hole, because of the extremely strong current.

You can also scuba dive in Blue Hole if you are cave-certified.

That’s it for now.  Hope you get to go to Ichetucknee Springs, even if it’s only to see something truly amazing!

A Visit to Florida Caverns State Park

Florida Caverns State Park is certainly a different view of the Sunshine State!  After all, most people associate caves with Virginia, Kentucky or the desert Southwest.  Nevertheless, Florida does have caves — you just need to know where to find them!

And in the Panhandle, that somewhere is a place called Florida Caverns State Park.  It’s the only place in the state that has public cave tours.

David and I ventured into this hobbit hole a couple of years back, and I’ve got photos to share with you.

Where Are the Caves?

Florida Caverns is located in the Panhandle off of US 90, near a town called Marianna.  Roughly an hour to hour and a half from Pensacola or the Destin area, it’s well worth a trip.  The park (and the approach to the park) is well marked with signs.  The actual park address is 3345 Caverns Road, Marianna, Florida 32446.

Although it’s not a huge set of caves like you might find further north, they are pretty decently sized.

The cave tours are lead by the park rangers, and there is a fee to help with the upkeep.  If you have your heart set on a tour on a particular day, your best bet is to contact the park and make sure they will be offering tours that day — days and hours change throughout the year.

Now just a word of warning.  If you are physically challenged with walking, this is not the tour for you.  While you might be able to get by if you just need a cane for minor support, you definitely won’t be able to use a walker or wheelchair.  By the same token, baby strollers won’t work either.

The reason?  There are parts of the tour where you have to bend over to make it through a passage, and the ground can be uneven and slippery at times.

Oh, and while it’s usually dry enough to avoid water, be aware that you might run into muddy spots on the tour.  Do not wear shoes that can’t handle a bit of mud!

Photos of Florida Caverns State Park

I was trying to come up with just a few photos for this post, then realized that you probably wanted to see more than a couple.  So, I’ve put together this slideshow for you, so you can see what the caverns look like.  Hope you enjoy it!

Everglades National Park – Royal Palm Entrance

Everglades National Park in South Florida has three entrances — near Chokoloskee, Shark Valley and the Royal Palm entrance near Homestead.  This post talks about (and shows photos of) the Royal Palm area.

(There will be other posts for the other entrances.)

The Florida Everglades

The park is big — it takes up pretty much the entire tip of South Florida.  But if you want to think of the Everglades as a whole, you’ll have to think of everything south of Lake Okeechobee!  However, a lot of that total area has been taken over by commercial farms, roads, cities — you get the idea.  What’s left is an outlier, but what an amazing place it is!

Inland, the Everglades is mostly a sea of grass, with little islands of trees (called “hammocks”)  here and there.  Near the coast, though, there is grass, hammocks, canals, canoe trails, ponds and of course Florida Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The ‘Glades (as we in South Florida seem to call it) is the third largest National Park in the lower 48 states, with roughly 1.5 million acres.  It’s also the only subtropical National Park.

Entering the Park

To get to the Royal Palm entrance, head south of Miami on 997 (Krome Avenue) or US 1.  You’ll connect up with 9336, which leads to the park entrance.  (Not to worry, it’s well-marked.)

Just so you know, there is a fee for entering the park.

Once in the park, you’ll see the Royal Palm visitor center on your right.

The photo to the right is one of the two trails at the visitor center – the Gumbo Limbo Trail, named for the tree that practically defines the hardwood hammocks.

The gumbo limbo is often called the “tourist tree” because it’s bark is reddish and the top layer peels off….much like a sunburn on people!

There’s a gift shop, snack stand, restrooms and such at the visitor center.  But this is just the start of the ‘Glades.

Deeper into the Everglades National Park, Royal Palm Entrance

Get back in/on your vehicle and travel west, farther into the park.  There are quite a few turn-offs on the road, going to various trails, both foot and canoe.  Although there are more than I have listed, some of the most well-known are:

  • Long Pine Key — Foot trail and camping
  • Pa-hay-okee Overlook — this is where you can start to imagine the immense sea of grass that is the Everglades.
  • Paurotis Pond — This is a small area that is known primarily for bird-watching.  The photo you see to the right is a photo taken at this area — one bird floating, the other “end up” looking for underwater munchies.
  • Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail — Self-explanatory, LOL.  🙂
  • Hells Bay Canoe Trail — again, self-explanatory.
  • West Lake — a nice canoe trail, but there are also restrooms, a boat ramp and a short self-guided nature trail.
  • Snake Bight Trail — this one is for foot traffic.

This brings you down to Flamingo, and the visitor center here.  It’s the “end of the road” for most people.  Well, it’s the end of the paved road in any case.

Flamingo Visitor Center

Here’s where you see another view of the Everglades — the view out into Florida Bay.  This is a popular boating area, for both paddle-powered and motor, and it does have a ramp.  When David and I were there in early April, there was a tour boat; I don’t know if it’s there all year around, because of something that is the bane of everyone’s existence in the summer (mosquitoes).

At the visitor center, there are restrooms, a small restaurant, lookout areas, gift shop and a small self-guided museum of sorts.  Camping is available in Flamingo, but probably only in the winter months — again, because of the summer mosquitoes.

The photo is from the visitor center, looking out into Florida Bay.  I took a photo that included some mangrove islands, because otherwise, its just water and sky!

At the center there was also a pair of osprey nesting atop one of the antennae above the building.  The photo isn’t great, but we saw the birds flying nearby as well.

There are some telescope/binoculars at the center, and you can see out into the bay.  There was a sandbar when we were there, with lots of birds resting or walking around on it — you can see them well through the telescope/binoculars.

This has been a long post, so I will leave you with a few more photos, and look forward to seeing you at the post for the Shark River entrance!