Way down yonder of the Ichetucknee…
Yea, I know, those aren’t the words. The song’s about the Chattahoochee, not the Ichetucknee (although they don’t sound that different). But rolling down the slow current in a tube, we couldn’t help but recall Alan Jackson’s ode to a meandering southern river.
Except the Ichetucknee water ain’t muddy like the Chattachoochee.
Florida is well known for beaches, Disney and general dysfunction, but the state is also full of an awesome natural phenomenon — freshwater springs. Like the nine named springs that feed the Ichetucknee River, which is pristine, cold (72 degrees year-round) and fully in a Florida State Park that bears its name (Ichetucknee Springs State Park).
Numbers vary, but there are estimates of 700-1000 springs spread around the state. The porous nature of the limestone that lies beneath the ground allows water from the aquifer to flow to the surface.
Ichetucknee Springs is one of the more popular springs in north central Florida. The state limits the number of visitors that can tube — which is the main attraction — each day, varying from 750 people launching off the north end, to 2,250 from Midpoint. Top to bottom of the accessible part of the river, it’s about three hours. Midpoint is, as you may imagine, midway, and takes about an hour and a half. There’s also a 45-minute ride from Dampier’s Landing, which allows unlimited people to launch.
If we were going to make the 90-minute trek from Jacksonville, I wanted to be able to enjoy the full length of the river. So we woke up at 5:30 am with the goal of leaving by 6:30. That would put us at the gate by 8am, when the park opens. I read online in my extensive research that the north end often fills up before 9am because of the limit and I didn’t want to chance it.
Of course, we ran behind, like we always do, and didn’t get out of the door ’til 7am. We got to the entrance by 8:30 am, which seemed like a miracle since we stopped to get gas and then to rent tubes from one of the operations on the side of the road outside the park. There was no line, so we quickly paid (at $5 per person, it was very reasonable for the two of us), unpacked the car and by 8:45, Joel headed down to the south end to park the car and take the van back up (otherwise you’re STRANDED AND ITS A SEVEN MILE WALK BACK, according to the flyer they gave us). I waited with the tubes while mosquitoes feasted on me. Luckily Joel was back by 9:20ish and we quickly got started with the adventure.
We floated in and out of tubers, got stuck in a few tall sections of river grass (well, I did) and mostly just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. Turtles sunned themselves on downed trees, while schools of fish swam beneath us. Tall cypress trees lined the banks. The water was clear enough to see straight down to the bottom. It was absolutely beautiful and serene (it would have been more serene without all of the people — most were fine but a few large groups got a little rowdy).
After we finished, we had some lunch and then headed back to the north end to check out the springs. Just a few feet from the parking lot is the head spring, which creates the northern end of the river. It’s about 6-7 deep in most sections and a lovely blue hue. More blue than the next spring we checked out, Blue Hole Spring. That one is a quarter of a mile walk to get to, deeper than Ichetucknee Spring and has a pretty strong current that can tire you out quickly. At that point we were exhausted so we headed home.
We recently got a GoPro (thanks to my mother-in-law!) so we tested it out. We definitely need some practice (and a way to prevent fogging!).