Ichetucknee Springs State Park | 12087 S.W. U.S. Highway 27, Fort White | floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/ichetucknee-springs-state-park
Until 1970, the 2,200 acres around the Ichetucknee River, just four miles northwest of the tiny town of Fort White, were owned by the Loncala Phosphate Corporation. The state of Florida bought the land for $1.85 million, turning what would have been a polluted phosphate mine into the crown jewel of Florida’s springs.
Today, Ichetucknee is the nature lover's tubing experience. In every direction, all you see is nature’s abundance, and it’s easy to imagine that for thousands of years this river fed and slaked the indigenous peoples along its banks. Thankfully, the park is strict about protecting this pristine place, so you’re not allowed to bring any disposable goods on the water except for a reusable water bottle.
The river, shallow enough to stand in some places, has a strong current. The water is cold, but after the initial temperature shock your body acclimates. And once you scramble up on the tube, the feeling of sun on cool skin feels sublime. As you meander along, the river widens and narrows under hammocks and through marshes before joining the Santa Fe River.
Both banks are walled off by thick cypress and oak trees. One enterprising oak tree has grown horizontally across the river, its roots clinging to the river bank while its trunk hovers inches above the water. More than a dozen turtles clamber atop one another for access to the best sunning spots. Below, the riverbed is carpeted with grass. Open your eyes underwater and the scene appears as dreamy as an impressionist painting. Fearless fish came by to inspect my underwater spying. At times, stretches of the spring are so wide and long, and the river so quiet, that you’ll feel like a solitary traveler, nodding off from the water’s gentle caress while all your cares float away behind you.
6 miles; about a 3 ½- to 4-hour float (although there is a dock in the middle if you want to do a shorter run)
$6 admission per person plus $5.50 for the tram to the midpoint launch, $7.50 for the shuttle to the northern entrance. Tube rentals range from $5 to $20, but you can bring your own tubes.
Distance from Sarasota
Approximately 3 hours
Gallons flowing per day
Starting on Labor Day, the northern launch point of the park is closed in order to allow the area to regenerate; use the southern entrance.