The head springs at Ichetucknee Springs State Park.

The Sarasota County school system defined last Friday as a "professional day," which means, of course, that teachers and prinicpals were out partying all day and night. (I kid, I kid.) Taking advantage of the chance for a three-day weekend, my wife and I requested a day off from work and booked a small cabin in Fort White, about 45 minutes northwest of Gainesville, that was a perfect home base from which to explore central Florida's stunning natural springs.

At first, I wasn't sure how great the swimming and tubing would be. The temperature of springs in central Florida hovers around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Perfectly refreshing on a hot summer day, but would they be too cold in the fall, when the humidity has dropped?

My worries were groundless. Even in October, a dip in cool, clear spring water was exactly what my body needed, and there's even an advantage to going now, because the springs were, for the most part, deserted.

We started at the justly famous Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where we rented tubes and floated the river multiple times before plunging into the bowl-shaped spring at the head of the system. Was I shivering when I got out? Yep. But sitting in the sun, wrapped in a warm towel, I felt like a new person.

There are plenty of other springs at state parks in the area, but you can also find a number of smaller county-operated swimming holes. We discovered Little River Springs in Suwanee County last year, but it is currently closed because of high water, so we dipped over to Royal Springs, near the town of O'Brien, instead. Essentially one big, deep swimming hole, Royal Springs boasts an elevated platform that's perfect for daring leaps. Be sure to practice your primal scream on your way down.

Over at Poe Springs Park in Alachua County, it's not deep enough to jump in, but you'll still find unreal crystal-clear water at a spring that feeds into the Santa Fe River. My sons floated, swam and raced, and before we drove home, they were drenched, exhausted and grinning.

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