This Underrated Park Has Year-Round Cool, Blue Waters And Is Known For Tubing Adventures

Florida is known for its stellar beaches, but even in hurricane season, there are other places away from the coast where you can still enjoy the water. We're not talking about water parks or even your hotel swimming pool. Some water parks, like the Rapids in South Florida, only operate on a seasonal basis, anyway. Others, such as Disney's Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach in Central Florida, may close for maintenance or get by with water heated to 81 degrees in the winter, making Ichetucknee Springs State Park in North Florida a nice alternative. It's open from 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year, and the water remains a consistent 72 degrees.

The park takes its name from the six-mile-long Ichetucknee River and the eight named springs that feed it (nine, if you count the two in the Mission Springs complex separately). It's located in Columbia County, as part of the "Gateway to Florida" with nearby Lake City. You might find it the gateway to a refreshing outdoor trip as well. After all, this is a place that combines a natural environment with the fun of tubing down a lazy river at a water park.

In the summer, Ichetucknee Springs is a good place to cool off as you take a dip in the clear blue springs and your body adjusts to the temperature. In the winter, you can go canoeing or kayaking down the river (or tubing from the south entrance, if you don't mind the chill).

Tubing down the river in Ichetucknee Springs

Options for tubing down the Ichetucknee begin at Midpoint Launch, where entry is capped at 3,000 tubers a day. It sometimes hits capacity even before noon in the summer, so you might want to make a reservation ahead of time through You can bring your own tube or rent one inside or outside the park before picking up a wristband for the tram from the general store in the south parking area. Then, you can ride the tram — with your tube in tow — to Midpoint Launch for a one-to-two-hour flotation ride down the river.

Another option is to head straight for Dampier's Landing from the parking area. It's halfway between Midpoint Launch and the south takeout, where you'll leave the river and hike or take the tram back to the parking area.

Ichetucknee Springs is less than an hour by car from Gainesville and the University of Florida. As such, it's a popular spot with students on weekends. In addition to college football fans and those who take pride in being a Florida Gator, you might see the occasional real alligator or snake along the river, so be forewarned. Ichetucknee Springs is also home to turtles, manatees, and other wildlife, and in addition to respecting nature (i.e. being aware of your surroundings and not littering), you'll need to sign a liability waiver before tubing. This is where the state park distinguishes itself as more of a wild adventure than the water park.

Paddle the northern length and explore its blue springs

The upper part of the Ichetucknee River closed to tubing in 2021 to help preserve aquatic vegetation like eelgrass in its shallow waters. However, canoeing, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding are still possible along this part of the river. Paddling will allow you to experience the full 3.5-mile stretch of the river that falls within the bounds of Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Again, there's a limit on the number of boats/boards allowed — just 100 per day — so reservations are encouraged. You would still park your car at the river's south entrance, but instead of the tram, you'd take a bus or van to the north entrance to begin your paddling excursion.

The north entrance offers more recreational activities like swimming in the park's headspring or hiking the trail to its biggest spring, Blue Hole. Scuba divers who are certified to do so can even explore the cave system below Blue Hole, which lives up to its name in color. Or you can just take a peek while snorkeling against the upward flow of millions of gallons of water from underground.

While many motorists on the interstate might pass through Columbia County on their way to or from Georgia or other parts of Florida, some might miss the hidden gem of Ichetucknee Springs. With moss hanging from cypress trees and sunlight filtering through turquoise waters, this state park is a beautiful place that will put you in touch with a thriving Florida ecosystem.