With a nature trail showcasing Florida’s weird karst geology and a cypress swamp along the Santa Fe River near High Springs, Poe Springs Park provides a glimpse into Florida’s fossilized past. A second-magnitude spring, Poe pours out a very short spring run into the cypress-lined Santa Fe River. Poe Springs has been a swimming hole for generations. In the days when waterways were Florida’s highways, Poe Springs was once a village along the Santa Fe River, with a general store and accommodations. In addition to providing an excellent venue for birding, the Poe Springs Nature Trail carries you across a landscape shaped by water acting on limestone, where surface rock is obvious and studded with fossils. Wander off into this forest and enjoy a moment of quiet away from the happy swimmers, or arrive early to have the birds to yourself.
Location: High Springs
Length: 1.5 miles
Lat-Long: 29.824467, -82.653225
Fees / Permits: free
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
Restroom: Near the parking area, picnic area, and spring swimming area
Open 9-sunset Thu-Sun. Closed Christmas and New Years. The nature trail is just one of the many activities available at this Alachua County Park. Rent a tube and drift down the river from the springs; rent a canoe or kayak and paddle two hours upriver to River Rise State Park, where the Santa Fe rises up out of the ground as a spring. Bring a picnic lunch and your swimming trunks: stay all day, but do the nature trail first to enjoy the wildlife!
From downtown High Springs, drive south on US 27 about a mile to Poe Springs Road. Turn right and continue 3.2 miles to the park entrance on the right.
After entering through the gate, head straight ahead to the first parking area on your right. Park near the path that leads down the hill past the volleyball pits; you can see a picnic pavilion to the left and one far in the distance in the woods. The paved path leads to an intersection with a sign “Walk to Springs.” This is the only way to access the swimming area at Poe Springs by foot. Turn left and follow the path, which turns into a boardwalk.
Wood ducks take flight from the water’s edge. All around you, sweetgum show their colors. Cypress knees stand like sentinels along a skinny spring run running parallel on your right. This is Watermelon Run, a tiny spring where, according to local lore, folks stored their watermelon to keep them cool while swimming in the nearby springs.
The boardwalk is soon surrounded by the cypress swamp. Off to the right, the knees rise several feet tall, the cypresses towering well overhead to provide a shady canopy. Zigzagging through the cypresses, the boardwalk reaches an observation platform that provides your first glimpse of second-magnitude Poe Springs. It is clear straight down, 13 feet deep and pouring fresh water out a short run into the Santa Fe River, which you can also glimpse from here between the trees. A swimming area with gentle steps takes up the far side of the spring’s shore. Continue along the boardwalk, where two more spots provide excellent views of the spring and its run.
You’ve walked 0.6 mile, but the walk is only beginning. The nature trail officially begins next to the restrooms. A sign draws you into the leafy forest of younger trees, passing a bench – you’ll find many of them along this walk, an excellent bonus for birders – as the trail jogs around to a straightaway along the ecotone between upland hardwood forest and the floodplain forest to your right. Robins rustle through the fallen leaves; squirrels chatter in disapproval. Young cedars grow along the footpath. Rising uphill, you come to a sign directing you to take a sharp right. At 0.9 mile, the trail rises uphill beneath the magnolias, and you can hear the hum of traffic on Poe Springs Road not far away. A bench sits at the crest of the hill, a rest spot before you drop down to the edge of the floodplain forest below.
At the bottom, the trail turns sharply left within view of the berm of Poe Springs Road. A bench sits on a high spot between cypress knees and saw palmetto right next to a karst feature, either a sinkhole or a karst window, filled with dark water. Passing through the floodplain – a frequently damp area with pennywort and cypress knees – the trail reaches the other side and turns right to follow the base of the hill, within sight of an enormous oak tree. Surface limestone juts out from fallen leaves, and delicate purple Florida violets nod in the breeze.
Rounding a limestone boulder studded with impressions of fossilized scallop shells, the trail turns left and goes up a short rise, reaching another bench with a nice view of the floodplain. Atop the rise, the trail winds through a forest of red maple. The trail turns right and follows the curve of the floodplain, which is now filled with a bowl of saw palmetto. You pass a bench before reaching a live oak of enormous stature, with a crevice big enough in the trunk for a bear to crawl into. The trail turns left, continuing to follow the floodplain. Look down to your left and you can see the boardwalk which led you to Poe Springs; it’s behind a screen of cypress trees but obvious in winter. Logs with huge shelf fungi sit in the leaf litter.
As the trail draws within sight of a picnic pavilion up the hill, you reach the back side of a sign: “Nature Trail.” A rough path leads off to the right. Continue forward a little more and you’ll encounter a broader jeep path leading uphill and downhill. Head downhill and you’ll complete the loop by reaching a bench next to the beginning of Watermelon Run. Step up on the boardwalk and turn left, walking along Watermelon Run to complete your hike. When you get to the T intersection, the parking area is uphill to the right.