My first visit to Tallahassee was decades ago, but I’ll always remember the hubbub in summer around a swimming hole in the Apalachicola National Forest.
It was just south of the city, off a major road. I was on my way to see Wakulla Springs for the first time.
When I asked about it later, I found out it was “the party spot” for locals. Years later, all traces of access had vanished, and the highway eventually moved away from it.
While there are many such hidden springs south and east of Tallahassee thanks to the Woodville Karst Plain – the interconnected channels of water-filled caverns that pop up in karst windows, big springs, riversinks, and tiny springs – there also are major springs that welcome swimmers and snorklers and paddlers to explore their beauty. Here’s our guide to the best.
Madison Blue Spring
The shallow run is best for families, while the deep blue bowl invites cave divers, snorkels, and swimmers to float in a pool of blue. Steep-sided, it’s accessed by a broad wooden staircase.
Trails lead to a picnic area and around to the far side of the spring to the best access to the spring run before it meets the river. Since this is a popular swimming hole, it gets very busy on weekends. There is an entrance fee.
Suwannacoochee Spring served the now-vanished town of Ellaville by providing water for a sawmill owned by post-Civil War Governor Drew, whose mansion once sat along the road to the spring.
Once Suwannee River State Park expanded their nature trail loop and added signage, more and more people found it.
Now it’s right along the Florida Trail not far from the Suwannee River State Park Annex parking area off US 90, and hard to miss. A side trail leads down to this small spring, which people still soak in.
The waters are not as deep, however, and there are many more springs beyond the one found below the cypress with the rope spring.
Fed by waters flowing through the Woodville Karst Plain, it has suffered ongoing problems with water clarity as more and more population piles in to the north.
Swimmers can lounge on the beach, splash in the water, or take a jump off the high dive. Nature-lovers shouldn’t miss the narrated boat tour that takes you down the river and across the spring.
A hike down the Wakulla Springs Trail will lead you past sinkholes and spring runs. On your way out the park gate, stop to see little Sally Ward Spring near the park entrance.
On a paddling trip upstream from TNT Hideway just off US 98 on the Wakulla River, it didn’t take long to find our first springs along the cypress-lined waterway.
It shouldn’t have been surprising to see manatees in the clear waters, but there they were, enjoying the coolness.
Our guide Rob pointed them out as he was on an SUP and could see them better than we could.
This is a third-generation family business and pleasant folks to be paddling with on a guided tour. Tours run 2 to 4-1/2 hours, $50-60 per person. You can also rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard to head upriver on your own, $30-45 for four hours.
The Chipola is broken into two parts north and south of Florida Caverns: the Upper Chipola and the Lower Chipola. Currently, the Upper Chipola is not accessible from Florida Caverns State Park.
Lilypad Adventures, north of Marianna in Campbellton, offers both a launch point and a place to stay, with cabin rentals and campsites. They’ll launch you on a half-day or full day trip along the river to see the springs. Bring your own kayak or canoe or rent one on the spot, $25-45.
For floats along the spring-fed Lower Chipola, check in with Bear Paw Adventures just south of Marianna. Celebrating 30 years of taking people on the Chipola River, they run 4-hour tubing trips during the summer months.
Merritts Mill Pond
For paddling on Merritts Mill Pond, you can put in at two public ramps to find your way to beautiful springs like Shangri-La and Hole-in-the-Rock, or use a fee ramp at Florida Caverns RV Resort along US 90 in Marianna. Call them at 850-482-5583 for details.