It’s August. It’s Florida. We were attending the Florida Outdoor Writers Association annual meeting in Lake City last week and it was hot. Every day. As our schedule unfolded, we didn’t have a lot of free time for a dip. But we went looking for springs, and I finally chilled off after a hike by spending some time in the cool waters of the Ichetucknee headspring. Here’s a peek at swimming holes where you can chill off in style along the Suwannee River Valley, in Suwannee and Columbia counties.
[30.394146,-82.933929] A sandy beach. A stone ruin more than a century old. Would you believe this was once a health spa? Now it’s a cool place to chill on a bend in the Suwannee River right near Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park. Enjoy white sand beaches when the river is at normal levels. This one is within walking distance of the Florida Trail across the old US 129 bridge. LEARN MORE
[30.362278,-83.134247] A first-magnitude spring, this is one of Florida’s weirder ones. It flows off and disappears: a sink and a riversink within the same setting. It continues underground to the Suwannee River, of course, much like the odd behavior of the Santa Fe River in O’Leno State Park. LEARN MORE
[30.167151,-83.230343] Shh! This one’s a real secret and not easy to find. It’s 1.2 miles southwest of the sharp bend in the road as you’re headed south from Dowling Park towards Peacock Springs along Beulah Rd. A five acre historic site, this was once the location of a trading post with a ferryboat across the Suwannee River. LEARN MORE
Peacock Springs State Park
[30.123125,-83.132305] Peacock Springs is more of a cave diver’s destination than a place for swimmers, and the entry road is rough on passenger cars. Once you get down to the large parking area, it’s time to visit the main springs – P1, P2, and P3. Swimming is permitted at these and at Orange Grove Sink, but you’ll want to check on water clarity first. Orange Grove is socked in with a layer of green right now. The park is beautiful but certainly a mosquito magnet.
Starting at P1, where the boardwalk leads from the parking area, you’ll encounter divers heading into the underwater chambers. Just beyond that platform is the beginning of a hiking loop that follows the cave diver’s route from above, with photos along the way to show you what’s under your feet. LEARN MORE
[30.084116,-83.074971] One of the prettiest deep springs we’ve seen along the Suwannee, Royal Springs boasts a platform for you to run and jump into the 52′ deep spring basin. Pathways lead in both directions from this point like a horseshoe, leading to overlooks and other access points that provide a gentle descent into the spring-fed outflow or the deep spring itself. As the grounds are very natural and the spring is very clear, it’s an appealing destination for swimming. LEARN MORE
Little River Springs
[29.997257,-82.966516] With a broad and generally shallow spring basin, Little River Springs is a picturesque swimming hole and county park along the Suwannee River. There are many access points down to the spring along one side of the rocky bowl it forms along the river. Observation decks are on the upriver side.
We were fascinated by the colorful mingling of spring water with river water in the broad mouth of the spring basin. LEARN MORE
[29.954885,-82.928219] One of the easiest springs to find in this area is just south of the intersection of US 27 and US 129 in Branford in Ivey Memorial Park. While small, this 15′ deep spring is accessible to swimmers by a boardwalk. Since it is so close to the river, it easily gets swamped by floodwaters, so water quality is heavily dependent on river levels. LEARN MORE
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
[29.984736,-82.762814] I splashed into these springs, and you can too. While Ichetucknee is well known as a place to go tubing — and you’ll see dozens of small springs as you drift down the river from the north end — there are two notable springs for swimming. Everyone sees the Ichetucknee headspring as they walk to the tubing put-in, but surprisingly few people enter the cool waters for a swim on a hot afternoon, which is the best time to splash in here. Mornings are too busy.
For an even quieter place for a swim, have your swimsuit on before you hit the trail. Follow the boardwalk next to the “Headspring Trail” sign and it will lead you to a trail meandering a half mile to Blue Hole. This is a much larger and deeper first-magnitude spring where rainbows play across the eelgrass on the bottom. LEARN MORE