HIGH SPRINGS — I think Florida’s springs are so special that somewhere along the line, the best ones should have been designated national parks.
When Florida weather turns too muggy for hiking and too buggy for paddling, the perfect outing is to go tubing in Central Florida. And the perfect place for tubing is Ichetucknee State Park, about an hour north of Gainesville.
The 2,242-acre state park has hiking trails and picnic areas, but the true highlight involves getting wet, especially via tubing. (Kayaking, canoeing, snorkeling and scuba diving are all wonderful here too.) The park charges $6 admission per person for tubing and you rent your tube from one of the businesses just outside the park, for $5 to $15, depending on the size.
This Orlando Sentinel travel story provides some good tips (arrive early!) and description.
What I loved about tubing the Ichetucknee was the bracingly cold gin-clear water and the pristine forest through which it passed.
If you’ve never tried it, you’re missing one of the best Florida outdoor experiences around.
The Ichetucknee has been a favorite destination for years, but the upper stretch of the river, which is shallower, is showing ill effects from heavy tubing. Park officials are proposing that all tubing occur on the middle section of the river.
Before planning a trip, always check the park website before you go.
The park already limits tubing to 3,000 a day — 2,250 for the 1.5 hour float and 750 for the longer three-house float from the north entrance.
If you want to tube the Ichetucknee in the summer, don’t wait until late in the day. Park rangers advise arriving as soon after the 8 a.m. parking opening as possible.
After Labor Day, the off-season schedule means no tram service for tubers and no tubing the longer stretch starting from the north entrance.
But fall is still a great time to visit. The area available for tubing is shorter and, without the tram, you have to walk back to the starting point. But it’s just a 15-minute walk and you can take a second ride down the river if you like. Crowds are thinner, particularly if you come on a weekday. And there’s good news for paddlers: Once the northern stretch of the river is closed to tubing, it remains open to kayaks and canoes.
View a map of the Ichetucknee Springs State Park and the route taken by tubes and kayaks.
Camping and cabins: There is no camping in Inchetucknee, but nearby O’Leno State Park in High Springs was ranked as one of the 100 best campgrounds by Reserve America. Here’s a story about O’Leno. Here’s a link to the park site. The park also has cabins available for rent September through April.
Here are a few other popular Florida tubing spots:
- Blackwater River State Park in Holt, the Panhandle
- Blue Spring State Park in Orange City in Central Florida
- Rainbow Springs State Park, in Dunnellon, west of Ocala