Central Florida / Kayak & Canoe / Northwest Florida / Springs

Cool idea: Florida’s best river for tubing, the Ichetucknee

Ichetucknee tubing in Central Florida

Photo courtesy of Florida State Parks

~ 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.

Tubing down the Ichetucknee: (Photo via Flickr by JKing89)

Tubing down the Ichetucknee: (Photo via Flickr by JKing89)

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. park 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.

A few tips for tubers:

  • No beer on this trip. Park rules prohibit any food, drink, tobacco or disposable items on the river.
  • Don’t worry about gators. The water is too cold for them.

Read detailed instructions from the park here.

 

What’s nearby?

Camping and cabins: There is no camping in Ichetucknee, 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.

Other popular Florida tubing spots:

  • Blue Spring State Park in Orange City in Central Florida. You can access this wonderful swimming hole from multiple access points along a boardwalk. You can rent tubes at the concession stand at the beginning of the boardwalk at the far end of the parking lot. Tubers carry their tubes up the boardwalk to an entry point just below the spring. The takeout is a quarter mile downstream.
  • Rainbow Springs State Park, in Dunnellon, west of Ocala. Tubing is so popular on the Rainbow River that you need to arrive before 10 a.m. on weekends. You can’t tube in the headsprings; the park’s tube entrance is located on S.W. 180th Avenue Road. Tube rentals and a shuttle service that takes you upstream two miles are available from the concessionaire, Nature Quest, Inc. The trip takes about two hours to complete.
  • Blackwater River State Park in Holt, the Panhandle. The park’s canoe outfitter also rents tubes.

3 Comments

  1. verna w linney says:

    Was on tubing float trip in July 1995. Used airplane inner tubes from concessionaire. Each concessionaire had his number painted on tube. For the next lifetime, I’m ordering up this float trip.

  2. sbgulfcoast says:

    Sounds like a lot of fun. We need to make our way over that direction. We’re in Pensacola and do a lot of kayaking (and a little tubing) down the Blackwater river. From the photos I’ve seen the springs are beautiful.

    Is there camping at this park?

    • There is no camping at this park, but 10 miles to the southeast is another very nice state park with a campground. O’Leno State Park, which I will be writing about soon. O’Leno, which is in High Springs, is also a great jumping-off spot for other paddling adventures in that area, not the least of which is the Santa Fe River. I’ve been to both, done both, so I’ll write them up soon and post them on the blog. Thanks for visiting! — Bob Rountree

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