Last updated on April 30th, 2020 at 01:51 pm

Paddling under a canopy of trees at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Paddling under a canopy of trees at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Ichetucknee River in northern Florida is famous as a tubing river in summer. But my favorite time to experience this exceptional slice of Florida beauty is in the winter by canoe or kayak.

In the winter, without tubers to scare them away, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is full of birds. We saw heron, ibis, egrets, cormorants, anhingas, limpkin and wood storks during our mid-November canoe trip down the 3.5-mile-long run.

Instead of the squeal of exuberant tubers, Ichetucknee Springs State Park was so quiet that other paddlers seemed to speak in reverent hushed voices.

The scenery itself is stunning any time of year. With eight major crystalline springs, the water is as clear as a swimming pool. Majestic cypress trees line the banks, often forming a canopy overhead. At places, the stream has carved into limestone bluffs, providing picturesque craggy banks.

In the water, sea grass waves in the current; schools of fish and turtles appearing to fly in water so clear it seems invisible.  

The upper portion of the river is a National Natural Landmark—some say it’s the most pristine spring run in the state.

In the winter, you have a chance to spot deer in the woods or, as temperatures chill, manatees in Ichetucknee Springs State Park. In March and April, it’s alligator gar breeding season and hundreds of the long prehistoric-looking fish gather.

The canoe and kayak concession in Ichetucknee Springs State Park makes it easy to show up any morning and have a memorable two-hour kayak trip. At the end, an hourly shuttle takes you back to your car.

The current on the river is swift enough that you never have to paddle – just steer your kayak or canoe to avoid hitting the sides. There are almost no obstacles in the water, so this is an easy run for a beginner.

The Ichetucknee truly is a lazy river — and more spectacular than anything you’ll find in a theme park.

Winter paddling at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Winter paddling at Ichetucknee Springs State Park (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Renting a kayak or canoe at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Kayakers can enter at the northern end of the park, park their cars and rent kayaks, canoes or SUPs to do the 3.5 mile run. It takes about two hours.

Use of the shuttle is included in the concession’s kayak or canoe rental. It runs on the hour.

If you bring your own kayak, there is $7.50 livery fee.

At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, a white sandy bottom results in the water appearing a turquoise color in areas. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, a white sandy bottom results in the water appearing a turquoise color in areas. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Rentals start at $20 for a single kayak; $35 for a double or canoe and $30 for a stand up paddle board. Here are details.

There is a longer kayak or canoe trip available. It’s a 9-mile trip that takes four to six hours and continues from the Ichetucknee Springs State Park north launch into the tannic-colored Santa Fe River and ends at William Guy Lemmon Park (U.S. Highway 129 bridge). You must make reservations in advance with the park concession to arrange this trip: 386-497-1113.

There are also outfitters outside the park you might consider. Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins rents similar gear and also offers camping sites and rustic cabins.

Adventure Outpost also runs kayak trips in Ichetucknee Springs State Park on a periodic basis.

A great white egret at Ichetucknee Springs State Park was one of many birds along the spring run. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
A great white egret at Ichetucknee Springs State Park was one of many birds along the spring run. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Other things to do in Ichetucknee Springs State Park

  • There is a tempting swimming hole at one of the spring heads at the north end of the park. On a day when the temperature was under 60 degrees, the 72-degree water felt warm and inviting and two members of our group took a dip despite the chill. (They recommend it, but not enough for me to brave it.)
  • Don’t miss the boardwalk to the Blue Hole, located next to the swimming area. This first-magnitude spring is a hidden beauty in the woods at the end of a 10-minute stroll. Snorkelers and swimmers are allowed to enter this pool and those who explore below can see the entrance to the cave system.
  • Ichetucknee Springs State Park has picnic areas, playgrounds and three nature trails.
Birds were plentiful at Ichetucknee Springs State Park on a November morning. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Birds were plentiful at Ichetucknee Springs State Park on a November morning. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Summer tubing at Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Tubing the Ichetucknee River is a summer pleasure well-known to folks from the region, especially students from the University of Florida in Gainesville, about an hour away.

Tubing here on summer weekends is so popular that the park has developed a system to handle the crowds and avoid degrading the river’s beauty, so it pays to read up on what to expect.

Here’s a Florida Rambler story on tubing the Ichetucknee and what you need to know.

A limpkin allowed kayakers to get close at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)
A limpkin allowed kayakers to get close at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

What’s near Ichetucknee Springs State Park 

Camping and cabins: There is no camping in Ichetucknee, but O’Leno State Park in High Springs, 12 miles away, was ranked as one of the 100 best campgrounds by Reserve America.  The park also has cabins available for rent September through April. Read more about O’Leno SP.

Just outside the park, a private campground, Ichetucknee Family Canoe and Cabins offers camping sites and rustic cabins.

A half hour from the Ichetucknee is High Springs and the launch site for another gorgeous spring-fed kayaking spot. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to the Santa Fe River.

An hour away from Ichetucknee are two state parks with cabins and camping that are a great base for exploring the springs of northwest Florida. Here’s a Florida Rambler story on staying on the Suwanee River in Lafayette Blue Springs State Park or Suwanee River State Park. 

Ichetucknee Springs State Park
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Fort White
386-497-4690

Admission: $6 per vehicle
Park brochure (pdf)
Download and print a map of the river

 

7 Comments

  1. Nice write up. However, “A half hour from the Ichetucknee is White Springs and the launch site for another gorgeous spring-fed kayaking spot. Here’s a Florida Rambler guide to the Santa Fe River.”

    I think you mean HIGH Springs, not WHITE Springs, which is on the Suwannee River.

  2. Great article. Last year I paddled Silver Springs State Park and it was great, except for the smoke billowing from the Park Patrol boat – just awful. Saw tons of birds, alligators and several manatee. This river you describe sounds wonderful – maybe even cleaner & more pristine.

    • Mark: Those ARE two of the most beautiful rivers I’ve paddled. I don’t know which I like best! Ichetucknee is special because it is narrower and the water stays so clear for so long.

  3. I have Hobie Outback Kayaks with “flippers” underneath for propulsion. I would appreciate if you could provide info on water depth in your articles. I need around 20 inches of water to pedal. I also have a paddle, but I prefer the flippers.

    • Thanks for the feedback. That’s a good thing for us to keep in mind in our articles. The Ichetucknee water level is a little low now, but I would guess there is adequate depth. (Most places are about 6 or 8 feet deep but there are some shallower sections.) Given the fragile nature of the river, though, I’d check with the park before trekking over there to make sure your kayak is OK. (Park office: 386-497-4690.) Keep in mind, though, that you don’t really need much propulsion. It’s a perfect river to float down; minimal paddling is required.

    • I would just add one thought. While water levels are usually consistent on the immediate downstream side of springs, they vary greatly further downstream, on rivers and lakes from season to season, even day to day in some areas. At best, providing the number Mike is seeking would be a crap shoot, based on the day we visit, not the day he’s going there. We probably could include phone numbers to park rangers or links to real-time water management data, and that may be the way to handle it.

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