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The Suwannee River Valley - Lake City, White Springs and Live Oak

At the intersection of I-75 and US 90, south of I-10 in North Florida, sits Lake City. To the west is Live Oak and to the north of I-10 is White Springs - the Gateway to Florida. It is a tri-county area of springs and rivers encompassing Suwannee, Hamilton and Columbia Counties.

North Florida has more springs than any other area in the world and visitors and cave divers come from all over the world to swim, tube, kayak, canoe, and dive year round. The Suwannee, Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers are minutes away.

Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and Campground and the Tree House

This year, the Florida Outdoor Writers converged in Lake City at the Holiday Inn and Suites to experience as much of the outdoor treasures as possible in a few short days. Our members spent the time fishing, kayaking and canoeing, tubing, shooting, and hiking. My husband and I have been coming up to this area to cave dive and canoe frequently for the last 34 years, so we were back in our old stomping grounds. We thought we knew most of the attractions well, but were surprised to learn of a few places we had heard about, but never experienced.

The first afternoon we were bussed to the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park and Campground near Live Oak to attend the opening banquet. Situated on the Suwannee River, there are over 800 campsites, with cabins, primitive camping, and improved sites. One can paddle on the Suwannee, hike, bring your horse to ride the trails, but most importantly, enjoy the live music that is scheduled there, with many famous acts. Many go to just pick and jam in the park. There is also an indoor stage that hosts the many music festivals.

The highlight of the visit, though was a tour of the treehouse on the banks of river. It had just been completed by the Treehouse Guys of the DIY show fame. The planning and construction had just aired on the DIY cable channel the night before we arrived, and the Park offers tours of this beautiful structure.

The Coronet family owns and runs the park. They were inspired by the matriarch of the five generation family, Miss Jean. She had always wanted a tree house for her children , grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and the Treehouse Guys came to make her dream come true. The house is a tribute to her, with stain-glassed artists, painters, and woodworking artisans incorporating Miss Jean into their designs. Sadly, she passed before the completion of the project, but she would have been so thrilled with the end result. You must try and view the episode on the DIY show, it is very moving. Check out the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park at http://www.MusicLivesHere.com

Tubing down the Ichetucknee River

The next day, some FOWA members went fishing at the Bienville Plantation, a renowned hunting and fishing retreat just north of White Springs. They offer guided fishing trips, quail and alligator hunting. There are lake leases if you want to bring your own boat. The Plantation has five guests cabins and a main lodge that offers fine dining by Chef Rose. We heard they served a great BBQ lunch to the fishing participants. Go to http://www.Bienville.com for more information.

  • Tubing Down Ichetucknee River
  • Tubing The River
  • Happy Tuber Tubing The Ichetucknee
  • Mullet In Ichetucknee
  • Ichetucknee Landscape
  • Ichetucknee Headsprings
  • Jug Hole
  • Manatee In Ichetucknee
  • Great Egret On Ichetucknee
  • Jug Hole Entrance
  • Jug Hole Blue Springs
  • Jug Hole
  • Jug Hole
  • Jug Hole
  • Jug Hole
  • Jug Hole Sunrays and Ripples
  • Dampiers Landing
  • Tubing Down Ichetucknee River

We decided to go with the group that would tube down the Ichetucknee River. As hot as it is in August, we thought it would be better to cool off in the water, than fishing in the hot sun. The Florida Park Service and the Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins provided the tubes for us to enjoy the lazy, several hour tube down the river. Tubing vendors are also found on Hwy 27, and Hwy 238 near the entrances to the park.

We have been tubing and canoeing down the Ichetucknee for over 30 years. It is one of our favorite places. But things have changed greatly with the river, and not for the better. Where green eelgrasses had waved in the water's flow, it has been replaced with algae. Fish populations and species have been reduced by over 90%. Water clarity is murky. Nitrate levels have risen several thousand percent. This is not unique to this river. All our springs and rivers are in desperate peril, due to over-pumping of the aquifer, fertilizer runoff from agriculture and lawns, septic tanks, and long term droughts. We are loving our rivers, springs and streams to death, so the Florida Park Service regulates the number of people who may use the rivers or cave systems. On the other hand, paradoxically, the more people that visit these special places and love them, the stronger will be the effort to save them. We need people to be aware of the problems, and look past the beauty of these wild places towards securing their future for the coming generations.

To preserve this lovely iconic river, Ichetucknee State Park closes the North Entrance to tubing after Labor Day, though one can still swim in the headspring. The South Entrance stays open all year, where you can still tube from the halfway point to Dampiers Landing, or all the way to the south end. From Memorial Day to Labor Day there is a shuttle service transporting you from the South tube takeout back to the parking lot, otherwise it is about a 15 minute walk back. During the high season, you must drop off your tubes, canoes or kayaks and party at the North Entrance, drive your car to the South Entrance parking lot, and then take the shuttle back to start your tubing adventure.

We usually canoe the river during the off season, putting in our canoe at the halfway point and paddling up river, then we drift lazily back down stream. We often have the river to ourselves. We also love to dive the Blue Spring, aka "Jug Hole", which is open from October to March to certified cave divers. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is located just outside of Fort White on US Hwy 27 (South Entrance). Follow the signs for the North Entrance. Their phone is 386-497-4690.

Hobie Mirage Kayaks

After our tubing adventure, we headed to Lake Montgomery, about a mile away from the Lake City Holiday Inn Hotel, to try out Hobie Mirage Pedal Fishing kayaks. These are sit upon self draining, non-tippable kayaks you can stand in to fish, configure for diving and snorkeling or just getting around bird watching and enjoying. Using the pedals to operate the flippers is so easy, and I have bad knees. Steering is a snap with a lever on the gunnel. You can turn on a dime. If you get in water that is too shallow, pull up the flippers, and paddle as you would any kayak. We love the tandem Mirage Pro 17', the seats are extremely comfortable, and either one of us can steer or pedal. There is room for gear, and there are lots of fishing accessories to add on to the boat.

  • Hobie Mirage Kayaks On Shore
  • Hobie Mirage Kayak Montgomery Lake
  • Hobie Mirage Single
  • Hobie Mirage Kayak
  • Hobie Fishing Kayak
  • Hobie Mirage Tandem Kayak
  • Hobie Mirage Tandem Kayak
  • Chevy And Hobie Photo Event
  • Hobie Mirage Tandem Kayak

The smaller kayaks can go on a roof rack, but the 17' tandem would need a small trailer. Two people can lift it, but the trailer makes it really easy.

They now also have inflatable models, one of which can also be used as a paddleboard!
Check out the kayaks, sail boats and paddle boards at http://www.HobieCat.com or http://www.HobieCat.com/kayaking

Canoeing the Santa Fe with Rum138 Outfitters

The next day, while some FOWA members were target shooting at the FWC's Osceola Gun Range, we traveled to Rum138, a canoe/kayak outfitter on Rt 138 between High Springs and Fort White. What a cool place! They have an art gallery, exhibiting some famous underwater and nature photographers visions of our caves and springs. In addition, there is the Rum138 hair salon and their shuttle service. They will shuttle you with either your own canoe/kayak or theirs up the river. You paddle down river, then they pick you up at Rum Island, just down the road from them. If you wish to take a longer trip, you can continue downriver to Rt 47 and they will pick up there. On your float down, you will pass numerous springs, one of the more well known is Lily Springs, home of Naked Ed. Yes, he is naked, and you have to paddle up the spring run to his property. He has signs warning you of the sights to come. You don't have to paddle up there if it bothers you. There is also Poe Springs, Pickard, Johnson, Gilchrist Blue Springs, Devil's Eye and Ear, Ginnie Springs, and another 8-10 lesser known springs and siphons. We had a little higher flow to the river, so, to make it more exciting, we even experienced some nice shoals that gave the illusion of rapids. Check out www.RUM138.com or call 386-454-4247.

  • RUM138 Canoe And Kayak Limo
  • Launching Onto Santa Fe
  • Santa Fe Reflection
  • Santa Fe River
  • Shoals On Santa Fe River
  • Pickard Springs
  • River Entrance to Poe Springs
  • Poe Springs
  • Naked Ed Signage
  • Naked Ed in Lily Springs
  • Girls Taking Selfie With Naked Ed
  • Coming Out Of Lily Springs To SantaFe
  • Kayaking On SantaFe
  • Happy FOWA Kayakers
  • Fishing On Santa Fe
  • Cypress Knees On Santa Fe
  • More Cypress Knees
  • Kayakers At Rum Island Park
  • Rum Island Swim Area
  • Rum Island Takeout
  • River Entrance To Gilchrist Blue Springs
  • Gilchrist Blue Springs Run
  • Santa Fe Reflection

The Ichetucknee River empties into the Santa Fe upriver, and the Santa Fe empties into the Suwannee River near Branford. On the Suwannee River, you will discover many other springs, most are diveable and are State or county parks. They include Little River Springs, Troy Springs, Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State park (which includes Orange Grove, and Peacock Springs - open for certified cave divers only. Orange Grove accepts certified cavern divers.) This park is not physically on the river like the others. Also, down river, is Manatee Springs State park near Chiefland. It is a famous cave dive, and the springs are open to swimmers, snorkelers and canoers.

If you head west on Rt 90 out of Lake City and Live Oak, where the Withlacoochee River and the Suwannee River meet, is the Suwannee River State Park which offers boat ramps, fishing, camping and cabins.Further up the Withlacoochee River is Madison Blue Springs State Park, near Lee and Madison. It is a great cave dive, and has a boat ramp to launch your canoe, kayak or small boat.

Big Shoals on the Suwannee AND The Springs of North Florida

I had often heard of, but never before had a chance to visit, Big Shoals Public Lands State Park, just out of White Springs on SE county Rt 135. Before we headed back to Marion County, we decided to go up early in the morning and hike to the only Class III rapids in the state of Florida. The park opens at 8 am, and the trail is an easy walk of almost 1.5 miles along the banks of the Suwannee River. As you approach the Shoals, you can hear the roar of the river, rushing over the rocks. In times of drought, the whole river bed can be exposed. It was quite an interesting sight, and we spent some time there photographing the shoals, taking long exposures. Go to www.FloridaStateParks.org for a full list of all the parks and contact information.

  • Big Shoals Sign
  • Big Shoals Rapids
  • Big Shoals Long Exposure
  • BigShoals Long Exposure
  • Bat House
  • Below The Shoals
  • Forest Pond
  • Fungi On Log
  • Fungi On Tree
  • Hiking Big Shoals State Park
  • Rapids
  • Rapids Long Exposure
  • Sign
  • Suwannee River At Big Shoals
  • Deer Manatee Springs State Park
  • Devils Ear Cave meetsTannic Santa Fe
  • Diver in Manatee Springs
  • Diver at Cave Entrance
  • Diver Coming Out Orange Grove
  • Diver InTroy Springs
  • Divers In Shadow
  • Manatee Springs State Park MainSpring
  • OrangeGrove Sink Diver
  • Orange Grove Diver In Cave
  • PeacockSprings
  • Peacock Springs 2012
  • Troy Springs 2011
  • Cow Springs Cave Diver
  • Big Shoals Rapids

It was extremely hard to cover all the sights in the tri-county area in just 4 days. We only scratched the surface, but this will give us the incentive to come to the Suwannee River Valley and experience more of the fabulous springs and rivers that North Florida has to offer. Even though we have been coming up to the area at least once a month for the last 34+ years, it is never boring, and there is always something new to see and experience. See you in Springs Country!

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