Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is an oasis. It has something for everyone:
- Tubing on a natural lazy river
- Paddling: Canoe and Kayaking
- One of the clearest rivers in Florida
- Fantastic snorkeling
- Scuba diving, and cave diving
- Beautiful nature
- Hiking trails
- Diverse wildlife
- Grills, BBQ and picnic facilities
- Two on-site restaurants with a variety of menu options (Seasonal)
About The Park
Ichetucknee Springs has an ancient and fascinating history, for both geology and human inhabitation.
Above all, the best part of Ichetucknee Springs is the gorgeous water and natural environment. It is such a pristine and unique place that it’s been designated as a National Natural Landmark. This 2008 New York Times article beautifully captures the experience:
“It’s a warm late-winter afternoon in northern Florida, and three young women are gingerly descending a half-dozen wooden stairs to a mouthwash-blue pool of translucent water ringed with cypress trees.”
The spring water is chilly and so clear it’s almost invisible. It bubbles up from countless underground spring vents, and then comes together to form the Ichetucknee River.
Springs Inside the State Park
There are 9 major named springs in the state park, and countless more smaller vents:
- Ichetucknee Head Spring
- Blue Hole
- Cedar Head Spring
- Roaring Spring
- Singing Spring
- Devil’s Eye Spring
- Grassy Hole Spring
- Mill Pond Spring
- Coffee Spring
This spring complex, like all springs, is connected to the vast and fragile Florida Aquifer.
How long is Ichetucknee Springs?
The Ichetucknee river rambles for 5.5 miles under a shady canopy of trees, before meeting the larger Santa Fe River. The Santa Fe River empties into the Suwanee River, and then eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
When Is Ichetucknee Springs Open?
Ichetucknee Springs is open 365 days a year. The hours are from 8 a.m. until sunset. Source: Ichetucknee Springs State Park Page
Due to Covid-19, park services, hours and availability may change. Check the official State Park page and the concessionaire website for updates. At the time of this publication (9/15/2020), the park is open and access to Blue Spring is allowed. Please check the official pages for the most up-to-date information, especially before visiting or making plans.
Where is Ichetucknee Springs State Park?
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is located in North Central Florida. It’s located 5 miles northwest of Fort White, Florida, and 10 minutes East of Branford, Florida. The nearest mid to large cities are Gainesville (36 miles) and Lake City (22 miles).
This region of Florida is one of the best spring, scuba and cave-diving destinations in the entire world because of its high concentration of underground karst caves and spring vents. Many of Florida’s best springs are within a relatively short drive of Ichetucknee Springs.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park has Two Entrances
It’s crucial to know that the park is split into two sections; north and south. There’s no access between the sections from within the park. You’ll either need to ride the shuttle, or make arrangements to drive around via car, which is a 10 minute drive via highway.
It’s not recommended to walk because the trip would subject you to dangerous, high-speed traffic and take more than an hour.
When is the best time to visit Ichetucknee Springs?
The best time to visit really depends on your preferences, and what you want. Like all of the best Florida Springs, the atmosphere changes dramatically based on the season, weather and crowds. Other things to keep in mind:
- Activities and services depend on the season
- Crowds depend on the season, weather and day of the week
- Weather can change dramatically depending on season
Quiet days are my favorite, when everything is incredibly peaceful. I’ve explored Ichetucknee many times solo, when there was nobody else around. Some trips have been so quiet and peaceful it was eerie. I’ll never forget one morning hike when a raccoon and I scared the life out of each other.
While swimming alone in Blue Hole a few times (which is a horrible idea, and not safe!) I’ve been relieved when another solo traveler showed up. Even though I know that snakes and alligator encounters are rare on the Ichetucknee, I also know that they do exist in all of Florida. It’s always reassuring and safer to have someone else around. And anyway, swimming alone is never a good idea, for many different reasons.
The Blue Hole and Head Springs can be peaceful and magical places without crowds.
On a busy day, energy, laughter and fun can be heard and felt all throughout the park. On these days, quiet, peaceful moments will be rare, or non-existent. Although the park can become boisterous, it generally maintains a “family-friendly” feel, as opposed to the sometimes rowdy environment at nearby Ginnie Springs.
Ichetucknee Springs often gets overwhelmed by visitors during the summer.
- Memorial Day weekend alone can draw 10,000+ people to the park.
- 3,000+ people might visit on a typical summer weekend.
On summer weekends the park will probably be extremely crowded. If you want to avoid crowds during the summer, follow these guidelines:
- Avoid holidays
- Try to go on a weekday
- Crowds increase after church on Sundays
- It’s much less crowded when school is in session
If you must go on a weekend, or a busy day, try to arrive as early as possible.
- On busy days the Upper Launch limit (750 people) can be reached almost immediately after the park opens; sometimes within minutes.
- Lines and wait times will be long for bathrooms, trams, shuttle and food.
- You’ll be less likely to view wildlife when the park is crowded and noisy.
- The parking lot in the Southern entrance is huge, and holds hundreds of cars. Even so, on busy days, it fills up and can overflow.
- When the parking lot is full a “one in, one out” policy may be used, meaning that new cars can’t enter until one leaves. Sometimes lines form on the highway while waiting to enter the park.
If you live far away, consider spending the night nearby so you’re closer in the morning.
Best Times to Visit
Ichetucknee is one of Florida’s best state parks to enjoy year round, but it has very distinctive seasons. To me, the best time to visit is on a weekday in the spring, before Memorial Day, or in the fall after Labor Day. During these times, school will be in session, so the park will be much less croweded. The weather will be pleasantly warm, and just the right temperature for enjoying Florida’s nature. This Orlando Sentinel journalist, agrees.
It’s important to note that services do change throughout the year, though. For example, tubing from the North Entrance is closed during the off-season.
During the summer, you should expect that it might rain at any time. If it does rain, stick around! Many guests leave when it begins to rain; you might have the place to yourself afterward!
The Busy Season
The period between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend is the busiest time for Ichetucknee Springs. During this time, every weekend is likely to be extremely crowded. If you visit during this time, it’s recommended that you try to arrive as early as possible, and be prepared to be patient while dealing with crowds.
Where to stay
Lots of folks ask about campgrounds, hotels, AirBnBs and places to stay near Ichetucknee Springs.
Hotels near Ichetucknee Springs
There quite a few hotel choices close to Ichetucknee Springs. If you want to arrive early, this might be a great choice.
There is a large choice of hotels in Lake City, including well-known, reliable chains.
The Holiday Inn in Lake City is only 18 miles, or a short 26 minute drive.
From the southeast, the Alachua Holiday Inn is only 20 miles, or 27 minutes. Depending on where you’re coming from, and the rest of your plans, either one might be a great option!
Personally, I have never liked staying at hotels. But, when we do, we generally try to find an affordable, reliable brand like Holiday Inn.
Vacation Rentals and AirBnBs near Ichetucknee Springs
There are many AirBnB’s near Ichetucknee Springs. The choices range from downright rustic to luxurious. Some would be fantastic choices for family gatherings and groups.
We have stayed in AirBnBs in many different places, including Florida. We’ve have had all sorts of experiences. We’ve stayed in home-stay style AirBnBs where we shared space with the owners, but generally prefer to book an entire place to ourselves.
I was very interested to see several tiny house AirBnB rentals in the area. The next time we visit, we’ll probably try to check them out!
The most important part of selecting an AirBnB is to “read between the lines” when making your booking, because each host will be different.
There are other vacation rental services around Ichetucknee Springs besides AirBnB. VRBO and Agoda both have several listings around the park and Fort White.
Camping Near Ichetucknee Springs
There is no camping inside Ichetucknee Springs State Park. But, there are options for camping near Ichetucknee Springs State Park in several campgrounds.
I highly suggest the Ichetucknee Springs Campground. We have a thorough review based on our recent visit, along with many pictures and details. Read More: Ichetucknee Springs Campground
Tram and Shuttle Information
We have more information in our Tubing Guide. All of this information is subject to change, and all information should be verified with the park concessionaires.
In general, there are two systems: a small trolley/tram system, and a shuttle system.
The trolley/tram is only used for moving around inside the Southern section of the park. It does not connect the two park sections because they are not connected.
The shuttle van system is used for transporting guests between the north and south park sections, via highway. This would be used if someone wants to park in the south section and float down to their car from the North launch point.
This would also be used for canoeing or kayaking down from the North entrance.
In this case, guests would park at the North entrance, and start their paddle from the North launch point. They would paddle down to the South section, and be driven back up to their cars via the shuttle.
Best Places for Swimming
The best place for swimming in Ichetucknee Springs State Park is the Ichetucknee Head Spring. It has shallow edges, which slope gradually into deeper water.
The Blue Hole Spring is an incredible swimming hole too, but it does not have any shallow areas. You cannot stand in most of the Blue Hole, and wouldn’t want to anyway because it is covered in fragile aquatic grass.
You can also swim in the river as you float down stream, but the current makes it impossible to stay in one place.
Dog and Pet Policy at Ichetucknee Springs
Pets are partially allowed. They’re allowed in some areas of the park, but restricted from others.
- Dogs must be well trained, and kept on a 6 ft. (max.) leash at all times.
- Dogs cannot be left unattended for more than a half hour.
- Dogs aren’t allowed in or near the water, or on any trail which leads to the river. So, only the Trestle Point and Pine Ridge Trails are dog-friendly.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park has an impressive amount of wildlife. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is also part of the world-famous Florida Birding Trail.
- 170 species of birds
- 31 species of fish
- A great variety of turtles
Some wildlife in Ichetucknee can be dangerous. Follow all safety guidelines and best-practices for staying safe in nature. Never approach or try to handle wildlife.
There are snakes in the Ichetucknee River and spring areas!
Some snakes might be venomous, so pay attention and be careful. We talk more about snakes in our Tubing Guide.
Otters look cute and cuddly, but they are wild animals, and are known to attack humans and pets. There are many documented Florida otter attacks, including in the Ichetucknee River.
“We know that this little girl was tubing on the Ichetucknee River and was south of the Ichetucknee Springs State Park when it happened,” Parker said. The girl was attending a birthday party and tubing with other party-goers in six to eight inches of water when she was bitten, officials said. Parker said two otters came out from beneath a privately owned dock and one bit the girl on the foot. An initial report indicated the otter also bit and sank an inner tube, but that report could not be confirmed on Monday.”
- Be careful of otters and give a safe amount of space.
- Do not, under any circumstances, try to approach or touch one
If you see an aggressive otter, please tell a park ranger as soon as you can! Even if you don’t get hurt or injured, the next group floating down might not be so lucky.
FAQ and Things to Know Before You Go
Does Ichetucknee Springs Take Credit Cards?
Yes! The park concessionaire says that they accept credit cards for “any rental or service.”
Can you drink at ichetucknee springs?
Alcohol is not allowed inside Ichetucknee Springs. Coolers are inspected at the park entrance. Food, drinks and coolers are permitted in some areas, but are not allowed on or around the water. To protect the spring from pollution, disposable containers or items are also not allowed on or around the water.
Make sure to bring some sort of shoes when floating Ichetucknee Springs. If you don’t, you’ll regret it.
- The parking lot gets extremely hot during the summer, and there are areas with sharp rocks.
- Much of the trail system is unpaved and may consist of dirt, sand and small gravel.
- Wooden docks and walkways may have loose nails and painful wood splinters.
- Foot injuries and stubbed toes can be dangerous, and ruin a day on the river.
- Docks and wet surfaces can be slippery- shoes with good traction are useful.
Help Protect Our Springs
Every summer many hundreds of thousands of people visit Ichetucknee Springs. While it’s great that so many people love the springs, so many visitors can kill natural beauty. Please make sure that you don’t lose or leave trash or items in the river!
To avoid losing stuff, secure your gear:
- Rope, string or parachute cord: tie shoes and sandals to your tube.
- You might find some twine used for securing tubes to cars
- A diving or mesh bag is great for keeping stuff together
- Dry bags are always useful to have in Florida! These area also great for keeping stuff safe from sudden rain storms
- Don’t let any string or rope wind up in the river!