A couple of weeks ago (and 42 years later), Eric and I did just that. But given that it was mid-January, we rode the river in a kayak instead of an inner tube. It was one of the most beautiful kayak trips we’ve done, and other than passing by a lone canoeist, we were the only people on the river (which most definitely is not the case in summertime).
Eight springs converge to create the gorgeous crystal clear Ichetucknee River. The name was bestowed by native Indians, and means “pond of the beaver.” Indeed, we passed by a beaver lodge, spotted a river otter slinking along the banks, and quietly kayaked past great egrets, great blue herons, black-crowned night herons, and turtles. If you want to see wildlife and have the river to yourself, winter is the time to visit the Ichetucknee. Tubing in the summer is a fun way to go, but the “wildlife” is more likely to be floating in tubes alongside you.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a day use park only, so we camped at nearby O’Leno State Park, just 15 miles down the road. Situated on the banks of the picturesque Santa Fe River, the park encompasses a classic north-central Florida landscape of cypress swamps, hardwood hammocks, and sinkholes. O’Leno was created in the 1930s and developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC); many of the stone and wood buildings built by the CCC are still in use, as is the suspension bridge that spans the river. We love parks where we can hike and bike within the park, and O’Leno provides plenty of options, with thirteen miles of beautiful hiking and biking trails.
Six miles from the campground is High Springs, a small town with surprising amenities, including The Great Outdoors, an excellent restaurant where we had lunch one day and liked it so much we returned for dinner and live music the next evening; the Secret Garden Bakery offering made-from-scratch goodies in a lovely setting; and a terrific cooperative gallery of local artists.[portfolio_slideshow]