Ichetucknee Springs

Tubing on the Ichetucknee River. A fun day or overnight trip that’s close to home for beachlifers, and something anyone who calls herself a Floridian needs to do at least once in her life. Me, I’ve done it three times now, so I consider myself a pro.

I’m not the camping sort of girl, so this little trip is enough of an outdoorsy excursion that gives me a taste of the deep woods, crystal clear water and, if your fellow tubers are in it for the visceral experience, it can be a peaceful and relaxing way to pass a few hours. A rowdier bunch could change all that but I’ve found that being there in mid-week is probably your best bet in avoiding the louder tubers and all their yuks. Sure, I know they’re just having a good time, but since I don’t get to enjoy a pristine river deep in the woods very often, I  prefer when it’s quiet; when most of the others on the river are just happy campers both literally, or figuratively. Like, people who smile without yelping as they float pass. People who want to just soak in the experience of draping one’s self over an inner tube and letting the slow current carry them while they gaze at the flora and fauna both beneath the water and lining the river banks.

When it comes to renting tubes, just pick from any of the rental places that dot the approach to the park. Every one I’ve rented from has always retrieved their tubes from the park, where you leave them when you’re done. They tie the tubes or rafts to the top of your car. And if you’re like me and you don’t like to walk barefoot in the woods, you’ll want to hang on to a good-sized length of that twine so you can tie your flip flops to the handle of your tube during your float. The shuttle will take you from the park’s main area out to the river launch site…but I’m not a barefoot girl; I prefer to wear shoes or flip-flops on the trudge through the woods to the river’s edge. Yes, I know, plenty of people have no problem going barefoot but it’s just not for me. Those “water shoes” would work, I suppose; you could wear them through the woods and into the water, but really, they look so geeky that I couldn’t bring myself to wear them. Besides, I don’t wear flats, anyway. I prefer my own flip-flops, (which I do want to kick off once I’m in the water) so lesson learned: keep the twine! You can also use it to tie your waterproof camera to the other handle, because as someone who takes pictures of just about everything, you’re going to want to photograph the beauty of the river. The conflict therein, though, is that you’re working with the limitations of a disposable camera (well, I was, anyway, as I cannot afford a waterproof enclosure for the D-SLR) and truthfully, I think, I had to make a choice: was I going to photograph the experience, or just enjoy it? In the end I decided to just enjoy it, which was a great relief because I’m one of those who feels compelled to photograph everything.  In my situation, the camera was nothing but a hassle but with the proper planning (and a second length of twine) you can have your flip-flops and camera too.

A word about tubes. When you’re out at Buffalo Joe’s (or wherever) choosing your tube, may I suggest you strongly consider the “two-man” tube as a viable option if you’ve got elementary-aged kids. It’s probably true that these kids will want “my own tube” but you have to remember that once they actually get to the river and there’s no turning back, at least half of them will be a little freaked out by the idea of floating alone and will be grasping at yours for security anyway, so you may as well get the double tube just to see how they like the river if it’s their first time. We’d always gotten a raft in the past which meant they stayed dry, but part of the fun, I think, is to get as close to the water, if not in it, as you can. One could actually snorkel their way down the river if one wanted to.

Once you arrive at the park and get yourselves ready – bathing suits and sunscreen and everyone uses the bathroom, now you have to decide what to do about your car keys because the park’s lockers are broken. You see the Sharpie-scrawled sign at the concession stand offering to HOLD CARS KEYS FOR $1. You wonder: should you really hand over your keys to a guy behind the concession counter at a remote state park? You debate this with yourself for a while. You know you can’t risk losing the keys in the river or getting the electronic keys wet. You also know that you cannot risk losing your credit cards, cash, camera equipment whatever else is jammed into your car, not to mention the car itself. You doubt the car would actually be stolen, rather, you worry that given a two-hour window of opportunity, a concession guy would have plenty of time to paw through your things. But you seem to remember that you did this the last time – – and finally you decide to do it again, take the risk, what the hell. You can’t help but tell that guy to keep outta your car at which point he laughs at you, having heard it all before. When you return later to retrieve your keys he laughs again, tells you the car handled really well and that he thinks he parked it in the same spot you had it in and ha, ha, ha. You are reassured to see everything as it was and no strange charges have posted to your credit card account…yet.

So finally: the river. You’re taken by shuttle to the drop off point deep in the woods. You walk down that dirt path, carrying your tubes, to the river’s edge. Here you launch and away people float, some in clusters of two or three tubes, some in pairs, a few, alone. It’s a quiet day on the river. There is the usual uneasiness about getting into unfamiliar waters but we’ve done it before and everyone there was all smiles. As you float along you realize your middle child, who happily chose her own tube back at Buffalo Joe’s, is now in fact clutching the handle of your tube, and won’t let go. Suddenly she’s not so sure she wants to be in her own tube, not so sure she even wants her feet to touch the water, which is not such a good thing considering you’ve just begun and there’s a ninety minute float ahead of you. Otherwise level headed middle school girls have been known to become a little high strung out there on the river, freaked out by the lovely, undulating ribbon-like plants that will sometimes tickle your feet as you pass overtop them. Or by the fish they see as clearly as if they were gazing into a well-maintained aquarium. The water is clear and the bottom isn’t mucky (not that you’d ever have to touch the bottom) but you’re certainly out in the middle of the woods, with mangroves growing on the riverbank, and turtles sunning themselves on exposed fallen trees…it’s a different environment altogether for a girl who’s growing up in a beach town and doesn’t have parents who like camping and therefore has had minimal exposure to venues like rivers to tube upon. Whatever it was, this girl was not going to let go of my tube, nor would she be convinced to dangle her legs in the water which was a great change of pace from riding with your backside over the opening.

And so for those next ninety minutes, you enjoy the heck out of the experience, your middle girl is latched on to your double tube and is enjoying herself, tentatively, and the three of you float on down the Ichetucknee River. Your son’s ahead of you all, floating peacefully and enjoying the time to himself. Note to self, you think, bring more of the twine next time, so any anxious tuber can rope herself to someone else’s tube if necessary.

(Following photos are all of the headsprings)

Our favorite park of the Ichetucknee day is swimming in the headspring of the Ichetucknee River after tubing. This cold, clear swimming hole was such a lovely shade of green/blue and perfect for snorkeling.  The water in the headspring is cold, but you tell them all to take the plunge, and if you keep moving your body acclimates quickly (becomes numb!). It’s totally refreshing on a 96 degree Florida afternoon.

The middle child had no problem swimming like a little dolphin here. You watch through your mask as this person who only an hour earlier was so skittish about her feet touching the water is now diving clear to the bottom of the spring and touching it (with her bare hands). You are glad that your kids love to swim and snorkel and you all drove home at the end of the day in the dark – hoping you can get another visit to the Springs in before the summer ends.


  1. Anna says:

    The perfect description of a day on the Ichetucknee. It is probably my most favorite spot in FL. It just occurred to me I must get my family there. hmm a it bit far from NM. Maybe next summer.

  2. Karen says:

    Must put this on my list! What a cool place 🙂

  3. Barbara Jacksier says:

    So glad you found a way to take along the camera.

  4. Rosie says:

    Sounds fun! Where we don't live by an ocean floating on rivers is common for us. WE went on a float river raft trip last year—the white water type! Jackson Hole Wyoming!

    I love the way you write.
    My oldest has begun reading my blog and accused me of only talking about my dirty house, how my children are awful and my hurt foot.

    I may have to take a hyatus.

  5. Michele Renee says:

    You wrote this so well. I tubed it and canoed it 25 years ago while at U of F. We are bringing our boys to it this month. Thanks for the tips! It is weird because today I googled Ichetucknee River and then later I saw your post on C Jane and then I came here and you wrote about it.

  6. Rubberbacon says:

    wow that sounds AWESOME!!!! I have friends who drive down every year from Pittsburgh, I will tell them to check this out. As for me, I'll have to wait a few years until mine is old enough. Can't wait!

  7. faye says:

    Trouble with my previous post…
    blame it on the work computers..
    not me of course…

    Anyhoo.. thanks for stopping by the blog.

    Like your blog and photos..
    recalling places I haven't seen in

  8. Bernie says:

    Thanks so much for posting this. We're doing the Itchy River this weekend and your blog answered my questions about what to do with the keys and wallets; and in a very humorous way! Thanks for the chuckle.

    Like some other commenters, I did this when I was a student at UF but that was MANY moons ago. Should be fun. Thanks again for the info!

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