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Enjoy The Outdoors In The Original Florida
Where can you see wildlife up close via feet, bike, boat or tube without unobstructed views? Well, throw in cypress trees, alligators, and crystal clear waters and you'll find it all in the Original Florida.
North Central Florida is densely populated, but not with people. Rather, it's rich in waterways, forests and unique opportunities to experience scenes from the way Florida was when first settled.
And although the rural townsfolk may be accused of being hick, don't let that scare you away. They have something the ritzy hotels and fine restaurants of urbanized Florida don't have - good ole down home Southern hospitality. And it's here, in their backyard that you can enjoy the beauty, solitude and wildlife of Florida's more natural side. Because the area is traversed by such rivers as the Ichetucknee, Steinhatchee, Econfina and Suwannee and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico, water activities abound. Ways to enjoy the wet - and dry - outdoors of the north central area of the Sunshine State range from traveling via pontoon boats, house boats, canoes and tubes, to exploring by bike, hiking, fishing, swimming, snorkeling or diving.
You can cruise the Gulf of Mexico in a sailboat, take a pontoon boat along the Steinhatchee River or travel down the Suwannee River in a houseboat near the west coast of Florida. If you've never ridden in a pontoon boat, head straight over to the Steinhatchee River and get aboard. The flat-bottom structure of the pontoon boat provides riders with a quiet, close-to-the water ride.
Besides individual canoe rides down the beautiful Santa Fe, crystal clear Ichetucknee or the Suwannee River, you can take sunrise or moonlight ranger-led canoe trips October through March (by reservation only) down the Ichetucknee. Some canoe trips are only 45 minutes, while others last several hours or even overnight or through a weekend. If you should elect to spend a night on the river, high bluffs and natural sand bars make ideal spots to camp.
Several campgrounds and marinas offer boat and/or canoe rentals. Some, like Ichetucknee Springs State Park, even provide guided tours. Below are a list of a few places to contact for more information and maps:
Miller's Marine Campground and Suwannee Houseboats in Suwannee, 352/542-7349.
Steinhatchee Landing in Steinhatchee, 352/498-3513.
Econfina on the Gulf in Lamont, 850/584-2135.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park in Fort White, 386/497-2511.
Santa Fe Canoe Outpost in Live Oak, 386/454-2050
Suwannee Canoe Outpost, 386/364-4991.
Tubing And Swimming
Other popular water activities in the Original Florida are tubing down the Ichetucknee, definitely a relaxing thing to do; or swimming in one of the many fresh water springs, rivers or lakes.
The Ichetucknee Springs State Park invites guests to participate in swimming, canoeing, hiking, picnicking, tubing and snorkeling. At the south entrance of the park, these options are available year round, while on the north, most activities are restricted to the summer. Tube rides - where you just plop down on a tube, pull down the shades and RELAX as you float downstream - can last from one-half hour to three and a half hours, depending on from where you start. Swimming in natural pools will provide a depth of anywhere from one to 20 feet. The Head Spring area at the north entrance is a good place for both children and adults to swim. Note that tubes and snorkel gear are not for rent inside the park but may be acquired from several local vendors just outside the park.
You can also enjoy a refreshing swim in the Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River at O'Leno State Park in High Springs. The park also offers hiking, picnicking and camping.
Snorkeling And Scuba Diving
Listed in the top 10 snorkeling spots of the world by Rodale's Scuba Diving Magazine, the Original Florida's crystal springs draw snorkelers for scallops and crabbing. You can try more than one, as there are several snorkeling spots to choose from - Ginnie Springs, Kings Springs, Manatee Springs and Rainbow Springs to name just a few.
Blue Springs in Madison County, has been filmed in several movies and is one of the world's premier diving spots. Here, scuba diving can be in open water, cavern or cave - just take your pick!
Certified cave divers will want to check out Branford, well-known as the cave diving capital of the world. Also in Branford, as well as Gainesville, guided cave, cavern and open-water diving instruction and excursions are available from master instructors. At Ginnie Springs, services provided for divers include full-service dive center and air station, dive equipment rentals, resort diving instruction, cavern and cave diving instructions, open water training referrals, and water entry decks, pavilions and bathhouses.
Ginnie Springs covers more than 200 acres of unspoiled northern Florida forest with the Santa Fe River and nine natural springs at the heart of its beauty. It has canoe, tube and snorkeling rentals, riverside nature trails, private boat ramp and picnic tables with grills. Camping is also available here.
With all this water, you're bound to catch some fish. The only question you have to ask yourself is what kind?
Tarpon? World-record size tarpon are caught off the coast of Hernando County. Bass? Cherry Lake in Madison yields excellent bass and the Aucilla, Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers are also good for bass, as well as pan fishing.
Casting for all kinds? Go to Dixie County, where you'll come across Suwannee, a fishing village on the Suwannee River at the Gulf of Mexico. The area attracts fishermen from all over as it offers some of the best in freshwater and saltwater angling opportunities. Guided fishing tours on lakes, rivers or the Gulf of Mexico are available in Steinhatchee, Keaton Beach, Suwannee, Gainesville and Live Oak.
For more information on fishing, contact one of the following places:
Angler's Resort in the Dunnellon area, 352/489-2397; Keaton Beach Marina, 850/578-2897; Riverhaven Marina and Motel, 352/498-0709 or Bill's Motel and Fish Camp, 352/542-7086.
Fishing charters in Taylor County include:The Sea Hag, 352/498-3008 and One More Cast,850/584-9145.
Biking And Hiking
Commune with nature as you hike or bike along peaceful nature trails at one of north central Florida's many state parks. The trails at O'Leno State Park, near High Springs, will allow you to hike, picnic, horseback ride or enjoy scenic wonders. The Santa Fe River Trail winds along the river to the "river sink," where the river disappears underground while the Limestone Trail passes through a hardwood hammock, past a limestone outcrop and by a pine forest. Take note that alligators and turtles may pop up along the way. At Ichetucknee Springs State Park, hike seven-tenths of a mile on the Trestle Point Trail or two miles on the Pine Ridge Trail. The first, about a 30-minute hike, winds along the pristine Ichetucknee River as it works its way through one of Florida's most beautiful hardwood hammocks. The second trail should take about one hour and 15 minutes and is a walk through a sandhill ecosystem. In addition to these walks, which can be ranger led, rangers also offer talks on such topics as the resource of water, the river's ecosystem and the gopher tortoise.
Guided off-road bicycle tours through forests and along the Suwannee River are offered by the Suwannee Bicycle Association in White Springs and Santa Fe Canoe Outfitters in High Springs.
For more bicycling information, contact the Suwannee Bicycle Association in White Springs at
Rare wildlife in Florida is made up of such creatures as West Indian manatee, Florida black bear, bald eagle, Florida scrub jay, wood stork, Florida sandhill crane, woodpecker, gopher tortoise, Florida panther and many other mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Showcasing this wildlife is Homosassa Springs State, featuring such wildlife and endangered species as manatee, deer, bobcats, otters, cougars, alligators, snakes and a variety of birds. The park's underwater observatory gives visitors a view of West Indian manatees along with thousands of fresh and saltwater fish.
The entrance to Homosassa Springs is on U.S. Highway 19 at 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL 34446. It is open daily. Call 352/628-5343 for more information. Website:
Also of interest to avid fans and photographers of wildlife are wilderness boats tours, available at such locations as the St. Mark's National Wildlife Refuge in the Apalachicola National Forest in Wakulla. On these tours, look for pelicans, armadillo, white-tail deer, squirrel, raccoon, wild hog, osprey and possum.
For a brochure or general visitor information on the Original Florida, contact The Original Florida, P.O. Box 1300, Lake City, FL 32056-1300; 877/955-2199. Website: