Dan and I have caught ourselves saying this on more than one occasion as we explore new places in our inflatable tandem kayak – the Intex Explorer K2 Kayak. We bought this plastic raft back in June 2017 for $74.19, thinking MAYBE it will last through the summer before popping. The logic was, at a going hourly rate of $22 for a tandem kayak rental in DC – we’d only need to kayak for 3.36 hours in this precarious vessel before making our money back. Easy. We made our money back in the first outing when we paddled downstream away from everyone else and tied our boat to a tree branch. We spent hours enjoying views of the mountain, swimming in the James River, and sharing a picnic – all in complete solitude. Our first trip in our inflatable kayak now seems so long ago. Since then, we’ve launched our kayak over a dozen times.
We’ve been in Florida for almost a month now and have been absolutely loving it. We’ve gone to a beach (almost) every single day but with red-tide impacting Florida’s coastal waters, we’ve been a bit skeptical about going into the ocean for a swim. We decided to take a trip to some of Northern Florida’s natural fresh water springs to get our swim-fix and to launch our kayak somewhere new.
Trying to keep our costs low, we decided to camp at O’Leno State Park. For $20 a night, we had spacious site and access to clean bathrooms and hot showers. It was one of the nicer campgrounds we have stayed at we were excited to finally do some rain-free camping. While O’Leno State Park does not have a natural spring itself, we picked this campground because its proximity to two other springs we wanted to visit: Ichetucknee and Gilchrist Blue Springs. Camping was great with one exception. Read about our restless night here.
Our experiences at the different springs are best summed up by photos.
$6 to get into this beauty which was recently purchased from private owners by Florida Department of Environmental Protection in 2017. When we first arrived to Gilchrist Blue Springs, we pumped up the kayak and started paddling. Unfortunately, because it’s the “off-season” (the summertime being the busy-season for the springs) shuttle service for a downstream pick-up was not available so we had to keep our paddling somewhat limited to the vicinity. We decided to paddle about a mile up-stream and let the current take us downstream. At the end of the paddle we went swimming in the main spring. We’re happy we brought our goggles with us because the clarity of the water was unreal – probably the clearest non-swimming pool water we’ve ever gone swimming in. We loved jumping off the platform into the spring water, which stays a refreshing 72 degrees F year round.
We loved this place so much that we almost went back the next day. We’re already thinking about our next trip. It was $6 to get into the park and $8 to arrange a shuttle to pick up Dan 3 miles down the Ichetucknee River and take him back to our car. The shuttle was arranged at the North end kayak launch spot with a private company because the park tram service does not operate after Labor Day. We saw about 8 million turtles on the branches along the river. Dan and I started making bets on which ones would be stay on their branch and which ones would wimp out and jump into the water as we slowly passed in our kayak. The whole trip was downstream and took a leisurely 3 hours. We stopped at the Devils Den spring along the way and were in complete awe passing through the bald cypress forest which looked like it was out of a fairy tale. We passed only two other people kayaking the entire time which gave us a sense of solitude that I don’t think either of us had ever experienced while kayaking. I’ll admit, I was a little on edge eating snacks in an inflatable kayak after seeing postings for alligators and being (almost) completely alone. “If we scream, would someone hear us?” But we didn’t see any gators and the osprey eyeing my tuna and crackers never came in for the kill. Success. We didn’t have time to swim in the main spring, also 72 degrees and GORGEOUS, but we’ll be back.
Unfortunately, we caught this one at the end of the day so the sun was setting and main spring was in a giant shadow. Just 30 minutes outside of Orlando, this spring made a great last stop before visiting Dan’s folks who were staying near the amusement parks in Orlando. If I was in Orlando looking for something to do (other than Disney or Universal) I would definitely come back and check out the spring.
We visited three natural springs in Florida, out of about 1,000 (geologist don’t have an exact count) and haven’t even scratched the surface of the springs Florida has to offer. Summer is the busiest season to visit the springs when swimming in the cool water is refreshing, but having a kayak has extended the season for springs for us. Thanks Intex Explorer K2 Kayak. Just don’t pop on us please.