I've got a confession to make. I have passed a nasty little bug on to my children and my husband. It's called Wanderlust.
We love to travel and see new, exciting places and things. Being Florida natives there are plenty of local attractions such as Busch Gardens, Weeki Wachee, Sea World and of course Disney.
My husband and I usually prefer something a little more exotic. So we seek out things that are out of the ordinary, places that people don't think of every day. We have been to New Orleans a few times, Atlanta (for football), Memphis, Tennessee, Mississippi and California all in the last 5 years. While we truly loved all these places, New Orleans especially holds a special place in my heart but honestly what most interests us is what is available right here in our native Florida. I am forever surfing the internet in search of some place new to visit or some new out of the way place to see.
I found myself once again on the hunt, combing webpages and travel books. My husband had been babbling on and on for years about a wonderful, almost magical place with clear cool blue water, underground caves and a 4 mile long tube trail down a picturesque river.
In typical wife fashion I kept shrugging it off, sure it sounded nice but don't places like that only exist in Kenney Chesney videos? Finally a few years back I gave in and agreed to go.
I am thrilled to confirm that such a place does indeed exist, practically in my own backyard....well okay more like UF's backyard ( but close enough, just a 3.5 hour drive from Tampa) !
Ginnie Springs Outdoor Resort is located in High Springs, FL. This sleepy little town lies just 13 miles from Gainesville and contains one of Florida's least known but most attractive places.
It is a 200 acre wooded sprawl of campgrounds, playgrounds and picnic areas. The piece de resistance is the natural crystal clear springs that are the focal point of the property. In total there are actually 7 springs that dot the property. They are Deer, Twin, Dogwood, Devil's Eye and Devil's Ear.
However the center, the largest and in my opinion the most beautiful spring is the resorts namesake, Ginnie Spring.
A beautiful blue pool of crisp cold water with depths reaching 25 feet at some points. There is a large cave opening near the bottom and it is a world renowned spot for cave diving that draws divers from all over the world. The spring is surrounded by a huge wooden deck, shaded by trees and there is a sand volley ball court at the edge. There is also a canoe launch nearby.
Each day the 7 total springs that make up Ginnie Springs Outdoors put out hundreds of millions of gallons of crystal clear water. Now the website, all the literature available in the dive shop and even the people who work there claim the water is 72 degrees year round but it is my opinion that it is probably closer to 68 degrees.
I found the water startlingly cold but after being in it for a few minutes I felt like I had been in the fountain of youth, it is so refreshing! Especially after a hot morning of putting up tents and building campfires. The clear spring water provides a stunning contrast to the iced tea colored waters of the Santa Fe River. In fact there are many places where there seems to be a wall of clear meets brown, it can be creepy looking but also very beautiful.
Something most people pass up is the tube run, it stretches 4 miles down the Santa Fe. My family has tubed the river many times and it is a real blast! We have small children and we use a full size air mattress for them to ride on, this is easier and more comfortable for them than either sitting on our laps in our ring shaped tubes or trying to balance themselves of ring tubes themselves. It also provides smaller children with a sense of safety since riding down a river, especially a big one can be intimidating for anyone.
It's fun to observe the other people who tube as well. The array of contraptions that people find to tube in is outrageous and hilarious! You can expect to see anything from Kiddie pools to homemade rafts.
Not only is it fun to tube but there are also spots along the river that are so clear you can see straight to the bottom and there are plenty of fish and wildlife to see! There are always plenty of people on the river except at night where you may witness only the occasional brave tuber. It is pitch black on the river at night after all and the insects make a racket you wouldn't believe!
There is never a lack of music, sometimes you even get the pleasure of hearing live music! And there is also a wide variety of things to do, plenty of pick up volleyball games seem to materialize from nowhere.
There are playgrounds for the smaller kids who might not want to brave the chilly water and of course covered picnic areas complete with grills for bbq gatherings and eating.
The setting itself is just incredible though. Some very beautiful and very old trees cover the property providing more than adequate shade, even at the hottest parts of the day. There is no better place for camping, hiking or just plain relaxing than under a hammock of 500 year old trees!
Ginnie Springs Outdoors owners and management have attempted to leave the grounds exactly as they were when the native Timouquan and other tribes used the area for hunting, fishing and extracting flint from the Santa Fe River. I personally could imagine Ponce De Leon or other Spanish explorers being amazed by the beauty of the springs and the surroundings.
I have even wondered if this place was what he considered the real Fountain of Youth!
Your family can chose to swim in any or all of their 7 crystal-clear, freshwater springs. You and your family can also enjoy having a wide selection of campsites. You can choose from hundreds of sites in over 200 wooded acres, much of which is right along side the banks of the Santa Fe River. There are limited number of sites that have electrical hookups and fresh water.
For those who enjoy more basic camping there are primitive campsites with no electrical hookups or water, in fact they are so basic that I recommend them to only the very experienced camper mostly due to the fact that they are at the back of the park and should you need help it is quite a task to find your way out. However, all campsites even the most rural have fire pits and picnic tables.
I can tell you from personal experience that all the sites are wonderful.
We have camped at sites that were close to the river which was too noisy, not due to campers but insects, ducks and a few things we couldn't even identify to the most distant campsites, which proved to be quite a walk to even a port-a-potty (which are everywhere). To the ones that are just feet from the springs.
Let me also note that there are trash receptacle, large dumpsters, port a pottys and bathhouses all within walking distance of almost every campsite with the exception of the very, very distant campsites in the area labeled, "Outback"
There are differences in pricing, depending on if you intend to camp or just swim for the day. They also offer group rates, they have fancy cabins available and also AAA discount offerings.
Be warned! Prices for camping are a little steep compared with other rural camping spots in Florida but my family has yet to find any place with the charm or reward of Ginnie Springs. If you are adventurous and love to camp I hope that you will give it a try!