This part of Florida is full of springs that bubble up from the ground to form wonderful pools and streams and even rivers. Since they maintain a constant temperature of 72 degrees, they feel warm in the winter and wonderfully cold in the summer, so they’re pretty popular. I haven’t been to many of them, in fact, this trip makes two different springs. Usually, we go to Itchetucknee, which is a wonderful state park, but I wanted to try something a little different. Many reviews said that Hart Springs was the best of the springs for swimming, with the biggest swimming holes around, so that’s where I went.
Most of the springs give you your choice between the swimming hole and the river, which is generally for tubing and kayaking. Somehow I got the idea that you had to be in a tube or kayak to do that part of the springs at all, but I have now been assured that you actually can swim down the rivers in most of them. Since I didn’t have an extra person to wait at the bottom for me with a truck for the kayaks, I knew I would be swimming, so Hart Springs made sense. And the web page looked beautiful, and it was cheap. It turned out to be well-marked as well, which makes it all the better. Oh, and all the roads were paved. My citified car liked that part of it.
I’m sure some of you just did a double-take on that one. Yes, we have unpaved roads around here. Lots of them. Even within the city limits. That’s one of the reasons there are so many trucks around here, because a lot of cars really don’t do well on unpaved roads with mud and ruts the size of a small car.
Anyway, my first thought when I got to Hart Springs was that I should have gone to Itchetucknee. The water wasn’t the brilliant blue that most springs are, and there was construction going on, and it looked like most of the park was closed off. Fortunately, I stuck around anyway because looks can be deceiving.
Recent infiltration from the very nearby Santa Fe River (so nearby that the park includes part of it) had mucked up the springs a bit, so that they were not nearly as blue as usual. They are still incredibly clear, but brown right now. That shouldn’t last long, so imagine all of these images with brilliant blue water, so blue it looks fake. And even though there was construction going on, there were really no restrictions on where we could go.
This is the place of every kids’ summer dreams. Lazy and wild at the same time. Retaining walls have been built around the springs, which make it feel almost like a swimming pool, but the sandy bottom with seaweed quickly kill that notion. In the center of the pool, there was an island with trees built up and a floating dock attached to it, which the kids were flocking to.
And making it rock.
And falling off.
The water was fantastic, and the day was just about perfect for it. In the upper 80s, so that it was warm enough to want to be in the cool water, but not so hot that you HAD to be in the cool water. For the record, 72 degree water feels COLD!
For the record, most of my swimming experience has been in the Gulf of Mexico. You ocean people can stop laughing at me know.
There were lots of turtles in the water, and I was assured that a small gator lives in it over under the algae. Apparently they have just removed a larger one that was scaring people away. These turtles are actually not in the springs, they are in the river. The ones in the springs wouldn’t stay still to have their pictures taken.
Those of you who are faint of heart, you might want to look away now. When I was sitting on the wall next to one of the many trees, I looked over and saw Wolfie.
Just beyond the swimming hole, there is a boating area that leads out to the Santa Fe. Canoes can be rented, and kayaks are allowed. Nobody was tubing today, but I don’t know if that means you can’t or just that nobody was. You won’t find any whitewater rapids or any crazy water here, just a smooth, lazy river.
And of course, a few gators.
The boardwalk here is one of the best I’ve ever seen in a park. It begins near the springs and meanders over to the river, with several hopping off points along the way. Overlooks on both the river side and the wooded side give views of turtles sunning themselves, wading birds and lots of cypress knees.
Did I mention that I took 460 photos yesterday? I have edited ruthlessly to give you an overview. For any more than that, you’ll just have to visit yourself. Look me up when you come down and maybe I’ll come over to meet you.