Between Tallahassee and Jacksonville sits Columbia County, Florida, better known as Florida’s Gateway for being at the key corridor of Interstates 10 and 75, leading to Orlando. Instead of jockeying with 10,000 other minivans for left-lane advantage on I-75, plan to pull over in Columbia County’s Lake City because it’s actually the perfect place to park your fanny pack and to take the annual family vacation. Here are 10 of the top things to do in Columbia County, Florida, if you’re looking for a relaxing, true Florida getaway.
1. Summer Tubing at Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Summertime living is easy if you’re anywhere near the crystal clear freshwater springs of Ichetucknee State Park, where six miles of river flow through stunning flora and fauna before merging with the Santa Fe River. Summertime tubing (May through September) is the premier activity at the park and one of the things Columbia County is known for. Meanwhile, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is more than ideal for picnicking, paddling and sightseeing year-round. White-tailed deer, turtles, blue herons, wood ducks, and wild turkeys are among the area’s often-spotted indigenous animals.
2. Look Up at the Gateway to Florida Air Show
Watch a hair-raising show of planes performing tricks at incredible speeds at the Gateway to Florida Air Show in Lake City. The event is two days of exciting air shows along with all-day access to fun rides and games. Guests can participate in the Blaster 5K, a color run for local charities where runners will get sprayed with brightly colored powders. Lovers of automobiles like the air show’s antique car and truck show featuring dozens of classic vehicles in mint condition.
3. Explore History and Heritage on the Suwannee River Greenway at Branford
Discover scenic Old Florida hiking the historic rail trail. Pass by the Suwannee River and finish your journey at the pristine Ichetucknee River on this 12.5-mile paved hike. Take respite under the canopy of trees or plan a picnic at one of the pavilions along the route. Reward yourself with a swim at the Ichetucknee Springs State Park or at nearby Branford Springs.
4. Paddle the Santa Fe River Trail at O’Leno State Park
Start your journey at O’Leno State Park and set sail down the Santa Fe River. Officially part of the Florida Statewide System of Greenways and Trails, this winding three-mile river journeys past hardwood hammocks, sandhills, and wildlife like deer, birds, and otters, and concludes where the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers merge.
Of course O’Leno State Park, which is one of Florida’s first state parks, is for more than kayaking; it’s also a key destination for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. In fact, the park has an equestrian camp with 20 first-come, first-serve horse stalls for riders.
5. Hike and Bike Foster’s Hammock Loop Trail
This beautiful 8-mile backcountry trail is resplendent with natural beauty, limestone formations, and river bluffs making it a dream come true for hikers and bikers.
6. Hunt and Fish at Bienville Plantation
Considered one of America’s most renowned hunting and fishing destinations, Bienville Plantation is a sportsman’s dream. Scenic landscapes of towering pines and placid waters provide the perfect landscape for things like bass fishing, quail hunting, duck hunting, and more.
7. Spend a Weekend at the Spring Peddle and Paddle Fest
The Suwanee River Paddling Festival invites hundreds of paddlers to bring their own boats to its scenic waters in White Springs. Live music will play throughout the three-day event as paddlers make the 12- to 20-mile trips down the famous Suwanee River. Visitors can also visit several tents and vendors with kayak and canoe demos along with other local experts on preserving the eco-system of North Florida. Paddlers who wish to participate in the benefit may register in advance online.
8. Jam at Local Music Festivals
Speaking of festivals, Columbia County music festivals can’t be beat; two of the most popular are the multi-genre blues, folk, bluegrass, rock, country (and more): Suwannee River Jam and The Wanee Music Festival, which has been described as the “Woodstock of the South.”
9. Chill Out at Florida Folk Festival
At Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, the three-day Florida Folk Festival is held annually in the spring, celebrating the sounds of banjos, acoustic guitars, mandolins and more. Vendors sell traditional craft goods, folk music memorabilia, and more on site. Plus, the food has a delicious Floridian twist: think blue crab burritos, shrimp gumbo and chicken n’ dumplings. This is Florida’s oldest and longest running folk festival.
10. Kick Up Some Dirt at Gateway Pro Rodeo
Cheer on your favorite cowboy at the Gateway Pro Rodeo located in Columbia County Fairgrounds in Lake City. For two days, the venue becomes alive with rodeo competitions, rodeo clowns, calf roping, and a rodeo beauty pageant. The festival will have a designated Kid’s Zone loaded with rides and games, and guests can swing by the petting zoo area to meet and greet some of the livestock animals.
If you’re looking to vacation where you can enjoy being wild and carefree in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, then head to Florida’s Gateway, your gateway for natural fun. Skip the same-ol’ and visit one of nature’s most beautiful yet stimulating playgrounds with natural parks and springs as well as festivals and opportunities for outdoor excitement abound in Columbia County. Start planning to have the laid-back adventure of a lifetime.