While there are plenty of places in Florida you can visit, there’s something about Columbia County that will leave you captivated. Maybe it’s the stunning freshwater springs and rivers that wind their way through the area or the beauty of the nearby Osceola National Forest, but there’s no denying the charm that exudes from this part of Florida, especially when summer rolls around.
And with plenty of adventures to experience, from tubing down the Ichetucknee River in search of the Blue Hole to snorkeling or diving your way through these crystal-clear waters, you’ll love every minute exploring Florida’s Gateway. The outfitters are ready to help you do just that. All you have to do is get to Columbia County first.
Freshwater Springs and Rentals
The beautiful Rum Island Park, where you’ll find the local favorite, the Rum Island Spring, is also your access point to everything that the 75-mile long Santa Fe River has to offer. In the nearby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park and Ginnie Springs (both in neighboring Gilchrist County), you’ll be blown away by the spectacular turquoise waters that this, and the surrounding areas, are known for. And you can’t forget about Ichetucknee Springs, where you’ll find one of Florida’s best-kept secrets, the Blue Hole Spring, which also happens to be one of the best – and coolest – diving spots in all of Florida. Last, but certainly not least, you can’t talk about Columbia County without mentioning the Suwannee River. The river is actually the divider between Columbia and neighboring Hamilton County. Starting in Georgia, the Suwannee River is where you’ll find the rare Florida whitewater rapid, making it one of the best places to cool down and have some fun in the summer.
Beneath the surface of Icehtucknee Springs
With an abundance of natural freshwater springs and crystaline spring-fed pools, these parks, springs and rivers all have something you can do like renting a kayak to cruise down the river or a tube to float down the springs. Below are the best places to rent everything you need for a full day of exploring (and cooling off) in the Columbia County area.
At Rum 138 in Fort White, right on SW County Road 138, you can take your pick of kayaks, canoes and standup-paddle boards.
Once you have your vessel, you’ll get life jackets and a whistle—just in case! The shop offers a convenient shuttle service that will drop you off at either the U.S. 27 Bridge or Rum Island and pick you up at Rum Island Park or S.R. 47 Santa Fe River Park. Rent for the half day (4 hours) or for a full day (up to 8 hours) or you can arrange a longer rental, just give them a call and they’ll help you figure out what will work best for you. To get a glimpse into the fun, read what the Florida Outdoor Writers Association had to say about kayaking the Santa Fe River.
Spring hopping on the Santa Fe River
Besides being one of the favorite places to rent kayaks and canoes in Columbia County, Rum 138 doubles as an art gallery showcasing local artists, an event space and a daytime café; it’s a one-stop shop when you’re in this area.
American Canoe Adventures
Don’t just rent kayaks and canoes from American Canoe Adventures, have the team take you down the Suwannee River on one of its day or overnight trips as well!
You’ll have fun experiencing the Suwannee River on your own, but the team at American Canoe Adventures can you show you all of the ins and outs of the river, letting you in on the best-secret spots that only locals know about. You can join one of the trips all year long, and its rental shop is open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; it’s closed on Tuesdays.
Take a relaxing paddle down the historic Suwannee River
Its website is also a great resource for information on the Suwannee River’s water levels and weather forecast. Its team is the local expert on everything you need to know about experiencing the Suwannee! These paddling adventures— and maybe a few more—are calling your name. Grab an oar and head to the waters!
Paddling Adventures of Ichetucknee Springs
Tube, kayak, canoe and standup-paddleboard your way down the Ichetucknee River thanks to the rentals you can pick up at Paddling Adventures. It’s the only rental facility within Ichetucknee Springs State Park, and besides renting from it, you can join one of its signature adventures as well. Choose from either the two-hour Paddle Ichetucknee trip or the four-to-six hour Extended River Paddle adventure.
Paddle boarding on the Ichetucknee River (photo credit: Paddling Adventures)
But, of course, if you’re familiar with the area or a seasoned explorer, nothing beats taking out a tube, kayak, canoe or standup-paddleboard and exploring what the area has to offer on your own. Either way, Paddling Adventures can get you set up so that you can enjoy the day exploring the crystal-clear waters of the springs.
Lake City Dive Center
Whether you’re a certified scuba diver or want to take a training dive, Lake City Dive Center and Training Academy is the place to check out in this part of Florida. As a full-service dive shop, it has everything you need from BCDs, tanks, wetsuits, boots and fins, goggles and more. You can also take the courses to get you comfortable in (and certified for) these particular waters.
Once you’re all geared up and ready to go, you have plenty of places to explore from the shop. Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park, the 733-acre Florida State Park known for having one of the longest underwater cave systems in the United States is about 40 minutes by car from the shop and with over 38,000 feet of underwater passages to explore, there’s no shortage of sinkholes and springs to discover in this underwater oasis.. Ginnie Springs—also known for cave diving and being one of the clearest springs in the area—is 30 minutes away from the shop and another popular dive spot for recreational divers. And the popular Jug Hole (aka the Blue Hole) at Ichetucknee Springs State Park is also less than 30 minutes away from the shop and another can’t miss place for divers to explore.
Diving at Blue Hole Spring (located in Ichetucknee Springs State Park)
Lake City Dive Center doesn’t lead dive trips from the shop, but if you and your dive buddy are seasoned divers looking for equipment to make these dives and explore the area’s cave systems and more on your own, this is the place for you.
Don’t limit yourself to just these activities and spring. Columbia County and the surrounding area has plenty of wonderful springs to explore.