Did you know that one of the highest concentrations of freshwater springs in the world is found near Gainesville, Florida?
And did you also know that these springs have a constant temperature of 22 degrees Celsius year-round? And – as if that were not enough – you can swim, snorkel and dive in these crystal-clear springs, or glide leisurely by kayak, tube or canoe on nearby rivers through North Florida's pristine nature. Add in the great choice of hotels, restaurants and cultural activities offered by a town that is home to the University of Florida and its famous Florida Gators football team, and you'll find Gainesville is a fantastic vacation destination.
Swim in the Turquoise Water of Blue Hole Spring
One of the best ways to enjoy these unique natural springs is a visit to Ichetucknee Springs State Park northwest of Gainesville. Right at the north entrance to the park, a 500-meter trail leads you to the stunning Blue Hole Spring, where crystal-clear, turquoise water is a dream for swimming and snorkeling. Take a snack for a picnic in this unforgettable scenery, and don’t forget your camera. You don’t see water this color every day!
Blue Hole Spring at Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Kayak, Tube or Canoe Down the Ichetucknee River
If you prefer to be above water, glide along the Ichetucknee River by canoe, kayak or tube, and watch the pristine natural environment go by. There are three landings along the Ichetucknee River in the park depending on how far you want to go. Conveniently, you can drop your tube at the end and take the tram shuttle back to the parking lot, but only during the summer months. The rest of the year, arrange for pick up with local sports suppliers who also rent out canoes, kayaks and tubes. From late May to early September, visit Ichetucknee and other popular springs such as Poe and Ginnie Springs on weekdays for the best experience.
Tubing in the Ichetucknee River
Explore Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park
Another fascinating nature experience is Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park in northwest Gainesville. Climb into a 36-meter deep bowl-shaped sinkhole with a miniature rain forest at its base. Small streams trickle down over limestone walls, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by giant ferns and other lush plants. Fossils of extinct species are found in the sinkhole’s ground to this day. Be sure to stop by the nearby Visitor Center, where interpretive displays show how the sinkhole formed over thousands of years.
Butterfly in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Wild Horses, Bison and Alligators at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Gainesville is surrounded by unique natural parks. Another gem, almost adjacent to the city’s southern limits, is Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, where wild horses, a herd of bison, alligators and more than 270 bird species can be seen in the wild. Paynes Prairie is quite large, about 85 square kilometers. A good place to start your visit is the 15-meter observation tower at the Visitor Center, where you can get oriented with the expansive park and enjoy the unique panoramic savannah view. After that, explore the beautiful nature and wildlife by bike or foot on one of the eight well-marked trails. A little hint: Wildlife viewing tends to best in the morning or late afternoon due to the natural feeding cycle. So if you have come to observe the animals at Paynes Prairie, plan your visit accordingly to get the perfect camera shot!
Alligator sunning at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park