FORT WHITE, FLORIDA — Though it’s one of Florida’s most beautiful kayaking trails a big part of what makes the Ichetucknee River special is what you won’t see. “You won’t see motor boats, you won’t see houses and you won’t see any docks,” says local outfitter Vernis Wray. “You will see otter, deer, turkeys, beavers — all the wading birds and all the song birds.”
Beavers? That’s right, the name Ichetucknee means “beaver pond.” You’re not as likely to see beavers during a daytime paddle, though, because the animals are nocturnal. “The Santa Fe River also has beavers,” Wray explains. “They don’t build damns, they build mounds like a muskrat mound — a big pile of sticks alongside the river.”
Best known as a popular summer tubing location, Ichetucknee Springs is a 6-mile river that feeds into the Santa Fe and then into the Suwanee before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. The scenic river was once the home of a thriving Spanish mission dating from the early 17th century. In the late 19th and early 20th century the region was heavily mined for phosphate (the remnants of which are still visible in the park.) The local phosphate company sold the property to the State of Florida, which turned it into a state park in 1970. The spring was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972.
The best time to kayak is between after Labor Day and before Memorial Day, since the river may be crowded with tubers from May to September.
The most memorable trips are likely to be early mornings in the winter time. “At eight o’clock in the morning when its twenty five degrees outside the river is covered with steam,” Wray says. “You can float so close to a deer that he doesn’t know you’re there. When it’s extremely cold and the water is a constant 72 degrees the steam just pours out of the river. It’s a mind blower!”
Wray recommends kayaks instead of canoes, especially for novices. “We’re leery of canoes because of the keel. There might be a tree on the river and the keel on the canoe can catch on a tree and send you over.” Other than that, the Ichetucknee is an ideal trip for novices with a gentle current of about a mile and a half an hour. After putting in at the headwaters at the park’s north entrance, you have the option of paddling 4 miles to the “Last Take Out” in the State Park or continuing on to the Santa Fe or Suwannee River.
Enjoy this Article?
Click to like Florida Kayaker on Facebook and enjoy more Florida kayaking discoveries.
A few words of caution when planning your trip: cell coverage is minimal to non-existent. Kayakers must be on the water before 2 p.m. and off the water before 5 p.m. Disposable containers are not allowed.
Watch for the Devil’s Eye Spring about a mile and a half downstream on the right-hand side. It’s extraordinarily beautiful, Wray says, maybe the most beautiful spring in all of Florida. After your trip, Wray recommends two local restaurants in Fort White for some local flavor — Charlie’s Rib Shack or Nooners Diner.
Ichetucknee Kayak Rentals & Cabins
Kayak (and canoe) rentals are available from Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins in Fort White. The cost including shuttle service starts at $16 per person for a four-mile trip to $24 per person for a longer trip that may include a portion of the Santa Fe or Suwannee River. Shuttle service for those with their own kayaks is also available by reservation. For information, call (386) 497-2150 or 1-866-224-2064.
For additional information, visit Ichetucknee Springs State Park.