Located in North Central Florida is Ichetucknee State Park which is home to several crystal clear springs. Those springs produce millions of gallons of clear 70 degree water per day that flows to form the Ichetucknee River. The river flows gently south through the park and eventually empties into the Santa Fe River, which in turn enters the Suwannee River which enters into the Gulf of Mexico. It is possible to kayak from the put-in dock at the park all the way to the Gulf of Mexico (a several day adventure), but we came for the much shorter 5 mile trek (about 3 hours) to the last takeout point in the park.
When to come.
We decided to Kayak the river in mid November. During the summer this is one of the most popular tubing rivers in Florida. At peak season they limit the number of visitors per day due to the huge crowds they’ve experienced in past. From what we’ve heard, from the lines of cars to get into the park to the sheer volume of tubes trying to float down the river at one time, this is not the time to attempt a kayak trip. Instead, try to plan for between Labor day and Memorial day. Their website is not clear on the rules during this time frame, but it is open to Kayaking the full length.
What to bring.
You really don’t need to bring anything but yourselves and money. There is a rental area that rents kayaks and provides shuttle services from the take out points to get you back to the north entrance when your trip is done.
For those of us who travel with your own gear there are three options. First, if you have two cars with racks you can park one at the parking lot at the last point takeout. It’s a small lot, but there were plenty of spaces available when we went. If that one is full, there is a larger lot a little ways east on the main road. If, like us, you don’t have two cars then there are two shuttle services available from the rental place in the north area of the park. The cheaper option is the “reverse shuttle”. For $10, you can offload your gear at the put in dock and drive your car to the south takeout point parking lot. The rental company will pick you up and bring you back to the starting point. Alternatively, they can pick you and your gear up at the take out point and bring you back up. They charge per person and per boat so it does cost a bit more.
The put in dock is just downstream of the Blue Hole spring (no boats allowed in the spring) and is fairly narrow. Flow is gentle and easy to manage even for a novice kayaker. This is also a thicker forested area with lots of trees and some low hanging branches. As you head south the river gradually widens and you pass several springs on either side of the river which feed more water in. Most of these springs are marked as no entry, make sure you heed the signs. There are a couple however that you can go back into and explore.
The middle section of the river opens up quite a bit. Flow remains slow throughout but in the more open areas you can have a greater chance of seeing some large wading birds. Here you’ll pass the first takeout point (or tubing start point) which is on the left hand side of the river.
The lower section of the river goes back into some dense forest with large trees. The second takeout point is located here.
The entire length of the river is filled with super clear water. Many sections (particularly in the upper/middle) have huge beds of grass growing up from the bottom with interspersed areas of bare bottom. The bare sections appeared to be 20+ feet deep and you could often see large fish swimming around.
The final takeout point was clearly marked and very hard to miss. it was also very easy to pull up to and de-boat.
This was an outstanding trip which I would recommend to anyone interested in kayaking.