Explore Bright Blue Swimming Holes With Florida Wildlife At This Breathtaking State Park

Nothing says summer like a dip in an idyllic swimming hole with water as blue as Ryan Gosling's eyes. Add a float down a natural lazy river teeming with wildlife, and you have the outline for a perfect day at Ichetucknee Springs State Park in north-central Florida. This 2,500-plus acre park an hour northwest of Gainesville lies at the headwaters of the Ichetucknee River, fed by eight natural springs. You can spend a glorious morning at the south end of the park tubing downstream, then spend the afternoon snorkeling — or even scuba diving — at the stunningly photogenic Blue Hole, located at the north end.


If you're lucky, you might spy a mother river otter cavorting with her kits along the shore. Scan below the water's surface, and you might see a manatee, alligator gar, or the elusive, bottom-dwelling Suwannee alligator snapping turtle. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is popular, so try to arrive early. Since the park may shut down once capacity is reached (at 3,000 visitors), float reservations for Ichetucknee Springs are recommended.

Swim, snorkel, or dive at Ichetucknee Springs State Park's Blue Hole

At the north end of the park, a short half-mile hike along a cypress-shaded trail takes you to the Blue Hole, an impossibly vivid, cerulean pool where you can splash the day away. The hole is fed by an underwater spring gushing 67 million gallons of water per day — so much water that the current pushes you away from the spring when you try to swim toward it. The water burbles up out of the ground at a consistent 72 degrees, making this a year-round destination.


Don't forget to bring snorkeling gear to get the best view of life underwater. If you're certified, you can also dive the Blue Hole's extensive system of caves. You'll have to carry your equipment in on the trail, but there is a cart provided at the ranger station you can borrow.

Parking is at the south end of the park, so to get to the Blue Hole trailhead, you'll hop on one of the shuttles that take visitors to destinations around the rest of the park. One advantage of the slight extra effort to get to the Blue Hole: fewer crowds than elsewhere in the park.

How to tube the Ichetucknee River

Tubes of various styles can be rented at the park, or you can bring your own. You'll catch a tram to one of two launch points, letting you choose between roughly 90-minute and 45-minute float trips. Remember, the more noisy, splashy humans around, the less wildlife you're apt to see, so take this advice from savvy locals: When you get off the tram, don't launch your tube right away. Wait until everyone else on the tram has floated off, and splash down just when you see the next tram pull up. You'll have a peaceful float and a better chance of seeing critters. 


If you're going to spend the day tubing the Ichetucknee River, start by choosing the right aquatic footwear to keep from slipping on the slimy rocks that line the river bottom. Bring a refillable water bottle since disposable containers aren't allowed on the river. You can rent a waterproof case for your phone, and you'll want it handy for pictures. "[Ichetucknee Springs State Park is] so beautiful it is hard to imagine unless you see it," one Tripadvisor visitor wrote. "This might be my favorite place in Florida and I am a Florida Native."

Ready for more? Check out Rainbow Springs, an underrated state park in Florida that is a paradise for swimming. For more manatee action, you can swim with sea creatures at this hidden gem spot, Crystal River, aka "the manatee capital of the world."