Lake City, Florida’s Springlands include several Florida state parks, plus a huge swath of a national park. The most widely known is the 2,700-acre Ichetucknee Springs State Park, with eight named springs that flow together to form the Ichetucknee River. Enjoy hours of natural adventures, starting with a revitalizing plunge into 72-degree, blue-green spring water.
You can take that same plunge at Rum Island Spring and Park, a big swimming hole with a three-foot bank just in case you want to ease your way into the water (although we recommend the plunge).
Developed in the 1930s as one of Florida’s early state parks, O’Leno State Park, 20 miles south of Lake City, sits along the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River and features sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, and river swamps. Visitors can launch a kayak ride, take a hike or bike ride along shaded trails, or picnic in one of the pavilions on the river’s edge. There are campgrounds, too.
Big Shoals State Park, north of Lake City, features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida, recommended for experienced kayakers only. For amazing views, limestone bluffs tower 80 feet above the Suwannee River, a fantastic spot to watch the advanced paddlers battle the rapids. The park also offers 28 miles of wooded trails.
Along more refined lines, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park memorializes Stephen Foster, widely regarded as America’s first popular songwriter. True to one of his most famous lyrics — “way down upon the Suwannee River” — the park sits on the banks of Suwannee and includes a Stephen Foster museum. A huge carillon rings with Foster melodies as you hike, bike or kayak.
Elsewhere, you can get a helping of history at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park. It commemorates the site of Florida’s largest Civil War battle — the Battle of Olustee, Feb. 20, 1864, involving 10,000 troops. Established in 1912, it also has the distinction of being the oldest state park in Florida.
There’s a picnic area, and you can walk a mile-long trail that has signs describing the events of the battle. A reenactment of the battle — period costumes and all — is held every February.
The Osceola National Forest encompasses four counties, and makes up a significant part of the landmass of Florida’s Springlands. The forest is filled with flatwoods and swamps that take you back in time and provide a tranquil setting for swimming, fishing, hiking, hunting, boating, fishing, water-skiing — and riding the network of horse trails. The welcome center is a restored train station with displays about the industrial history of the region.
The Santa Fe River goes underground at O’Leno State Park, stays there for three miles, then resurfaces at River Rise Preserve State Park as a circular pool (then continues on to flow into the Suwannee). The park includes 35 miles of trails where you can hike, ride a fat-tire bike or even a horse. The preserve includes a primitive equestrian camp consisting of campsites, a bathhouse and a 20-stall horse barn (first-come, first-served).
Mix history and outdoor adventure at Suwannee River State Park. At the junction of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers you’ll see earthen mounds built to protect against Union gunboats. You can also explore other historic sites, including the remains of a 19th Century steamship and two ghost towns. Take to the water by kayak or frolic around in Little Gem Spring. Feel free to sing a few bars of “Old Folks at Home.”
Thirty-six miles directly west of Lake City you’ll come upon Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park. Dedicated to cave-diving pioneer and Florida native Wesley Skiles, the park has two major springs, a sinkhole and a spring run. The big draw here is the underwater caves, which lure expert divers from all around the world. With 33,000 feet of surveyed underwater passages, the park features one of the longest underwater cave systems in the continental U.S. Of course, folks who wouldn’t dream of cave diving can still have a lot of fun here with more relaxed pursuits, like swimming or floating peacefully on an inner tube.