In November 2017, Gilchrist Blue Springs opened as Florida’s 175th state park. It has five named springs, the star attraction being Gilchrist Blue, which produces an average of 44 million gallons of water a day. (That’s a lot, in case you were wondering.) The springs showcase a wide diversity of wildlife, including many species of fish that you can marvel at with total visibility. The park is located 30 miles south of Lake City.
The park has a boardwalk at the main spring and a nature trail that meanders among towering trees along the edge of the floodplain. You’ll find more springs along this trail, including Naked Spring, a natural, oval-shaped pool. Gilchrist offers 25 different campsites (it’s best to book ahead) as well as pavilions, restrooms and a concession stand.
You can expect to pay $5.00 to park at Gilchrist Springs. The hours are 8 a.m. to sunset, 365 days a year.
Hours: Open daily from 8:00 AM until sundown.
- The Diving Platform: The perfect spot to dive into the springs’ stunning waters.
- The Boardwalk: A walkway that leads to the Spring Run. Before Gilchrist County was hit by Hurricane Irma, the boardwalk led all of the way to the Santa Fe River.
- The Little Blue Spring: Another of the park’s picturesque springs in a secluded spot and surrounded by cypress trees. Note that swimming isn’t permitted in the Little Blue Spring.
- The Naked Spring: Don’t get confused here because nudity isn’t permitted. The Naked Spring takes its name instead of its undisturbed pure natural beauty.
- The Johnson Spring: This large natural spring includes a stunning spring run that’s one of the highlights of the area.
Activities in Gilchrist Springs
Arguably the main highlight of Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is the stunning natural springs with their clear blue waters. These waters make it a popular spot for water sports, from swimming and snorkeling to scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing and underwater photography. You can even go fishing on the Santa Fe River.
Speaking of photography, Gilchrist Springs is also popular amongst photographers, whether they’re capturing the stunning landscapes or admiring the flora and fauna. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s a popular haunt for birdwatchers and other wildlife lovers, too. You can expect to see everything from redbreasts and sunfish to bass, bluegill and catfish, turtles, hawks, ibises, ospreys, and herons.
Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park is also a great spot for hiking, thanks to its dedicated trails. If you feel like something a little more easy-going, take a picnic along with you and eat in the pavilions. No food? No problem! The park also offers a concession stand with plenty of food and drinks available at affordable prices.
All of this combines to make Gilchrist Springs an unmissable part of Florida, no matter who you’re traveling with. And unlike some other national parks, you’re not out of luck if you forget to bring something. The concession stands and other amenities mean you’ll be sure to find whatever it is that you’re missing.
Location, Fees & Spring info:
As Gilchrist Springs is the newest state park in Florida, it’s very much still a work in progress. With that said, it already has plenty of amenities and plans to carry out improvements to the entrance road, the campsites and the bath house, amongst other areas.
Planning on camping? We don’t blame you! It’s a great way to experience the High Spring and the pleasant climate of Florida. The numbered sites are better suited to RVs and seasoned campers, while the lettered sites are sheltered and better for newbies or those camping with young children.
Best time to visit:
There’s no single best time to visit because the park is generally stunning throughout the year. However, it does tend to get busier during the summer. Weekends also tend to be busy, especially with families.
Bear in mind that if you do visit during a busy period, Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park operates on a first-come, first-serve system. This means that if the parking lot is full, you may be turned away. If possible, try to plan your visit outside the school holidays, when crowds are smaller.
Gilchrist Springs is known for being one of the top spots in Florida to get in touch with nature through camping, hiking and wildlife viewing. It’s also iconic because of the undisturbed waters of the Blue Spring that lends the area its name. Ultimately, it’s one of the most beautiful spots in all of the Sunshine State – and that’s saying something!
Note: Pets are allowed at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, as long as they’re kept on their leashes. They’re not permitted in the swimming areas or the springs. Don’t have your own equipment? Not to worry! Head over to the concession stand and ask about equipment hire. For a deposit and a small fee, you can pick up everything from canoes to kayaks and paddleboards.