We did truck/boat camping along the Suwanee River in northern Florida. We took the boat 22 miles down river to the Gulf of Mexico and visited four springs that we hadn’t seen before.
Mr. B. had planned a boat trip down the Suwanee River while I was supposed to be in Madrid visiting our son. The Madrid trip didn’t happen, so I decided to accompany B. on his river trip. One of his bucket list items has been to take our small boat down the Suwanee River all the way to the ocean. We have spent a lot of time in this area when the kids were young teenagers, and we hadn’t been back in about eight years. We were pleasantly surprised to find some new primitive springs that we hadn’t visited before.
Clear Water Springs on the Suwanee
Northern Florida is full of freshwater springs. The limestone bedrock is riddled like Swiss cheese with holes and caverns, and the cave system has been partially mapped by divers. Windows to groundwater exist in the numerous sinks and springs. The water temperature stays at an ambient 75 degrees and feels wonderful on a hot Florida day. Although ground water quality in general in Florida has suffered over the past 20 years, many of the springs are still crystal clear and beautiful. The springs feed into rivers like the Suwanee and can be easily visited by car, boat, canoe, or kayak.
Boat Trip from Manatee Springs to the Gulf of Mexico
One of rituals when we began our spring trips was to take a plunge into the Branford town spring. Branford is at a crossroads, and you’ll pass through on your way to just about anywhere in the area. It has named itself the “Cave Diving Capital.” The town is right on the Suwanee River, and they have made a town park around the large head spring that has a short run to the river. We took our first swim here before continuing down to Manatee Springs.
We stayed two nights at the campground in Manatee Springs State Park. For $20/night, we got park access, a camping site with water, electricity, and hot showers. The spring themselves are a short walk from the campground. When we arrived in the early evening we set up our tent and went for a swim in the springs. Manatees gather here in the winter but they were on summer vacation, so we humans had the springs all to ourselves. The campsite is home to herds of small deer who come begging for handouts in the early evening. The raccoons are more sneaky–in the night one of the varmints opened our cooler and sucked down the contents of nine eggs.
The next morning we drove the boat to a nearby boat ramp and headed downstream for the Gulf. We drove the boat 22 miles down the river through wilderness right to the Gulf. At the mouth of the river is the cute fishing village of Suwanee. Funky fishing shacks are built next to more grandiose beach houses on Suwanee’s canals.
Visiting Some New Springs by Car
We have spent so many vacations down here, but we still hadn’t visited every spring. We broke camp and took off in the truck for a day of spring exploration. Our first stop was Fanning Springs. There is a nice clear head pool, but the run has been partially dammed to make a large swimming area. This would be a great place to bring kids for the day. There is a boardwalk from the spring area through primeval forest down to the river.
Our next stop was Otter Springs. They have put large boulders on top of black plastic around the edge of the head pool–not appealing and we didn’t even get in the water. Next up was Hart Spring. Hart is bigger than Otter, and the sides have been reinforced by a low concrete edging, turning it into a spring-fed swimming pool. We are so spoiled that we didn’t swim here either. We drove to our next camping site right on the river.
River Rendezvous at Convict Springs
Our next two nights were spent at the River Rendezvous near Mayo, Florida. It used to be known as Jim Hollis’ River Rendezvous, and was built to take care of people cave-diving in Convict Springs, which is on the property. We had last visited in 2008, right after the current owners had bought it. They have since built a horribly ugly RV park with a swimming pool on a field uphill from the original complex, but they have kept the original primitive camping area intact. Our campsite was right on the riverbank in the shade of tall live oaks. We had a primitive campsite with no water or electricity for $20. They have different cabins and rooms for rent as well. There is a house right on the river that sleeps 10 that I have my eye on for a family getaway next summer.
After setting up camp we went for a dip at dusk in Convict Springs. The boat ramp was not far from our camp site, and the next morning we put into the Suwanee for a little spring exploration. When you visit the springs by boat, you look for a clear run into the river, and just tie up there and either swim or walk into the spring. We headed downstream for a couple of miles and found Royal Spring. A platform has been built to that you can jump/dive into the head pool. B. never misses a chance to dive into water.
We swam about 30 feet over four guys who were training for cave certification. We went about half a mile further downstream and found Suwanee Blue, which is a series of small pools that flow into the river. We got back in the boat and returned upstream past the campground to our last spring stop–Bathtub Spring. It has the perfect combination of good water quality and pristine setting that make us love these clear water springs.
Entrance fee into the state parks is $6.00 per vehicle. If you are camping you don’t have to pay the entrance fee. Some county parks are free and some charge $4-$6 per vehicle. Primitive camping in both state and private campgrounds is about $20, and RV sites are $30-35.