Perfect Launching Point for Ichetucknee Springs & River If you are looking for a great quality campground as near as you can get to Ichetucknee Springs, then look no further. Located just a 5 minute drive from the northern gate of Ichetucknee State Park, this campground ticks a lot of boxes in addition to its proximity to this wet adventure.
Arriving to the campground, you'll pass under a gigantic welcome awning that will take you down the property's long land(and you would be smart to mind the warning signs to drive slowly, unless you're behind the wheel of an off-road SUV or 4-wheeler!) until you arrive at the main lodge, which is tricked out with a game room complete with 3-4 video games, 2 pool tables, jukebox, change machine and a rather worn-down air hockey table. You'll check in at reception with well-meaning and upbeat staff eager to ensure your experience is perfect. Hereto, you'll also find all of those supplies that you forgot- this campground has you covered, offering the basics to those items that you end up saying,"Damn! I wish I had thought of bringing that!" (like the waterproof lanyard pockets for your camera phone and credit cards that you'll need when you're in the Ichetucknee River!).
You'll find the property's well kept bathrooms here between the lobby reception and the game room with 2 isolated showers out back. And as I have a family with l little ladies, where the facilities are of utmost importance, let me just say, that the crew keep these facilities quite clean and organized. While there are some things like shower curtain and rod that could be updated with newer replacements, you won't find much better camping restrooms and facilities than these.
With your campsite location locked down, you'll weave through the snake-like road path until you arrive at your destination. The campground has organized itself well to keep RV's in one area, a modern tent camping area (running water and electricity) in another and a primitive camp area (none of the previous mentioned amenities) in yet its own space. Each of the campsites we saw all come with the basics of a picnic table(some better quality than others - and in our case, we asked for a swap and the team quickly made that request happen!) and fire ring (which is nothing more than an empty wheel rim, which ended up being quite clever. Only downside was that there's no grill cover for the fire ring, so if you're planning on grilling steaks or burgers, bring your own grill top.
Most of the sites we saw had really good shade (a necessity in the muggy Florida summer heat) and fairly good privacy from site to site. The ground cover is hard and compact with powdery sand atop(big tip: bring a rug and set it outside your tent and leave a box outside for all your shoes, flip flops and boots, otherwise, you'll have sand everywhere!). The campground also has its own huge attraction: non-wild animals! This was a big reason for my daughter and I picking this particular campground. We counted 4 cats, 2 pigs, 3 dogs, 1 cow and 5 turkeys (another HUGE tip: these turkeys are actually masquerading as vultures! If you leave ANYTHING out in the open overnight, they will try to consume it, so HANG UP YOUR GARBAGE!).
You can order both Ice and kindle, with the latter being dropped off at our campsite within minutes of putting in the request. There's also a small cantina on the grounds offering up taco salad in a bag (our favorite camping meal!) along with ice cream, lemonade and icees. The grounds are very well kept and there's a groundskeeper who each morning is out to clear Mother Nature with his leaf blower.
Now for the reason you'll find yourself here in the first place: the Ichetucknee Springs and the River itself. First, a very great friend of mine who had attended the university in Gainesville highly recommended we visit this spot, so after moving back to Florida, we decided to shortlist this destination. There's the Springs themselves, which you'll discover not even a half mile after entering the North Gate of the State Park (again, just down the road from the campground) after paying $6 to enter, where there's about 50-60 parking spots (we snagged one of the few remaining) and from there, just a short 2 minute walk to the Springs. The water is clandestine and a perfect 72 degrees all year round(glorious relief in the summer and delectable warmth in the winter!). While the place was jam packed with folks, somehow the Springs themselves didn't feel crowded at all. There's perfectly maintained wooden and stone walkways leading to the Springs with stone steps taking you right into the natural pool and even armrails to assist those that might need it (like us, who were getting in with our snorkel gear). Once submerged, you just can't believe how clear the water is - there was very little in the way of fish, but there exists a fairly cavernous hole in the corner of the Springs that the more adventurous divers and snorkelers attempted to dive deep into.
Beyond the Springs, there's the famed Blue Hole, which is just a 7-10 minute walk from the Springs, which was simply breathtaking! A bottomless narrow cave (cenote) awaits you there, surrounded by a ring of algae-ridden lake grass that fleets of large trout-like fish swam in synchronicity. We had the Blue Hole all to ourselves for about 20 minutes before being overtaken by semi-professional free divers. This is the North Gate.
The next day, before departing, we went to the South Gate for a 2 hour slow ride on the currents of the Ichetucknee River- which was nothing short of magical. While you don't have to pay the $10 (for 2) to take the trolley a mile up river, you do gain another hour of floating down this serpentine-like water fantasy, where you'll see a submerged swamp forest, complete with lines of sleeping turtles decorating passing logs, graceful and ghostlike white herons slowly landing upon a lily pad field. Ensure you pack a Ziploc bag here for all your precious items (phone, wallet, keys, etc.) and BEWARE: there's State Park Rangers at every River entrance scanning for people bringing in bottled anything. My suggestion (as I can't think of a better moment to crack a cocktail, then when heading down this slow meandering river freeway of innertubes, kayaks and canoes!), is to get one of those mini-backpacks that has a liquid pouch and pre-mix your cocktail in the parking lot - oh, and don't forget to ice it down! I hope this review helps you prepare for a quintessential camping experience in an iconic north central Florida location.