Testing the waters in Florida

The real fountains of youth

Ichetucknee, a Native American word, roughly translates to “beaver pond.” Well, the beavers were on to something. Ichetucknee Springs State Park in north central Florida is one gorgeous pond. 

Eight clear-as-glass freshwater springs join to feed the Ichetucknee River — a stream of consciousness 6 miles long, 20 feet wide, 5 feet deep and, most important, a constant 72 degrees. 

Florida’s springs are a bucket list box that must be checked. There are more than 700 of these fountains of youth in the Sunshine State. But the ITCH-e-Tuck-nee, says the state park website, is “perhaps the most pristine,” a National Natural Landmark. 

The Timucua, the original Floridians, lived along this river. In the 17th century, Spanish priests built a mission here. The case could be made that your first baptism in these waters will be a spiritual experience. There are numerous choices for immersion. Snorkel and dive. Paddle via board, kayak or canoe. Or drift downstream on a tube at a worry-free 3 mph. 

At this pace, there is more than enough time to appreciate the lush canopy of longleaf pines and the floodplains of cypress knees. And to commune with the resident wildlife: the aforementioned beaver, occasional manatees, otter, softshell turtle and an abundance of birds (egrets and heron, ibis and wood storks, woodpeckers and wild turkey). 

The majority of freshwater springs are concentrated in central and north central Florida. From population centers such as Orlando and Daytona Beach, Tampa and Lakeland, Ocala and Gainesville and as far north as Tallahassee, you are 30 minutes to 90 minutes from a special vacation experience.  

At the least, that could be a glimpse through a clear lens into the Floridan Aquifer, the Sunshine State’s subterranean beating heart. Or a dive into 33-million-year-old limestone caverns. Take a look at Wakulla and Wekiwa, Rainbow and Manatee, Silver and Alexander, Ginnie and Juniper, Three Sisters and Homosassa, Vortex and Devil’s Den. Can you see yourself? 

Take the plunge.