The Ichetucknee River is a 6 mile spring-fed river, flowing through Columbia and Suwannee counties in North Central Florida. The river is part of the Ichetucknee Springs group that include nine named springs that contribute a total of 212 million gallons of water per day. These springs include Ichetucknee Springs, Cedar Head Spring, Blue Hole Spring, Roaring/Mission Spring, Singing Springs, Devil’s Eye (Boiling Spring), Grassy Hole Spring, Mill Pond Spring and Coffee Spring.
The Ichetucknee River flows through floodplain forests and shaded hammocks on it’s way to the Santa Fe River, which then flows into the Suwannee River and on to the Gulf of Mexico. The water is clear and a year round 72°.
With ties back to the 17th century, the park is the site of the Spanish Fig Springs Mission of San Martin de Timucua, built in 1608. These early native settlers were driven out during the Seminole Wars in the early 1800’s. The name Ichetucknee is said to be translated as ‘three streams’, ‘Beaver Pond’, ‘Lumpy Water; and ‘Where there is a pond of Water’.
In the 60’s the river was known to the locals and University of Florida students as a popular place for tubing, to cool off and enjoy. This overuse led to severe littering, leading property owners to eventually sell the property to the State of Florida in 1970. With major cleanup initiatives, a new paved road for easier access, the springs became Ichetucknee Springs State Park and in 1972, Ichetucknee Spring was declared a National Natural Landmark. More about the park’s history can be read here.
Location: The Ichetucknee River is located in Columbia and Suwannee counties, originating inside of Ichetucknee State Park.
Launch Point: The launch is located inside the Ichetucknee State Park North. It is easily accessed by vehicle and consists of stairs as well as a ramp leading down to the river. There is a fee for park entrance, $6.00 2-8 people per vehicle and $4.00 for a single occupant. Below are several outfitters and shuttle services available…
Take Out Point: The take out point is on the Santa Fe River at Guy Lemmons Memorial Park, Hwy 129.
Width and Depth: The Ichetucknee River average s20 feet wide, 5 feet deep with some open sections reaching over 250′ wide. The Santa Fe River section is open and averages 175′ to 200′ wide. The water level on this paddle, where the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe River meet was 15′, with flood stage at 19′.
Rest Areas: Restrooms available at the launch as well as the take out. Along the river, the tube take out areas also provide restroom facilities.
Important Information: Keep the rivers clean! No disposables are permitted on the river. In warmer months, be prepared for the sunny open conditions on the Santa Fe River. Also, from Memorial Day to Labor Day the river is packed! There is a daily limit of 750 people from the North launch so you will need to get there early!
The Paddle Route…
The Ichetucknee River…
The paddle begins at the north launch inside Ichetucknee River State Park, 400′ south of the head spring. It was an overcast 75° and the 72° water did not feel cool at this point. For a little over a 1/4 mile, the current guides the kayaks effortlessly under the lush canopy and just past Blue Hole Spring ( RL ) the Ichetucknee opens up for a beautiful photo opportunity! ( see top photo ).
For the next mile, the river is a largely open expanse with paddleways bordered by a combination of aquatic plants to include Duckweed and Water Lettuce. The water is crystal clear and below the surface eel grass waves with the current as mullet swim along. Several springs are along this stretch, though the access is restricted to several of them.
Devil’s Eye, also known as Boiling Spring, is accessible just off RR at mile 0.75. A nice spring, clearly marked, often hosting turtles, numerous fish and several interesting birds. Passing the 1 mile mark is an area I always like. Here an elongated ‘island’ is in center river with several Cypress trees in the middle. Depending on the water level, you are able to exit the kayak and just sit and relax on the white sandy bottom as the river flows around you. This is the location of both Grassy Hole Spring and Mill Pond Spring.
Mid-Point and Limerock Banks…
Nearing the 1.5 mile mark is the mid-point landing on RL, followed by Dampier’s Landing at the 2 mile mark. Passing Dampier’s Landing on RR are the Limerock formations along the shoreline. Small caves and arches are formed as the Ichetucknee makes several twists in this area.
At one of the last twists in this series is Coffee Springs on RR, marked by a restricted area as a Rare Snail Habitat, home of the tiny Ichetucknee Siltsnail. These snails are no more than the size of a small freckle, resembling a grain of sand. They live in the dead leaves and debris along the bank, consuming algae. This is one of the only habitats they are found.
Onto the Santa Fe River…
The Ichetucknee River continues south for a couple more miles. Just after the 3 mile mark and the last tube take-out, the river flows under Highway 27, makes a slight right and immediately flows under the old railroad trestle. In this slight bend, the current picks up quickly and it is important to keep to the left to avoid being ‘guided’ into the right trestle wall. Nothing major and a little thrill!
These last two miles of the Ichetucknee are under a canopy of hardwood trees, flowing through private property known as Three Rivers Estates Property Owners (TREPO). Just over the 5 mile mark is the Santa Fe River. Here, beautiful Cypress are displaying their fresh spring leaves and we leave the lushness of a canopied Ichetucknee River for an open Santa Fe River.
There is a nice rest stop just across the river after entering the Santa Fe. The day has turned sunny and hot, now in the mid-80°’s. A quick snack, refreshment and we continue the next 4 miles on the open river.
What has been obvious along the Ichetucknee and now the Santa Fe are the distinct water levels stained on the numerous Cypress trees. Today the water level was at 15′ with flood stage being 19′ for this section. Clearly the marking on the trees indicating water levels earlier in the year exceeding 5′ above flood stage! Some docks still remain partially under water.
The last leg of the trip is uneventful but relaxing. I always enjoy seeing the leaning Cypress Trees on RR near the end of Mile 7. Just past the 8 mile mark of the journey, in a sharp bend in the river, are the remains of an old bridge on each side of the river. Reaching this we know we are close to the end. At mile 9.7 we reach a still, semi flooded Guy Lemmons Memorial Park. All and all it was a great paddle. Spring was in the air, there were numerous flowers, birds, turtles and critters as well as all the new growth on the trees and thus ended another chapter in Florida Paddle Notes. Enjoy the photos below!