Our next destination was O’Leno State Park, less than a two hour drive from Silver Springs. This was our first visit to O’Leno, one of Florida’s oldest state parks. The park is located just a little north of Gainesville, near the town of High Springs, and close to several of Florida’s springs.
The campsites are arranged around a loop. Despite some overhanging trees we had no problem navigating the narrow road through the campground. Our site was at the end of the loop and our patio area faced the woods, not the back of another camper.
As soon as we got set up we started exploring. One of the focal points of the park is a swinging bridge over the Santa Fe River. Now, I don’t usually like walking across a swinging bridge but this one was very steady and I’m proud to say I went all the way across the river and back!
We followed the trail beside river for a few minutes before returning to our campsite.
The next morning fog made everything look eerie.
Later that day we hiked the River Trail to the Santa Fe River sink where the river disappears underground. The river rises back above ground about three miles away in River Rising State Park and can be seen by hiking or horseback riding about 2 miles each way.
Wild dogwoods were blooming all through the woods.
Florida has more springs than anywhere else on earth. Springs are huge underground caves and caverns that formed naturally to hold water. From O’Leno it is easy to visit multiple springs in one day.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a popular destination for tubing down the crystal clear Ichetucknee River. When we went tubing there with our kids many years ago we never even saw the river’s headspring. On this trip we stopped to see the headspring before exploring the rest of the park.
When the weather is warm, the park fills up quickly with people coming to tube down the river. We did it with our kids twice and I remember the huge parking lot was full of cars. On one of our tubing trips Henry and our son donned their scuba gear to dive the whole way while my daughter and I lounged in the tubes enjoying the float. The most fun part was hearing people yell as they hit the 72 degree Fahrenheit water. On a hot day, after the initial shock the water feels wonderul.
It was too early in the season for tubing on this trip and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. At the end of a short trail was an overlook and boat ramp with a nice view of the river. The only other person we saw was kayaking down the river. He told us he paddled up river and was floating back down.
The next day we visited two more springs where we dove during our scuba diving days. Our first stop was Troy Springs State Park. The water was high and closed for diving. When we dove there back in 1987 the spring was located on private property. When the state park was created they added ramps down to the spring to make it easier for divers to get their scuba gear to the spring.
We also dove at Ginnie Springs in 1987. It is a privately owned park that has been expanded since we were there.
A fire in the fire pit was a great way to relax after all that wandering.
I’m glad we discovered O’Leno State Park. It was a great place to end our latest Florida adventure.
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