Updated: Aug 9
Ever wanted to go glamping?
Curious about diving into Florida's natural beauty of the native springs? Wondering where to start and how to make it happen? Feel free to grab any of these itinerary ideas you need to make your own amazing adventure! We loved having some quality family time out in nature and enjoying the refreshing beauty of the springs. This was a much-needed mental reset for a busy active family that needed to get away to relax.
Glamping is different than traditional camping, where there are no comforts but direct contact with the land, probably a tent and some sleeping bags, perhaps an air mattress. Glamping (Glamourous Camping) is likely to satisfy those seeking both refuge in nature, without foregoing comforts like air conditioning, beds, electricity and running water. Having a more stable structure and a refrigerator makes camping so much easier. Especially with a little one. In July. In the Florida heat.
Now glamping can be fun any time of year, where camping is really dependent on the elements of nature cooperating. And the bugginess level, which if you know Florida, can be a season of it's own!
** All underlined bolded print opens a link to the accompanying site, I make no money for sharing this info, it is just to make info easier**
Let’s Start with… Where to Stay
Moonshine Acres RV Park is where we booked our Glamping Tent, this is an rv park with great amenities. Right now, they have 6 glamping tents to choose from. We had tent #1. Slept 6 comfortably.
10089 SW US Highway 27, Fort White, FL 32038
I highly recommend this location! It added to our entire quality time experience with family in nature. Located in Fort White, this is about a mile down the road from Ichetucknee and a 15-minute drive to Gilchrist Blue and Ginny Springs We chose it for the location, reasonable price, and also because it is a bucket list item for us as a family to try glamping. I felt it was a good bonding experience for the brothers to manage all the fire and cooking type of activities. The grill did the trick and we took advantage of the game room/ club house also.
All the Amenities....
The Clubhouse was fun! Pool Table, ping pong, video games, family games, lounge area, the outdoor rec zone with sand box, playground, big water slide and cornhole. This place has stuff on site to do! Of course, you still have to drive to and from the springs and make sure you have all the things needed to make a trip like this enjoyable. We were very close to the big water slide and playground. This is a great place with kids, our toddler was in heaven, but we saw a few bigger children having a great time.
The tent itself came with grill, picnic table, patio table that seats 4, 2 porch rocking chairs, your choice of bed selections (we had tent 1 which had 1 bed, one set of bunks and a futon) fridge, coffee maker, coffee table, garbage pail, some crates and shelving, a luggage rack, floor rug, a water spicket on the side, multiple outlets (even one on the porch) and the biggest bonus - two portable air conditioning units. There's also a heater, which served as a counter top in July. The nice lighting definitely sets a tone of easy going fun vibe.
Bathrooms - there are two bathrooms that were being redone in the middle of the glamping tent area. They are having air conditioning installed. The full bathrooms were clean and decent with showers. Hot water and water pressure were good! ✔ I hope when they are done remodeling they replace the rusty mirrors, that's literally my only complaint from the entire experience. Rusty mirrors shelves. We never had to wait to use a bathroom, however I believe only 3/6 tents were occupied. In the front by the club house are a few more bathrooms, four I believe. These have showers as well. Those bathrooms are bigger and have more lighting and the ac is already blowing beautifully. We used these front bathrooms for showering, and the bath bathrooms for toileting closer to the tents.
Gainesville – is the nearest city and about 20 minutes away, has everything you need. It is undergoing gentrification, meaning they are redeveloping the area to make it nicer. Lots of shopping, restaurants, businesses, Walmart, all the things can be found here. Mainly known for being the home of the University of Florida, which has a bit of a party vibe, this growing city has been growing steadily for many years now. If you are visiting the area, you may find yourself stopping to eat or stock up on materials. Fort White is pretty remote, kinda out there away from it all. This makes it nice, but also remote.
Walmart – Located in Gainesville this is an easy one stop shop for all the things you forgot to pack.
Publix/ Winn Dixie – these are the local grocery stores if you want to grab something to eat! About 13 miles away, these are popular food stores with all the grocery options. Google maps will direct you. If you are going the Ginny Springs direction, Winn Dixie that is a common stop off.
Amazon – If you don’t have room to transport all of the things you’ll need, Amazon can ship your floats and all the camping gear you need, be sure to line up delivery dates and communicate with the front desk at the camping site to coordinate getting all your stuff.
A few words about the Florida Springs...
Whichever ones you go to, they close when they reach capacity. Meaning only so many people can enter at a time, and this makes it important to arrive as close to opening as possible if you are 100% determined to enter on any given day. Holidays and weekends are busier. But this is a main reason we stayed the night in this area. Living in Brevard County it is a long drive (4 hours) to get to the Springs which all open at 8 am, and no one wants to leave that early for a relaxing day.
If you can't find the info for which you seek, create it.
On this trip the two springs I wanted to visit are Ichetucknee and Gilchrist Blue. Because I've heard a lot about them from friends who have visited, I had a lot of ideas in my head, but as I was researching I learned that lots of policies and things have changed, and I had trouble knowing how to plan for this other than getting up early.
Our Four Day Itinerary goes like this:
Day 1: Arrive at Glamping site by 2 pm. Get settled, enjoy Moonshine Acres. Karaoke at night, family games.
Day 2: Leave at 7:45 to go to Ichetucknee Springs. Start at South Entrance 1 mile away. Float in lazy river. Pack lunch and snacks. Eat at their concession stand. Move to North Entrance for swim and exploring of the 3 trails. Snorkel in Blue Hole Spring. Dinner on grill.
Day 3: Leave at 7:30 to go to Gilchrist Blue Spring and float/ swim. Rent kayaks/ Canoe and go into Santa Fe River to explore. Picnic lunch. Enjoy trails. Dinner on Grill.
Day 4: Pack it up, have a big grill breakfast before leaving. Check out 11 am. Lunch stop on the ride home.
We ended up eating at Ford's Garage in Gainsville. The food was actually delicious. Great atmosphere and kind people. I dropped some money in the bathroom and a lady found it and gave it to my daughter to return! Thankful.
While this seems like a really basic itinerary, a lot of planning goes into making this happen, and I am good at delegating tasks to my little team, but they all need specific directions for it to all work out.
Luckily, all of the plans except for our big breakfast on the last day went off well, and I am sharing all of the details to make the planning easier for someone else.
Changes at Ichetucknee
Ichetucknee was a place I’d heard about for years! I feel the real need to write this because trying to plan this adventure was more complicated than it needed to be. Mainly because I’ve been told by friends who have gone to Ichetucknee that it’s a 4-to-5-hour float. When multiple reliable sources tell me something I believe it. But apparently there have been changes made since Covid that impact how this trip goes. The long float is now just over 2 hours. Also, I was struggling to find a place to stay close by that wasn't a fortune.
There is no longer one float from one end of the spring to the other. The park is now separated into a North area and a South area, with all floating limited to the South side, and swimming/ trails are in the North side. Floats cannot be bigger than 60 inches in any direction, this is due to sticks and things floating in the river that could make navigation difficult. I had to steer around some downed trees and with the current it was a little sudden challenge.
In the south area, the main activity is floating. Here you can bring your own floats or rent them, and catch a tram to the drop off point, or hop into the water at Dampier point and float. The tram system will take you to the farthest beginning point of the spring, and also pick you up from the end of the run. The parking area is basically the middle point so you can also walk if you do not want to pay for the trim. However, if you do use it multiple times that quickly becomes worth the $8.00/ person - especially on a hot summer Florida day!
The North Area is where you will find a swimming zone, at the main head spring.
Here there are also three different trails for your exploration! Blue Hole Spring is located here and it's definitely something to see.
At the South Side, you do need to fill out a waiver to float and make your purchase selections (unless you bring your own floats and don't need a bracelet for the tram) than you go directly to the water! They do make it as quick as possible with tablets in this pavilion to the right to help you sign for each family member, then purchases are made at the window.
Fort White, Florida
8 a.m. until sunset (apx. 5:30 in winter and 8:30 in summer)
North Entrance - Swimming, 3 Trails including Blue Hole
8294 SW Elim Church Rd.
Fort While Fl 32038
South Entrance – Tubing, Lazy River Float
12087 S W US-27
Fort White Fl 32038
$6 per vehicle (two to eight people).
$4 single-occupant vehicle/ or motorcycle
$2 pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicle with holder of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
Tram/Shuttle – part of what makes this park unique is this convenience!
Tram and shuttle service offered by the park concessionaire.
Tram and shuttle tickets provide wrist bands purchased at the concession facility adjacent to the parking lot at the park's south entrance.
Current rate is $8.00 per person, all day unlimited usage. Check rates for your day.
If bringing your own floats, it is especially helpful to have an electric pump to save your own air and time! If you are loading the floats and taking the tram, it's as easy as letting them stack them in the float cage and riding!
To Tram or not to Tram
You don’t have to pay for this extra added option, but it’s a nice touch not having to walk (especially on those hot summer Florida days) . There are 3 Spring entrance points, and the parking is in the middle of the run. Tram connects each stop, and keeps your day in nature relaxing. Save the walking for the trails on the North Entrance!) Entrance to float at Dampier's Landing is .25 a mile behind the concession stand. From here there’s 45 minutes to an hour to the last take-out point.
The farthest point to put drop in at is called Midpoint (I think this is a point of confusion at there used to be a longer stretch of river run for floating, and this is now the main and farthest access point, but it’s called Midpoint.) It is accessible by tram or walking along the Midpoint trail behind the concession building .65 mile from the parking area. You can then float (45 minutes to 1 hour) to Dampier's Landing and or continue floating for an additional hour to the last take-out. At the last take out the shuttle will meet you and return you to the Dampier Landing. These trails can be walked, but they are not very shady or paved. If you have really active kids who need time to run and jump, this is an awesome option.
The food is actually good. They have a small selection including burgers, chicken tenders, wraps, and smoothies for your convenience. They have a system where you order at one window and pick up at another window. There are a few benches and lots of people eating, drinking and waiting. The order line is inside of the gift shop where it's nice to get that shot of air conditioning!
While the boys found the tenders unimpressive, by daughter enjoyed her cheese steak and I really enjoyed my wrap.
Ichetucknee is very particular about not allowing anything into the river that could pollute it.
No plastic disposable water bottles, only like a personal tumbler cup (like a yeti). Also, no alcohol or smoking is allowed. (The Spring for that is a private spring with less family friendliness - Ginny Spring!)
And while you wait at a picnic bench for your food to be done, you can play dress up with all the accessories! Hide and Go seek under the sun hat is highly recommended.
This State Park frequently closes due to capacity limits. During this time, gates close and visitors are not able to enter. A line will form by the street to the side, in the grass. Rangers will not allow blocking the road. Gates reopen when space is available. Parking is limited and the Springs are not pleasant when over filled. This makes it necessary to get there at opening to ensure entry if you are traveling here from a distance.
On the day we were there they didn’t reach capacity until after 10:am, but we are told they are often filled by 8:30 am. They let in a certain number of cars and then hold until the space is made by people leaving. Some days the line to enter forms prior to the gates being open.
Ichetucknee is a large park with two entrances that do not connect and access to one does not guarantee access at the other side. When we drove from the South (tubing) to the North (swim/ hiking) we were told with our parking proof we’d be able to enter, however, they were at capacity, and we waited about 30 minutes to be able to get in. You will not have to pay again, but you are not guaranteed a parking spot is available.
Visitors love this park for the nine major crystal-clear springs that join to create the 6-mile Ichetucknee River. The upper portion within the state park is a National Natural Landmark, perhaps the most pristine spring run in the state and best enjoyed by canoe or kayak during the cooler months. We loved it for the peacefulness. Surrounded by cypress, pines, and oaks, the shallow rocky edges of the spring give way to a wooded area that is home to lot's of species. Many birds, deer, along with manatees, turtles, river otters and gopher tortoise may be spotted!
On the North Side you can swim in the spring, or explore trails. One of these trails leads to the Blue Hole Spring. Here 67 million gallons of water per day flow, this will be evident when you are in there feeling the water push you back as you swim toward the boil! A great place to snorkel, you’ll see many species of turtle and fish. While the water remains 72 degrees year-round, it will feel warm in the winter months and refreshingly cool in the summer. We did swim in the area, and also at the main Head Spring where there were some rocks which I found myself happy to sit on, just as I remembered I am not a fan of cold water! My kids were definitely teasing me at this point!
Blue Hole Spring is great to swim in the water with turtles and fish, snorkel to see the natural pristine habitat, but only certified divers can enter the vent/ cave entrance which is ten feet down. This first magnitude spring has an impressive flow! Divers must use their hands to climb down as the rushing water pushes outward and upward. It was a beautiful walk and much less busy area. A smaller spring area, feeling even more secluded.
I highly recommend this lazy river float. This was our favorite part of the adventure.
Ichetucknee shows you what native Florida looks like, and brings you back in time!
8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year
$6 per vehicle (two to eight people).
$4 single-occupant vehicle.
$2 pedestrians, bicyclists
Camping $18 per night plus tax, plus a nonrefundable $6.70 reservation fee and a $7 nightly utility fee for RV, cabin, bungalow, boat and yurt units. Utility fee includes water, electricity and sewer. (Utility fee does not apply to tent camping.)
*Florida residents 65 years of age and older or those who hold a Social Security disability award certificate or a 100% disability award certificate from the federal government receive a 50% discount on current base campsite fees. (Reservation fee and utility fee are excluded.) Must present documentation at check-in.
We came for the day to play in one of the newest additions to the Florida State Parks!
One of the newest to join the State Park system, In October 2017, Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park officially became Florida's 175th state park. Pumping 44 million gallons of water a day, this is a second magnitude Spring, with several other springs along the run. In addition to a boardwalk at the main spring, a nature trail meanders beneath towering trees along the edge of the floodplain formed by the springs. Right now they are doing some rehabilitation and have some areas screened off. There is a scenic trail to walk and admire the way of the water flow. The broad path to the right of the boardwalk leads through the forest to more springs. Surrounded by floodplain forest, Naked Spring is a true gem in its natural setting. The Nature Trail begins just past Naked Spring. The route makes a 1.5-mile balloon hike from the start of the path near Naked Spring. The 1.8-mile hike from the main parking area is rugged in places but also deeply shaded. Since a good portion of the hike is in the floodplain, it can be flooded at times.
The swimming area has the feel of a large natural swimming pool. You can float, but it's not very deep and there is no separate lazy river area. From the cleared area along its shore, you can see two spring vents. They are at least a dozen feet down although the water is so clear you can see it pretty well. Most of the water in the Blue Springs pool area is shallow. Many people snorkel down and check out the ledges looking like a cave and investigate for themselves. Scuba diving is permitted here as well. The Santa Fe River is a quarter of a mile out, just passed the rope which says, “no swimming past this point”, and kayakers and canoes navigate through the main swimming area to get into the river. This can be a bit cumbersome for those in floats and non-experienced vessel drivers. The water is extremely clear, but when a lot of people are walking along the bottom is disturbs the calm and creates some murkiness.
The Vibe here is like summer picnic in the Springs, with lots of hilly grass, several pavilions, people all grilling, eating out of their coolers, playing ball and frisbee, and music everywhere. Where there were no speakers allowed in Ichetucknee, here they were fine. The kids took an extra float in the spring for their Bluetooth speaker and jammed out in the water. I was managing a few work things and mentally preparing myself for the chilly water.
Paddling, snorkeling, and swimming are all popular at the main springhead and spring run. 1/4 of a mile away from the Santa Fe River, a river which the springs in the State Park feed. There are other springs on-site; and they are Little Blue Spring, Naked Spring, Kiefer Spring, and Johnson Spring.
Paddling at Gilchrist
Canoe and kayak rentals are available on-site by Anderson's Outdoor Adventures. We took this opportunity to explore a little deeper out, and when you enter the river, you are instructed to turn right into the current and paddle as far upstream as you like before returning to the park. You sign that you will not turn left and venture into neighboring Ginny Springs. I heard a lot of remarks made about this spring sounding like the red headed stepchild because it is privately owned and mostly unregulated. Our paddle was a family adventure with 3 crafts we all took turns in, and we set out for two hours. It was sunny. Hot. and while we didn't mind the dragon flies which were landing on us frequently, we did not like the spiders which we saw every time we approached some trees, we thought we'd climb along the river. They do however have an island, Rum Island County Park - which people row out to grill or hang out at. We saw lots of floats and swimming around the ramps and I had to get out to inspect and find out what we discovered! I felt like it was uncharted territory. So exciting!!
The real spotlight of Rum Island County Park is the namesake Rum Island Springs. This spring offers a unique combination of shallow areas perfect for children to splash around, along with wheelchair-accessible ramps and steps for individuals with mobility challenges. These accessibility features ensure that everyone can enjoy the wonders of Rum Island Springs. Exploring the spring, you’ll find a remarkable 11-foot deep hole, inviting you to take a refreshing dip or snorkeling adventures. The spring’s proximity to the Santa Fe River adds to its allure, as the river’s gentle currents provide a calming atmosphere surrounded by wooded beauty. Not far from the access into Gilchrist Blue Springs.
Paddling upstream is a lot of work. The current is strong. Coming back was a great time, with barely any need to row, just steer. We all had to have life jackets, and the baby had her own. She took a nap in the canoe on her mommy's lap, and they required us to take the canoe for an infant or toddler. Kayaks are much easier to steer and maneuver.
The Santa Fe River:
Curving past hardwood hammocks and through river swamps on its way to joining the Suwanee Rive, many clear springs feed the Santa Fe and a dip in the crystal waters provides relief on hot day! Some privately owned Springs (like Ginny) charge admission to enter and will be posted as such as you enter the spring run. There are other publicly owned parks that do not charge. Small shoals are present during low water, which can be attempted by intermediate paddlers. The Santa Fe River goes underground in O'Leno State Park and reemerges over three miles away in River Rise State Park as a circular pool before resuming its journey to the Suwannee River. From the put-in near US 41/441 it is possible to paddle about 5 miles roundtrip to visit the River Rise. This is a remote and beautiful area and it is worth paddling upstream to enjoy the wilderness scenery.
The following map and trail guide are provided courtesy of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Greenways and Trails:
Devil's Ear, Devil's Eye, Ginny Springs, Dog Wood, and Gilchrist Blue Springs are some of the Springs feeding the Santa Fe, and one of the reasons this is such a beautiful piece of Florida. Rich in life straight from the aquifer this fresh water attracts wildlife and makes things grow. We loved being out in nature's playground and spending time out in the middle of the river. We were also ready to pull up to our spot which was undisturbed and waiting for us as we pulled the double and single kayaks, and canoe back into Gilchrist Blue Springs.
They do have a limited concession which looked very basic to me, and I preferred to pack sandwiches for the day. However, if you do need something to eat, they have food, drinks and ice cream. We sure did get some ice cream! Now I don't want you to miss out on anything awesome, but I am ok if you don't eat here.
What to bring on your Glamping & Springs Adventure?
*A portable fan, this will be great on the porch while eating or grilling for keeping bugs away, and also for circulating the cool air inside of the tent.
*Bug Spray / citronella candles (it’s Florida) you may wish you had some if you don’t bring it.
*Charcoal/ lighter fluid
*Blower/ Pump for floats
*Rope – Some of the springs have a size limit on floats, but you can tie together if you’d like once you are in.
*Water shoes or socks (if you don’t like the feeling of the squishy slimy bottom which is sometimes slick)
*Waterproof bag for belongings
*Cooler/ Ice/ Water/ Drinks/ Snacks
*Water camera or waterproof case for your phone
*Don't forget the swimmy diapers if you have little ones!
*Possible Rain Gear
*A portable hammock
*blue tooth Speaker
What about the weather?
Florida is known for some pop-up afternoon storms from March - October. But really, the weather forecast (whatever it says) could be wrong. There could be rain. It may not last long, but it is a good idea to at least consider it may very well rain. Now I have greatly enjoyed the springs in some rain. Less sunny and bright but no less beautiful, I actually appreciate the weather chasing many people away, so I feel like I have the place to myself. However - if there is lightning. it's a good idea to get out of the water and wait it out. Wait inside or under a solid roof and avoid metal until it's over. A typical Floridian keeps a hoodie or hooded jacket close in case of the need to grab a quick cover. An umbrella may be helpful as well. Pick up a poncho at a dollar tree or Walmart if you really want to have a light option to stay dryish.
Read here about the 8 Things a Rainy Day on Vacation is Good For!
Positives/ Negatives of Glamping
Make new memories and do something different. If you stay at a hotel in Gainsville, you'll have to leave a little earlier in the morning and may pay a little less. But this was an adventure, and we were able to reconnect with the earth, feel like we were less separated from the trees and elements, but still had a little extra comfort. The bug net around the tent is genius by the way!
Springs – Family Friendly vs. Wild Private option
Ginny charges $20. per person to enter. The camping sites are unmarked. This is a very carefree method with unregulated glamour. However, recently some accidents caused injury and it was apparently difficult for the emergency workers to find the ones in need. Ginny Spring is beautiful. It's just gotten the reputation of being the party spring, and I would not advise parents brining their young children to this one. It varies between shallow and deep, and the cave there is very deep.
While it is a true gem, it can be the other people you are sharing the Spring with that make it a good or bad experience and the loud music and party atmosphere work for some but not everyone.
At the North Entrance of Ichetucknee : Head Spring - this part of the Spring is not too deep, a bit rocky (which is nice) and feels like a natural pool in the middle of the woods! Not a lot of picnic space, or area to put out towels or a bag, but people just kind of claim an area and head into the water. As this was our last stop of the day, after multiple floats, eating, switching to the North entrance (we had to wait 30 minutes for entry after 4 pm) some trail walking, Blue Hole Spring this was our final float and swim of the day!
Affordability meter: 5/10
On a scale of 1-10 how affordable is this trip?
With 1 being utterly unaffordable and 10 being basically free
The Springs are about as economical as is gets. You can pack light or bring it all with you, for the cost of some towels, parking, and the time/ gas to get there let nature do the work for you. Go stand in the water. Float. Swim a little. Breathe deeply. Treasure hunt. Enjoy the clean living water that is surrounding you fresh from the aquifer. You don't actually NEED anything other than your senses to completely experience this place. Just breathe and listen. When you pay one small entry for a whole carload, it's hard to beat that! I do recommend anywhere you go you see the surrounding area to appreciate all of the beauty that exists.
The cost of this trip comes from the remoteness of the springs and proximity of accommodations. There are a variety of hotels/ motels and Airbnb's for the taking, but your vibe will be impacted based on your choice. Especially because some of Gainsville is a bit run down, and newer areas tend to be more costly, it is a challenge to find something low cost for this adventure. I rate this a 5/10 because while the money was well spent, I still had to budget and plan for the expense of traveling, staying away from home, meal prepping and bringing all the things to make this experience what we wanted it to be.
Wherever your travels take you, be sure to keep your presence in the moment.
Nature is healing, grounding and living. Tune in.
Enjoy where you are at. Be a little flexible with people and their navigation of time.
Let go of things you can't control.
Remember to put your people above things, and cherish the memories.
Do things that will make you proud of yourself when you remember the scenario.
Live more, in abundance and walk in your own footsteps.
Breathe fresh air, feel the flow of water, and find your own level.
A note from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip.
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My goal is to make traveling easier for families and cut down on the planning process. 💜
If you are close to Gainsville, you may want to check out Saint Augustine while you are in proximity!!
If you'd like to visit a variety of Springs in Florida, this will help you to determine which Springs are best for you! Blue Springs Orange County is another favorite, as well as Alexander!
I specialize in helping families spend more time enjoying their quality time together and less time having to figure it all out. My four children have been my test subjects of how to plan a great family adventure for many years and now that my youngest is 18, many of my travels are work related, or grandma related! As time has changed, I've evolved but I still LOVE TO TRAVEL, explore, wander, visit, discover, learn and love. If nature is there, I can find my happy place. I use the term single not to emphasize my status but to signify that if I can manage some family fun on a limited teacher's salary with four children, anyone can do it. I am just very intentional in how I spend my time and earnings. I typically seek out budget friendly ways to enjoy my time, but will occasionally splurge for the right reasons :-)
God Bless every road you travel on. xo