Site 30; W/E; Access to Suwanee River; Long and wide sites in three small loops.
We were close to the old, unheated, but adequate shower/lav. facilities. Poor cell coverage at site, but there is wi-fi available at gift shop.
What to expect from a park created and dedicated to a composer? This park was literally shocking to me on how pretty it was. You drive around several loops that surround the Stephen Foster museum, the carillon (bell) tower/museum, a gift shop, a picnic area and access to a canoe launch and hiking trail. While we were there, they were having prescribed burns and logging that closed all the hiking trails except for the Florida Trail, which hugs the Suwanee river.
The Carillon (bell) Tower.
We were told on registering that there was “music” in the bell tower on Friday night. Not much to go on, but we went anyway. We showed up just at five minutes before 6PM, the scheduled start. Two people were entering with guitar cases, but there were only about four cars in the lot. We joined another group and tentatively opened a side door and peeked in before entering.
Immediately, the music started. Two mandolins, two guitars, and a banjo, and a stand-up bass were playing bluegrass in the round beneath a small rotunda in the center of a museum-like hall. An Irish vocalist sat to the side. Later they were joined by another guitarist and a woman on violin, and the bass player switched to fiddle while the elder guitarist took the bass.
The center mandolin player led the show by going around the group and asking what they wanted to play. Most took turns leading and singing a song. A young mandolin player was timid at first, asking not to lead, but said he was there to learn. An hour later, he was joining in on his turn of solos and he did quite well. He was complimented by the leader and a round of applause which left him beaming. It was just a great social night! Each player was very good.
I really enjoyed watching the banjo player as the only thing that moved on him were his fingers producing amazing solos. The Irishman was at a real disadvantage, in that the others didn't know his songs, so he sang acapella several times. He was very animated in his songs pantomiming the actions in the sea shanty's and other songs he sang.
This was such a comfortable relaxed and fun atmosphere. It was certainly country, but we felt right at home. The leader questioned the late arrival of the guitarist and his violinist friend. The man responded that he had been busy haying and was dealing with doing his taxes. He then took the next lead and broke into a surprisingly high pitch while the violinist harmonized beautifully. I was struck by how they and the others, were just local working folk who had great talent and get together like this and play wonderful music for fun.
The Stephen Foster Museum.
The Stephen Foster museum was a real eye-opener. There were several 19th century pianos including at least one he played on and one use to accompany Jenny Lind, the Swedish Nightingale.
Jenny Lind - or a replica thereof.
Piano used by Stephen Foster at a neighbor's home. He would play there so that his sweetheart next door could hear!
Foster published his work (when he got paid/recognition) through Chisty's Minstrels, who would sing his songs. Most of his music was pirated.
I Dream of Jeanie diorama.
Oh Susanna was eerily life-like - especially with the light within the wagon.
Each piano and other exhibits were accompanied by music sheets of Fosters songs. Each one of those told a brief story of when and why he wrote it along with how it was a reflection of his life – which was very sad and lonely, and ended even sadder. Think of how most of his songs are reflections of going back home, and missing friends and family such as “My old Kentucky Home.”
The most unusual and interesting part of the museum was the several huge dioramas – some of them animated like the racehorses for the storyboard of Camptown Races.
The canoe launch is a significant hike from the parking lot. You need a cart or help. The launching area itself was just a short sand beach with an immediate steep drop into the black water. Sandy was not going to get into a boat on this shore. I admit it would be hairy because the boat would be over an unimaginable depth while abutting the shore for entry. There was literally nowhere to place your feet in the water.
The pretty access to the canoe launch is bone rattling on a bike.
View of the Suwannee River from the canoe launch
Alligators are not allowed to swim at the canoe launch.
Markings of flood levels. The 1973 was over 80 feet higher than normal! Think how much water was flowing!!
A portion of the Florida trail passes right through this very spot. We hiked it for just under two miles to a beach at a bend in the river. The trail hugged the river and offered many views high above. The banks were surprisingly high in most places – too high to descend – but in other places we could walk out onto white sandbars. A very enjoyable hike.
The Suwannee River from the Florida Trail.
Why do some palmettos have their ends like this while others are pointed?
Spring was here!
There are two gas stations with markets, but one (Munchies) was literally so gross inside, I turned around and walked out and got our milk at the Shell station (S&S Food Stores), which was clean inside and the worker pleasant, but there were some country people in there that were borderline scary – one who may have been using something to make him happy, the other was a pungent poor soul who apparently couldn't speak buying a hot dog.
"The" traffic light in downtown White Springs Florida.
Country store in the center of town. That, a canoe outfitter, a bike shop and a bait shop comprise the center.
Just before crossing the river and entering the park there is a parking lot with trail that leads to the town's namesake spring. We didn't know it was there from any park literature or comments. I just noticed a walkway and building as we crossed the bridge into the park.
White Springs is an odorous spring which is surrounded by the concrete and coquina remains of a building constructed in 1908 after the original log bathhouse built in the mid 1800's. It is still an interesting 15 minute walk to visualize the glorious heyday of the spring. After being discovered in 1835, 14 luxury hotels and boarding houses were built by the turn of the century. A fire destroyed most of the town and only one hotel remains.
The spring is surrounded by the remains of the bathhouse.
Photos of what the boathouse looked like around the turn of the last century
Bathing beauties could be seen at the Springs!
The only remaining hotel from the glory days of White Springs.
Big Shoals Public Lands.
Several times I asked the Park Rangers what to do in the area, and the only response was go to Big Shoals Public Lands. A two and a half round trip hike to the shoals was pretty (and pretty hot on this 82 degree day). Masses of saw palmettos blanketed the hardwoods growing around the banks of the river. We saw two different lizards. One, was a common green lizard, but the other was a larger toad-brown colored guy who blended right in with the dead palmetto leaves.
A sign at the park said that the shoals (a series of rapids) reached class III status (the only in the state) only when the river is between 59 and 61 feet. On our trip the water was about 10 feet less than that, but the shoals were a surprisingly good show. Even at under 50 feet, there is enough water flowing that there is a nice roar of the cascading water over two prominent ledges, with a smaller drop in between. Altogether the river drops 9 feet in ¼ mile, which doesn't sound like much, but it was pretty and peaceful as waterfalls are.
The Suwannee is a blackwater river created by tannins staining the clear water.
The trail started off wooded.
One of the lower ledges of Big Shoals from a small viewing platform.
Thick vegetation prevents a close up view of the upper falls.
After the shoals, the trail opens up. Got hot!
If this guy didn't move, I never would have seen him. Fast too. I snapped a couple quick shots and he was gone.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park:
Following the Suwannee River on a map, I was looking for a day trip destination and found Ichetucknee Springs in Fort White, Florida. This National Natural Landmark has 9 named springs along the six mile Ichetucknee River producing an average of 233 million gallons of crystal clear 72 degree water a day, making this one of the clearest rivers in Florida.
Tubing the river is a major activity from May to September. The emphasis is mine, because the parking lot at the South entrance would easily hold hundreds of cars. Trams within the park take tubers up to the midpoint and pick them up at the south end. It is a hike of ¼ mile or so from the tram drop off spots. Tubing options run from 45 minutes to 3.5 hours. Another indication of the scope of use, is that canoeing and kayaking is limited to 750 a day during these months. Cave certified SCUBA diving is available in the Blue Hole spring.
Parking and access is available from either the North or South entrances. We arrived at the unguarded gate of the North entrance first. With no map, or means to ask for information, we turned and went to the more distant South entrance. My choice is always to paddle upstream first if it is an option.
At the South entrance, we chanced upon a park ranger leaving the otherwise un-manned guard house ($6 envelope day-use fee), who suggested we continue straight to Dampiers Landing. I asked her if the access was close to parking, because I had to carry a 55 pound inflatable. She said it was.
Entering the massive parking lot with a small number of cars, we saw a few people drying off or waiting with tubes. With some difficulty we found the trail to Dampiers. After walking 50 yards or so we turned back. I wasn't carrying it this far. I asked a man with his family about the trail and he concurred that it wasn't long. “Less than ½ a mile, no more than a 10 minute walk if you go briskly,” he said. No way.
So..... Back to the North entrance we went. This was a much smaller parking lot, and we easily found the canoe/kayak launch which ended as a one way dirt road with a tiny drop off spot. I imagine on busy days there would be a wait. We saw an outfitter drop off canoes for around 20 teens and an adult. There was a sign that said launch area was closed at 3:00PM. It was 2:30.
After an excruciating deliberation, we opted to hike the trails instead. With an hour needed to set up and break down the kayak, and an unknown length of time needed to paddle back upstream, I could not see us rushing in order to have a relaxing paddle.
The trail to Blue Hole Spring was similar to others in northern Florida, with tall pines, cedar, and even a magnolia tree. Pretty and easy. The Spring had a platform to walk into the water, where a few brave young kids were swimming and a snorkeler, complete in a camo-patterned wetsuit, was diving. Not much to do for longer than 10 minutes. We did not take photos of the spring due to the number of kids swimming there.
An interesting tree on the way to Blue Hole Spring.
Head Spring, which is closer to the parking lot, was much wider and prettier with sand and limestone clearly visible in the shallower edges, looking like coral on an ocean floor. He there were concrete stairs leading into the water where several people were swimming.
On the banks of the Spring.
So, while our trip was uneventful, I would highly recommend this as a paddling or tubing destination, though given the size of the parking lots, I would also recommend going in spring or fall. The water was nearly invisible at the canoe launch making the flowing grasses as well as many fish were clearly visible and enticing to follow downstream. I hop to return.
It is about a 35 minute drive to Lake City , the closest place for restaurants and supermarkets. We found a Cuban food truck that sounded good on Yelp called Two Cuban Guys that sounded good. They had a small built on covered porch attached to what was probably a permanently placed food truck. For $20, we got two large, meaty and tasty Cuban sandwiches, two bottles of water and enough beens and rice for another meal. The chopped pork was a little dry to me, but overall pretty good. The guy serving us was good natured and friendly.
We had a very enjoyable barbecue at Fat Belly's less than a mile from the lights in White Springs.
We meet two men full timing it in a bus conversion. After going to the two Cuban Guys, I had to refer to them as the Two Bus Guys. The Two Bus guys told of that to get into hard to get Florida state parks, you have to use an app that will robo log into these sites to grab one. As many people have done so far, they referred to Bahia Honda as an example.
On to Georgia....