With the kids getting antsy to get outdoors, it’s time to plan a family trip to one of the most family-friendly parks along the Suwannee River, Hart Springs. One of three springs destinations along the eastern shore of the Suwannee River between Fanning Springs and Bell, this Gilchrist County Park provides both a gentle shallow wading area for supervised youngsters and deep natural pools from which the springs emerge.
As the paved paths around the spring basin yield to boardwalk, you enter the floodplain of Hart Springs Run. Paddlers gently ply their way beneath a canopy of cypress to reach the Suwannee River.
The boardwalk reaches the river, too, turning upstream for a gentle walk in deep shade along the Suwannee’s breezy shores. An ancient oak leans out over the river next to an observation deck. As the boardwalk turns away from the river, it enters a majestic floodplain forest. Ibis flutter through the trees, while a pilated woodpecker calls your attention to a tall elm. Cypress knees rise from the inky waters of the swamp.
Boardwalk’s end is after a half mile, at the park’s tent camping area. Set under a dense canopy of grandfather oaks, it’s a pleasant spot to pitch a tent and set up base camp for exploring this section of the Suwannee River, with sites costing $20. As Hart Springs Park is along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail, you may encounter long-distance paddlers spending the night here. You can plan your own day-trip paddle adventure by talking to the folks at the park store. Canoe rentals are available on site, or you can arrange to start your journey at Otter Springs and float back downriver to Hart Springs.
In addition to tent camping, Hart Springs Park has a dedicated RV park with full hookups and a heated pool. Sites are $24 a night and are open and sunny. The RV park isn’t visible from the springs, but it connects to the main part of the park via a walking trail to the park store. Prefer indoor accommodations? The Hart Springs House and the Park House are three-bedroom rental cabins for $125 per night, 2 night minimum. Both are hidden in the woods but are a short walk to the springs.
Suwannee River Water Management District has been working on springs restoration this spring, and should be fully complete just in time for the summer swimming season. During the summer, the springs are always busy on weekends. Admission is $4 adults, $2 seniors, $12 per car or boat (6 people), lower during the off season. Children 5 and under are free. The park opens at 9 AM and closes at sunset, except for those camping on the grounds.