The Suwannee River runs through South Georgia into Florida and down to the Gulf of Mexico. The Suwannee is a 235-mile black-water river that hides artifacts and fossils. Although the river became well-known because of Stephen Foster’s “Old Folks at Home,” it remains well-known because of the wildness it discloses. You can travel for miles along the Suwannee and not see signs of civilization. The river borders the longest side of Lafayette County, and the Steinhatchee River has its beginnings in the county, so it should come as no surprise that many of the activities in the county are water-related. A beautiful photo is a morning fog laying over the Suwannee as the sun begins to burn through. Still, it pales compared to the picture in my memory on those early-morning walks.
Lafayette County is rural, quiet, and a great place to relax. They claim it will even lower your stress level (we all need that, right?) Named in honor of the Revolutionary War hero, the Marquise de Lafayette. Locals pronounce it La-FAY-it (like the girl’s name, Faye.) Say it correctly or be marked as a tourist! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
1. The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail
The SRWT starts at White Springs and follows the river for 171 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. It travels over private and public lands and the river, with eight “hubs” along the way. These hubs (or stops) are mostly state parks and towns that offer accommodations to folks enjoying the blueway trail. Lafayette Blue Springs serves as the SRWT headquarters.
2. Your Place On the River
Suwannee River Rendezvous Resort & Campground has 1,500 feet of Suwannee River shoreline and more than 40 acres to wander. There are paved streets, and each campsite has a picnic table, a star-gazer lounge chair, and a fire ring to make your stay more enjoyable. With three pools, a conversation pool, and a hot tub, you have choices for every night. There is a large dog park, with five separate sections for dogs, large and small, and two agility courses. Plans for the next phase call for campsites with individually-fenced dog yards. Camping not your idea of a vacation? (not mine either!) Just give them a call and reserve a room in the Lodge or one of the houses on the property.
The Lodge’s Outdoor Dining Deck overlooks historic Convict Spring. In the early 1900s, chain gang prisoners working on road projects were too far to return to the jail, so they stayed at remote camps, including this area. The natural freshwater spring has 70-degree clear water and was used by the prisoners to cool off after work. The spring has a mapped underwater cave system, but a recent cave-in has rendered it unsafe for cave-diving.
The Lodge has an on-premises restaurant (and if you are there for Thanksgiving dinner, bring stretchy pants…just saying!) They have activities to keep people entertained all week. The Catch and Release Pond is stocked, and no fishing license is required. Fridays there is Bingo; Saturdays Pigeon Races and Chicken Poo Bingo, then karaoke & trivia; Fridays and Saturdays live entertainment rocks the Lodge. The concept of Chicken Poo Bingo was invented in a New Orleans bar during the 1980s. It is exclusive to the Rendezvous in the state of Florida. Various other activities come up, so be sure to check the schedule and calendar. On my last visit, I saw Elvis performing!
3. Horses, Parks, and Picnics
Nearby is the Dragonfly Ranch. Although it is 11 miles over the county line in Suwannee County, it is just a short drive to go horseback riding with Georges. The Dragonfly offers trail rides designed for riders of varying levels of ability. There is a 30-minute ride in the woods and pastures for beginners. More advanced riders will enjoy the 1.5, 2, 2.5 and even 6-hour trail rides through the Christian Tract park (338 acres of woods along the Suwannee), the Suwannee River trails, and the all-day Charles Springs trail ride, with a lunch break at the spring. As you ride the trail with Georges, he will spin tails about the wilderness, hidden springs, and sinkholes along the Suwannee. His tours are educational and entertaining. If you don’t ride, you can still enjoy a day with the horses—he has a great buggy and the perfect spot for a picnic!
The R. O. Ranch and the Suwannee River Water Management District are developing a 2,500-acre equestrian park in Lafayette County. Trails are closed during hunting season, so be sure to check the website before loading your horses! Also, overnight stays are no longer permitted, so you will need to make alternate plans for sleeping arrangements for you as well as your horse.
4. Go With the Flow
Troy Springs State Park is situated on the Suwannee River. The 70-foot deep spring is what they call a “1st magnitude” spring. That classification means that this is one of the largest springs, and it discharges more than 64 million gallons of water EVERY DAY!! I’ll help you with that math—that calculates to 100 cubic feet per second! When you visit a spring, you can look down through that clear water and see the “boil” where the water is bubbling up into the pool. Troy Springs attracts swimmers, snorkelers, and scuba divers (no solos allowed.) For the history buff, there is a Civil War-era steamboat, the Madison, scuttled by her captain in 1863 to prevent her capture. Tip: For the non-swimming visitor, there is an interpretive nature trail.
The Lafayette Blue Springs State Park is also located on the Suwannee River, and it is also a 1st magnitude spring. The park allows you to enjoy birding; swimming; launching your kayak, canoe, or boat; primitive camping; fishing; horseback riding; and scuba diving. The Green Sink is an underwater cave system at Blue Springs with over 12,000 feet of surveyed and documented passageways for the certified cave diver. Non-divers can still enjoy a stunning view of various fish, turtles, and beautiful rock formations.
5. Star Gazing
Lafayette County has excellent dark sky locations. The remote locations and lack of major cities in the area allow visitors to enjoy stargazing and astrophotography. Pack your telescope and/or your camera tripod. Tip: take along a jacket (the nights get pretty nippy even during the summer.)
6. Take a Factory Tour
Fishermen probably know just who the Bass Assassin is, but whether you know about this Mayo-based company or not, call Liz and book a tour. This local company creates Bass Assassin Lures, soft plastic lures that have provided anglers with the right “ammo” to assassinate fish for over 30 years. They say that no matter what type of fish you’re trying to catch, they have what you need. They certainly have every color of plastic and glitter that you can imagine. During my tour, I spotted some of my favorite colors being used to make saltwater and freshwater lures. I even spotted a shrimp that can fool the local trout!
7. Pick Your Pigeon
A Rendezvous highlight for visitors is the weekly homing pigeon race. Since 2012, visitors have picked out what they believe will be a fast flyer. The chosen competitors march from the coop into the pigeon limousine and take a ride about four miles down the road. The birds are released, and the first ones back to the coop win medals and money for their sponsors, and the Pokey Pigeon Prize goes to the very last bird back in the coop. Tip: Pick one who looks “ready to go.” I picked out one that appeared to be eager to fly, with a “Pick me! Pick me!” expression on her face. There was a method to my madness—and it paid off—my pigeon, Skye, was the second one to arrive back at the barn! The resort awarded me my first-ever medal!
8. Waaay Down Upon the Suwannee River
The Suwannee River borders Lafayette County, providing the perfect locale for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. The Suwannee was flowing slowly during my visit. It made for an ideal afternoon floating lazily downstream in my kayak. The water was as smooth as glass and provided mirror-like reflections for my photographs. Kayak or canoe trips are available for a 4- or 6-hour tour, along with drop-off and pickup shuttle services. These can be arranged at the Rendezvous.
Fishing in the Suwannee River means pulling in Large Mouth Bass, Suwannee Bass, Mullet, Blue Gill, Sun Fish, and Channel Catfish. You may even hook a massive Sturgeon (200 lbs.), but they are protected by state law, so you can’t keep them—but what a story you’ll have to tell about the fish that got away!!
You can also fish in the Catch-and-Release Pond at the Suwannee River Rendezvous. This stocked pond is also home to a flock of Peking Ducks who love to play in the fountain’s spray.
10. Sportsmen’s Paradise
Florida sportsmen can hunt for wild hogs year-round. The 31,318-acre Mallory Swamp Wildlife Management Area offers cypress swamps and peat bogs. Fishing, wildlife, and bird viewing spots and trails for horseback riding, biking, and hiking are all available in Mallory Swamp. Birders may record their observations on the Mallory Swamp WMA eBird Hotspot.
The Suwannee River Ranch is a year-round hunting ranch that offers specialized hunts, guaranteed hunts, and youth hunts. The ranch’s terrain ranges from old river bottom to palmetto scrub and various sinkholes. Provisions are made for both shooting and archery. The hunting preserve license will cover all of your hunting activities, so no other permits are needed.
11. Dining Out
The Mayo Café has been serving up country cookin’ since 1988. I’m drooling just thinking about those fall-off-the-bone ribs. Oh, my goodness!! And they were heaped up right there on the buffet—all mine!
In the mood for Mexican? Mayo’s Casa Frias is right downtown. They have excellent food, healthy servings, and friendly servers. The seafood platter was scrumptious!
The Hornet Café is a family-owned and family-run operation. It opened in March 2020 in a building that started life in 1914 as a corner drug store. Drop-in for breakfast or lunch—or a specialty coffee or fruit smoothie. Their homemade soups and sandwiches (on fresh-baked bread) are delicious. Tip: Be sure to ask about the daily specials!
12. Visit THE Bridge
The Hal W. Adams Bridge straddles Lafayette and Suwannee Counties over the Suwannee River. This bridge, built-in 1947, is unusual in its construction because it is both metal Pony Trusses and Stiffened Wire Cables. It has the distinction of being the only suspension bridge in Florida. Tip: There is a boat ramp just below this bridge and several excellent spots for a photograph.
13. Maybe It’s Miracle Whip?
A few years ago, the town of Mayo had an official name change—for one day! Even the water tank had a banner across it, covering the name with the new name “Miracle Whip.” The townspeople took it all in good fun; after all, they were treated to a BBQ luncheon, complete with Miracle Whip Slaw! Explore the town and enjoy the shops, historic buildings, and courthouse. The Mayo Chamber has up-to-date information on its website.
14. Slow Down and Pedal
Take a ride on one of the two on-road bicycle trails. Peacock Springs State Park has four great access points to the springs and is an easy ride from Mayo. Put that ride together with another path that meanders along back roads, crossing the Suwannee River, and ending at Convict Spring for a heart-pumping 24-mile loop. Another ride is a 21-mile out-and-back from Mayo to R. O. Ranch. Check the North Florida website for an interactive map.
There is also a route from Mayo to Steinhatchee, so that bikers can pedal to a Gulf Coast fishing village.
15. Enjoy an Antique Hunt
While you are shopping in the historic section of Mayo, check out the antique/collectible shop. You might find just what you “need” to take home. I did!
16. Join in the Festivities
Lafayette County celebrates at the drop of a hat—or the jump of a fish. The Jumpin’ Sturgeon Festival is in April. July 4th will see fireworks light up the sky. The annual Poker Run happens in September, and October doubles down for the Pioneer Day Festival and the Suwannee River Rendezvous sponsored River Clean-up (kayaks and canoes provided for volunteers and pickups are included.) The Christmas Parade kicks off the holiday season in November. Make your plans early and join in the fun.
Final Tip: Lafayette is one of Florida’s last three “dry” counties. If you want something stronger than the beer or wine (alcohol content less than 6.243% of volume), then you’ll have to bring it with you—assuming you are over 21! And you can’t walk around with an open container.