The Suwannee River and It’s Tributaries–The Beating Heart of Natural North Florida
Florida’s mighty Suwannee River represents the heart (and arteries) of our Natural North Florida region. It flows over 200 miles from south Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp to the Gulf of Mexico, on the border of Dixie and Levy counties. It is fed by countless springs, each flowing from the Floridan Aquifer, as well as tributaries like the Santa Fe River, the Ichetucknee River, and the (northern) Withlacoochee River.
Yes, there’s our Gulf coastline (The longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower US!), and some of our counties have only lesser springs, but ALL are affected by the Suwannee River and its affect on its surrounding lands, lakes and streams.
There are many ways to experience the Suwannee River. For expedition-minded folks, we recommend paddling The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. Some paddlers begin their adventure at the Okefenokee headwaters, but most start about 175 miles upstream at White Springs, near Stephen Foster State Park. From there, one can almost drift to the Gulf, as the river is unimpeded by dams or structures (or rapids) its entire length.
The Suwannee River is, despite the large number of springs along its shoreline, a dark water river, fed by runoff through swamps and forests. There are a few larger springs along its banks, most importantly at Lafayette Blue Springs State Park, Troy Springs State Park, Fanning Springs State Park and Manatee Springs State Park. Lesser springs like Hart Springs, Otter Springs, Convict Spring and Royal Springs all offer excellent access from either the river or from County Parks. You can find camping faciillities at most of these parks, or take advantage of the Florida Park Services’ array of River Camps along the river (See your Suwannee River Wilderness Trail Paddling Guide PDF for information about our River Camps!)
As thrilling as a trip down the Suwannee River, its lesser tributary, the Santa Fe River and its tributary, the Ichetucknee River are the most popular rivers for shorter day trips or short term outings. The Santa Fe forms north of Gainesville in Union County, takes a 5-mile trip underground at O’Leno State Park, and emerges at River Rise, near the town of High Springs. The Ichetucknee River, is short, spring-fed and begins at Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Both rivers and their main springs are popular with paddlers, tubers, snorkelers and even SCUBA enthusiasts. The Ichetucknee River is one of the most beautiful rivers in Florida and is gin-clear. The Santa Fe River can be tannin-stained but clear near spring runs.
Poe Springs and Rum Island are two county parks alongside the Santa Fe River. Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, just downstream from Poe Springs, is Florida’s newest State Park, opened in 2018. Ginnie Springs is a private park and campground, near Gilchrist Blue Springs.
It’s a difficult task to fully explain the majesty and beauty of our Natural North Florida rivers in just these few words. We encourage you to explore our website and to take a look at a recent video produced by the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation.