Columbia County, FL
Before reaching the amusement parks and beaches further south along I-75, motorists first pass through the springs country of north Florida. Here, the unusual karst topography and the Floridan Aquifer combine with ample rainfall create the largest number of freshwater springs in the world. The spring-fed, six-mile long, Ichetucknee Springs State Park forms the southwest border of the county, which begins in Columbia County. The state park is recognized as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The crystal-clear spring-fed waters of the Ichetucknee River offer visitors an opportunity to “float the Ichetuck” in a rented inner tube. Floating the Ichetuck is a popular activity for young and old and is especially refreshing on a hot summer day.
Just to the east of Ichetucknee Springs Park lay O’leno and River Rise State Parks. At O’leno, the Santa Fe River disappears into a large sinkhole. The river returns to the surface just a few miles away at River Rise. The land area between the two parks is known as the “Natural Bridge.” The Natural Bridge was just about the only way early Florida settlers to travel north and south without having to pay a ferryman to cross a river. Today, paddling and fishing are popular activities on both the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers.
Lake City, the largest town in Columbia County, features a one-mile walking path around Lake DeSoto as well as several breweries and restaurants. Young children especially will enjoy feeding the ducks which are found along the lake shore. Lake City is home to a number of festivals, including Olustee Festival, in mid-February a Beer and Wine Festival in late March and the Alligator Lake Spring Festival which celebrates native flora and fauna.