Exploring Blue Springs Park in Florida’s High Springs
12/2017 Revision Note:
Blue Springs Park has since been acquired by the state and is now Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park. The boardwalk suffered damage after Hurricane Irma and is being repaired, but is not yet open. Camping is prohibited as of this date but may reopen in the future.
Along the Santa Fe River lies an incredible paradise, hidden underneath the thick canopy of North Central Florida: Blue Springs Park, the secret gem in High Springs.
Also known as Gilchrist Blue, Blue Springs Park, a local swimming hole, is not easy to find. If you travel via the Santa Fe River, chances are you’ll sail right past without blinking- just another dock over the water. Going by car, a long bumpy dirt road will make you wonder if you’re headed the wrong way. But paradise does not come easy- you have to make the effort- surpass the masses and go that extra mile to reach your Shangri-la.
I heard whispers about this place for years and drooled over spring hunter’s photos of aquamarine sparkling waters and the endless boardwalks. I’d heard stories about people camping there- waking up right next to a spring, the mist rising from the water as the sun warmed the air. To me, it was a legendary place, like that Shangri-la, or Atlantis, filled with beauty and wonder- an experience that transcended words- somewhere out there- out of reach.
Certainly not unattainable, Blue Springs is not beyond grasp, but only a few hours drive away. And this year, despite the cold Spring Break temperatures, I decided it was high time we explored this little-known treasure in Gilchrist County. So, I loaded up the brood and headed to High Springs. On the map- it’s in the middle of nowhere. On the drive, through cow fields and forests- it’s in the middle of nowhere. But an adventure at Blue Springs is worth the trip.
Blue Springs Swimming Hole
When we arrived at the park, the temperature had risen from below freezing to 46°F- brrrr! Unusually cold for Florida, we had been basking in 80°F temperatures all month – heck, for most of the winter- until Spring Break came (of course). The cold weather scared away the other adventurers and on our arrival to Blue Springs Park, all we spotted was a lone tent, bright red, set up in the otherwise empty camping area- yes, just one. We were the only other visitors there. The owners had a fire burning and invited us over to get warm, but the sapphire blues of the springs were a-calling.
A popular local swimming hole in the warmer weather, a diving platform stretched out over the mainspring, a gaping crack in the earth’s surface and a 2nd magnitude spring. By the time we returned from investigating the smaller L’il Blue Springs swimming hole, the family campers from that red tent were fearlessly jumping from the platform into the blue-green waters of Blue Spring. At 72°F, the temperature in the water was warmer than the air!
A long wooden boardwalk stretched from the mainspring and twisted and turned along the entire length of the run, out to an overlook at the tannin-stained waters of the Santa Fe River. There was another spot along the boardwalk where you could jump into the water, but that was it. I easily imagined it packed with teenagers in high season, hanging out over the creek.
You can snorkel the run or paddle the run- and the water is crystal clear (check out the video!) or you can take a side trip up Naked Run to Naked Springs.
The Nature Trail
After a picnic lunch at one of the tables in front of the mainspring, we headed for the nature trail, passing the third swimming hole: Naked Springs (no- there was no one naked there). Further along the wooded trail we stumbled across Johnson Spring- they say you can swim there too, but it looked muddy and less inviting compared to the other springs.
The nature trail wound through the woods, followed a small stream, and clambered over a rocky area- which was where the final spring should have been- but had dried on our visit. Eventually, the trail looped around back to the entrance. My daughter discovered a side trail that led us back to the river- though I suspect it was a deer trail. Had it not been so cold, I would have been on the lookout for alligators and Water Moccasins, but the cold weather makes those critters sluggish- we didn’t even see any sunbathing- it was that cold!
Blue Springs is a privately owned park. If you enter via the Santa Fe- you can swim, but if you get out on their property- you pay the visitor’s fee.
This park, also called Gilchrist Blue, is often confused with the other Blue Springs Parks throughout Florida. We tried to visit another Blue Springs Park near Chiefland over Christmas Break- Make sure you are traveling to the right park.
Bring a picnic lunch, a snorkel & mask and make a day of it- or a tent & overnight near a spring!
As always, if you are visiting from out of state or out of country, please read this post about Florida Alligators for your own safety. Forewarned is forearmed!
My sister later asked me if we saw the legendary Naked Ed at Naked Springs- I told her I may have freaked out if I was hiking in the woods with kids and saw anyone naked. Naked Ed, a local eco-warrior, protects Lily Springs located farther south on the Santa Fe- so we were pretty safe. Apparently, Ed doesn’t actually expose himself to people but wears a loincloth. Yes, weird, but that’s how legends are made.
Note: Naked Ed has since taken ill and no longer resides on the river.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Blue Springs Park is located at 7450 NE 60th Street, High Springs, Florida 32643
- Contact: 386-454-1369
- Fees: $6 per vehicle 2-8 persons, $4 single occupant
- You can rent canoes/kayaks/SUPs from the park to explore the run & Santa Fe River.
- They have a small concession area by the mainspring with hot dogs, ice cream, soda, water.
Other Posts That May Interest You:
- Exploring Rum Island
- Hiking with Gators on La Chua Trail
- The Wild Life: Kayaking Florida’s Silver River
- Making the Most of Your Walt Disney World Adventure