All Floridians know that summer here starts in March, when the cool breezes of our southern winter evaporate and the sweltering, relentless humidity envelopes us all. Temps in the 90s send us all searching for a cool reprieve. While our outdoor bars offer misters and cold drinks, sometimes we need more.
As most of us will be staying in the States for vacations this year, here is a list of our favorite road trips to help you, your family and friends cool off and reconnect — one natural, lazy river at a time.
On summer weekends, these places fill up fast, so we recommend arriving early or going during the week if possible to avoid the crowds. Do your research ahead of time so you know when and where to go, and what to bring.
ICHETUCKNEE SPRINGS STATE PARK
12087 SW U.S. Highway 27
Fort White, FL 32038 | 386.497.4690
It’s a state park, so government rules apply: No alcohol or plastic allowed
Ichetucknee may be the most well-known tubing spot in Florida. Float in the shade under moss-covered trees. Spot turtles on logs, or a manatee may join you for an afternoon swim. There are three different float options from Memorial Day to Labor Day, which marks the summer tubing season here when visitors are allowed to launch from the north end. There are daily limits on the number of tubers and this popular park can reach maximum capacity easily in the summer months, so arrive as early as possible.
Located northwest of Gainesville, the park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sundown. The north launch closes at 2 p.m., or earlier, if the 750-person limit has been reached.
Pro Tips: Arrive early and don’t miss the tram that takes you to the launch points, otherwise you’re in for quite the walk.
(Refillable water bottles also transport adult beverages nicely and won’t be inspected.)
Drive times from the Florida Keys
Key West to Ichetucknee: 8 ½ hours
Marathon to Ichetucknee: 7 hours 20 mins.
Islamorada to Ichetucknee: 6 hours 45 mins.
7300 Ginnie Springs Road
High Springs, FL 32643
Privately Owned | Alcohol? Yes
Pets? Not So Much
It gets a little rowdy on the weekend, so if you’re bringing kids, weekdays are your best bet.
Camping, cave diving and blue hole exploring make this a great choice for a long weekend.
Tube the Santa Fe River
What could be more fun than tubing lazily down the Santa Fe River?
Most guests enter the water at the Beaver’s Landing river access point with a tube or raft, and spend an hour or so floating down the river to the Tube Exit at Twin Spring.
Pro Tips: Take two cars and park one at the Tube Exit. | A dry bag is a must for your phone and keys. | Choose a raft with a bottom, as the river is murky and there may be some slithery “friends” in the water.
Tube rentals are available at the Ginnie Springs General Store. There is a free air-fill station for tubes and rafts if you bring your own.
DRIVE TIMES FROM THE FLORIDA KEYS
Key West to Ginnie Springs: 8 ½ hours
Marathon to Ginnie Springs: 7 hours, 25 mins.
Islamorada to Ginnie Springs: 6 hours, 35 mins.
helenwaterpark.com | Admission includes buses to and from the river, tube rental, push stick purchase and a waterpark visit after your float.
The picturesque town of Helen, Georgia was inspired by the quaint alpine villages of Germany, and offers a visually stunning float down the Chattahoochee River as you pass by charming homes and restaurants.
If you’re looking to really get out of town and into the mountains, this is a great way to not only cool down but to add a little adventure to your vacation.
There’s possible bear sightings and a mountain coaster, need we say more?
Pro tips: Push sticks and water shoes are
a must | Bring a refillable water bottle (again a
great way to conceal those adult bevies) | Choose
a tube with a bottom
Drive times from the Florida Keys
Key West to Helen: 13 hours 40 mins.
Marathon to Helen: 12 hours 30 mins.
Islamorada to Helen: 11 hours 50 mins.