Blue Springs Camping at Gilchrist State Park

As we come to the end of 2019, I’m realizing we have so many trips we haven’t shared with you yet. One of these days I’m going to do a recap but for today, I want to share about our trip to Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

Ryan and I have been hearing so much about the Blue Springs in Florida so we wanted to check one out. We made a last-minute decision to go camping and apparently, it’s really hard to make reservations at springs last minute. Some of the springs are private and some are state-owned so they all have different rules about their camping reservations. Thankfully, we found a spot at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

Rooftop Tent

In case you haven’t heard, Ryan has been eyeing a rooftop tent for some time now. We finally got one for the 4Runner. In order to install it, I first had to install a new roof rack to support the tent.

Then we had to wait for my parents to visit so my dad could help Ryan get the tent on top. While my short stature was helpful for installing the roof rack, it wasn’t so helpful for getting the tent up there. Then we had to make sure it actually fits in our parking garage (we did lots of measuring before ordering).

The tent is super awesome and pops up quite easily.

So that weekend was the first time we took it “out into the wild” as Ryan put it.

Gilchrist Blue Springs

We had a great campsite at Gilchrist. While we were far from the bathrooms, we were also way in the back of the campground away from the RVs and large family groups. We got there early enough that we could set up the tent and go for a walk around the campground. There is a lovely, although short, nature trail that led out towards the Santa Fe River. We saw their 350-year-old giant cypress tree:

and a couple of other small springs.

I also found a tree to climb.

The trail was short, so we headed back to the campsite to start our fire so we could make dinner. We brought the really cool campfire grill we got for our wedding.

It has a chain that lets you raise and lower the grill so you don’t burn your food. It worked out really well for our hotdogs.

We slept that night with all of the “windows” open in the tent. It was a beautiful night with a mostly full moon (I should have brought my eye mask). We had a couple of barred owls sitting above us in the middle of the night. Their calls were lovely.

Kayaking the Santa Fe River

The next morning we got up and decided to rent a couple of kayaks from the campground. We got some interesting hybrid kayaks that can also be used as a stand-up paddleboard.

The spring run was quite scenic and puts you out into the Santa Fe River. We decided to head upstream to make our journey easier on the way back.

Apparently, there are more than 700 freshwater springs in Florida. The Santa Fe River has several springs along its length. By going upstream, we had the option of 6 different springs.

Starting from Gilchrist, we would hit Rum Island, Mermaid Springs, Pickard Springs, Lily Springs, Poe Springs, and Alligator Springs.

Mermaid Springs

The first springs we passed was Rum Island. The park was currently closed for restoration and a family with a bunch of kids decided to play in the spring there. So we continued upstream to Mermaid Springs. By the time we got there, we were ready for a dip.

Mermaid Springs was quite small but we were able to see some fish swimming around in the springs.

Once we cooled off, we decided to continue on our journey to find some of the bigger springs. We were told to expect some rapids and even a nudist at one of the points.

Blue Springs

As we headed upstream we decided we’d try to get to Poe Springs as it was supposed to be the largest of the springs. Interestingly, several of the springs are on private property but have public access from the river. We tried to paddle up to Lily Springs but someone was doing construction above the pool so we decided we’d skip it. It didn’t seem very relaxing. Lily Springs is best known for the nudist who lives there. So we continued to head upstream.

Poe Springs

We decided to skip Pickard Springs because it was somewhat small and had a tiny dock attached to it. We didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. So we continued trying to make it up to Poe Springs. However, we had already been on the river for more than half of our reservation and we had to pack up the tent and be out by 1. So we had to turn around before we made it. We would have had to pull the kayaks over a very shallow set of rapids and we decided it wasn’t worth the time. Poe Springs has its own park and access so it wouldn’t be hard to visit again.

Pickard Springs

We couldn’t go back without visiting at least one more springs so we headed back down to Pickard Springs. Pickard Springs is beautiful in that it is surrounded by large cypress trees.

However, it is right on the river and has a large party deck for the people who own the property.

But we decided to give it a go. It was lovely and refreshing. It was so clear you could see the water bubbling out of the spring in the bottom.

We stayed there for a bit. Two guys on kayaks came by and told us that this spring wasn’t usually this clear but that the water levels were so low that the river water hadn’t made it murky. We were very fortunate.

The view from underwater

Finally, we had to head back to pack up and be on our way. On our way back to camp, I took a ride in the vortex someone pointed out on our way up the river.

To finish off the day, we saw two Pileated Woodpeckers calling to each other and chasing one another around a cypress tree. I was disappointed I didn’t have my DLSR to capture the fun but we just enjoyed being in the moment. It was a great way to top off our adventure. It was a lovely day with perfect weather. I’m looking forward to another opportunity to explore some more springs across the state. Do you have recommendations for which ones we need to visit?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *