Activities in Gilchrist County
Gilchrist County, Florida offers tourist attractions like crystal clear springs, perfect for swimming, tubing, snorkeling and cave diving. If fishing is more your style, the Santa Fe & Suwannee Rivers offer up a wide variety of catches such as bass, catfish and sunfish. Many of our parks offer canoes, kayaks and tube rentals. For the land lover, we offer scenic trails for hiking, cycling, walking, jogging, bird watching, horseback riding, and in general, a wide array of nature-related activities. Whether you are looking to go camping or hook up your RV, our Natural Escapes are part of the all-family oriented entertainment that you can enjoy in Gilchrist County. Add to all of that, the warmth of our Southern Hospitality, and you have the perfect vacation spot!
Santa Fe River Canoe Trail – This trail passes through hardwood hammocks and river swamps and past numerous springs. It’s perfect for beginners, because the river has slow current and gentle curves. The 26-mile long trail begins just below River Rise Preserve and ends about three miles upstream of the confluence of the Santa Fe and Suwannee rivers. The Santa Fe forms the entire northern boundary of Gilchrist County.
Suwannee River – The entire western boundary of Gilchrist County is the Suwannee River and its associated trail. There are many boat ramps and canoe launches along the river. Paddlers can set their own pace and vary the length of their journey to their heart’s content.
Explore Our Rivers
The Suwannee River
The Suwannee River is a federally designated wild river. It is the only major waterway in the southeastern United States that is still unspoiled. The Suwannee flows from the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico in Florida. It winds for almost 266 miles through swamps, high limestone banks, hammocks of hardwood, and salt marshes. It also has fifty-five springs along the way. The river’s limestone outcroppings and a drop in elevation create Florida’s only whitewater rapids at Little Shoals and Big Shoals located several miles upstream from the city of White Springs…
Stephen Foster wrote his famed song “Suwannee River” in the years before the Civil War, Florida’s Suwannee River has captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. Foster never actually saw the river that he immortalized in verse, but generations of other American have admired the beautiful and majestic river. Drawn by the composer’s melody, they have explored the natural beauty and rich history of the Suwannee River.
The Santa Fe River
The Santa Fe River has its origins in the Santa Fe swamp and wetlands of lakes Alto and Santa Fe in Bradford County. It disappears underground at O’Leno State Park passing through the limestone caverns of the Cody Scarp, reappearing three miles later at River Rise Sate Preserve just north of High Springs. The spring-fed Ichetucknee River joins the Santa Fe River near Fort White before its confluence with the Suwannee River just south of Branford. Because the lower Santa Fe River is fed by numerous springs, and its waters are crystal clear, it is popular with canoeists and swimmers and offers productive fishing for anglers.
Cycling / Hiking
Nature Coast State Trail
www.Nature Coast State Trail
This is a rails-to-trails 32 – mile paved trail “green zone” for walkers, runners, skaters, hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. It connects three counties, the Trail cuts through quaint towns, rustic farmland and unspoiled forests, carrying visitors across the historic Suwannee River on an abandoned railroad trestle. Trail users may want to start off in Trenton at the Historic Train Depot and follow the trail southwest to Fanning Springs.
The trail also begins at the old railroad depot in Chiefland, Cross City and in Fanning Springs you choose which route to begin and end. All the towns on the route have restaurants and convenience stores within yards of the trail. It’s a wonderful way to stay in shape and enjoy nature at its best.
US Highway 129
This route has bicycle lanes and begins at the county line at the Santa Fe River bridge. At Bell it begins as a cycling club preferred route. It continues south and branches off of US 129 at CR 307 (at Walker’s Curve), and terminates at State Road 26 between Trenton and Fanning Springs. Just before the terminus is the intersection with the Nature Coast State Trail. There are also alternate routes down County Road 341 or CR 232.
East -West Routes
Three east-west routes have been marked out as preferred cyclists’ routes in north Gilchrist County. They all begin at US Highway 129 and head east. The northernmost route is County Road 138 which passes through the Santa Fe River flood plain and a beautiful hunting preserve. That route turns north on State Road 47 and crosses the river into Columbia County near Fort White. CR 340’s route begins at the flashing light at CR 340 and US 129, then continues east into Alachua County. This route takes you past world-famous springs (Ginnie, Blue and Poe) and brings you into the city of High Springs. CR 232’s route begins at US 129 just south of Bell and continues east into Alachua County between Newberry and High Springs.
Hiking (there is an entrance fee for all listed below)
Fanning Springs State Park – This mile-long nature trail takes hikers through an upland mixed forest and floodplain swamp. Along the trail are several large sinkholes.
Hart Springs – Visitors can enjoy a scenic stroll, on the half-mile boardwalk, that takes them down the spring run and out along the famous Suwannee River. Benches are provided for relaxing and observation stations are placed throughout the trail so visitors can enjoy scenic views of the flora and fauna living in the cypress hammock.
Otter Springs – Visitors can enjoy one of three developed multi-use hiking trails. One of the trails accesses the historic Suwannee River. The serene setting is perfect for hiking!
Blue Springs – Visitors can walk the Boardwalk which is a quarter-mile long and meanders along the spring run out to the Santa Fe River. Many hiking Trails criss-cross throughout the Blue Springs property and offer a quiet getaway to walk and explore nature. You’ll see flora and fauna in its natural habitat.
Ellie Rays RV Resort – Has many nature trails along the river, through the pines and lush jungle
Boating and Fishing
In both the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers, black bass (largemouth and Suwannee), will be feeding in preparation for the spring spawn. This season marks the traditional time of year to catch bigger fish; fish outer bends of either river for both types of bass with soft plastic baits (crayfish colors). Target fallen treetops, log jams, and vegetation edges realizing that where the emergent vegetation stops is where deep water or currents prevent growth. These areas should be spots that hold and attract fish. Warmer water from spring run or feeder creek mouths makes for likely areas that would attract fish. A degree or two of difference in water temperature might be the key to locating fish that are ready to feed. Panfish should bite crickets or small artificial lures casted close to the bank and around woody structure.
Fishing on the Suwannee River
Largemouth and Suwannee Bass provide excellent fishing opportunities. Both can be caught along the shoreline near fallen trees or stumps. Several species of catfish are plentiful and offer real excitement for anglers both young and old alike. Redbreast and spotted sunfish are the most abundant game fish in the river and are easily caught near shoreline brush and stumps. The peak season is May through September, but good catches are possible year round. During the winter months, fish tend to concentrate in the many deep holes found along the river bends. Access points include boat ramps at Hart Springs off of CR 344 and CR 232 west of Bell; Eula and Wannee Landings, both off CR 341, Rock Bluff at the CR 340 bridge and several other locations.
Fishing on the Santa Fe River
The Santa Fe is the major tributary to the Suwannee River, heavily influenced by springs and unlike the Suwannee, has vast areas of submerged vegetation in the middle and upper reaches. These areas harbor abundant freshwater shrimp, waterscuds and aquatic insects, thus producing excellent growth rates for fish, particularly abundant redbreast sunfish and pugnacious spotted sunfish (stumpknockers).
Who needs a recreational hunting or fishing license or permit?
Florida Residents and Visitors need a Florida hunting, freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing license unless they are a member of one of the “exempted” groups of people listed below. Your license is required to be with you when you are engaged the licensed activity. Replacement licenses cost $2.
A fishing license is required to attempt to take fish. If you cast your line, catch nothing, catch and release, or catch and keep and you are not a member of one the groups listed below; you need a license. A saltwater fishing license is also required to attempt to take any native or nonnative marine organisms, such as crabs, lobsters, and marine plants.
Licenses and permits are required to help or assist in the take. Someone who is passively participating (setting decoys, calling birds or baiting hooks), whether actively fishing or hunting or not, must have a license.
Free Florida Fishing Days
Free fishing days provide an excellent opportunity for parents who don’t yet have licenses to take youth fishing, or avid anglers to introduce a friend to fishing without having to purchase a license. On these days, the fishing license requirement is waived for all recreational anglers (residents and non-residents).
All other rules (e.g., seasons, bag and size limits) apply.
License-free freshwater days
First Saturday and Sunday in April
Second Saturday and Sunday in June
License-free saltwater days
First Saturday and Sunday in June
First Saturday in September
Saturday following Thanksgiving
Boating on the Suwannee River & Santa Fe River
On the Santa Fe River west of where the Ichetucknee River joins the Santa Fe you’ll find more power boats. The last two mile stretch of the Santa Fe to the Suwannee is wider and sometimes windier you’ll find many powerboats. Along the way on the Santa Fe you may see wildlife including deer, otter, turtles, snakes, alligators, manatees and many different birds. This area is excellent for fishing and bird watching. The terrain includes swamp, sand hills, flatwoods and hardwood hammocks.
On the Suwannee River you’ll find many different forms of watercraft including large & small powerboats, canoes and kayaks. There are many springs along the river. You can
Gilchrist County has some of the finest fresh water spring diving to be found anywhere, including world class cave diving that attracts people from all over the earth. Gilchrist County alone has more springs than any other area the same size in the world.
Blue Springs – Diving is not permitted at this cluster known as Blue Springs, but a mask and snorkel are all that’s required for good look at the fish and swaying plant life that inhabit the 20-foot deep pool.
Fanning Springs – Snorkelers and swimmers enjoy the 20-foot deep spring basin, which is fed by two springs: Big Fanning and Little Fanning.
Ginnie Springs – The springs are very popular with families who come to swim, snorkel or tube, as well as with serious divers who choose to venture into the extensive underwater cave system. The white sandy bottom is about 18 feet below a limestone shelf. Ginnie Springs has often been called “the world’s favorite freshwater dive.” It’s no exaggeration. Over the years, thousands of divers from around the world have marveled at Ginnie Springs’ crystal-clear water and startling natural beauty. Jacques Cousteau, in fact, characterized Ginnie Spring as “visibility forever.”
Scuba Diving Rules for Ginnie Springs
• No solo diving is allowed. All Divers must have a dive buddy. The only exception to this rule is if you are a Certified Full Cave Diver.
• All Divers must register at the office, pay applicable diving fees and sign a waiver/release form (minor’s forms require the signature of a custodial, parent or legal guardian; is a custodial, parent or legal guardian will not be accompanying the minor to Ginnie Springs, the parent or guardian must have his or her signature notarized.)
• The minimum age for scuba diving is 12, regardless of supervision or certification. All minors must dive with a certified adult, regardless of whether the minor is certified.
• Divers must be able to show proof of certification from a recognized agency or be under direct instructor supervision.
• Divers must read and abide by all posted diving rules.
• Divers must follow all generally accepted safe diving practices.
• Divers may not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
• Absolutely No Cave Diving is permitted in Devil’s Eye or Ear except by certified Cave Divers.
• Any diver who is not a certified instructor in active teaching status with a recognized agency, who attempts to teach non-divers to scuba dive (including allowing such persons to breathe from an alternate air source or “octopus” second stage) is subject to immediate expulsion from the Property.
• Only certified cave or cavern Divers who have registered as such in the office may be in possession of underwater lights (including video lights and strobe modeling or aiming lights) anywhere in or near the Devil’s Springs system. No other Divers may take lights into the water with them at this site. If this rule applies to any member of a buddy team, it applies to all team members equally. Violators are subject to immediate expulsion from the Property.
• Ginnie Springs Outdoors reserves the right to require onsite fills.
Hart Springs – Diving is now allowed in the park’s extensive cave system. A diver must be cave certified, provide documentation of 100 dive certificates and have their DAN card. Divers in Black Lagoon must be accompanied by an approved Hart Guide. Divers in Little Hart must have a buddy system with both divers cave certified, provide documentation of 100 dive certificates and their DAN card. If you are not a diver you can enjoy snorkeling and jump off the dock making a big splash and cool off in the year round 72-degree water.
Rock Bluff Springs – These springs are one of Gilchrist County’s most beautiful hidden treasures. Although it is privately owned and accessible only by boat, it is very much worth a visit. The springs are located on the Suwannee River, just upstream of the CR 340 boat launch. To enjoy the swimming and snorkeling of this area, anchor boats in the shallows and stay in the water (the shoreline is private).
Otter Springs – Diving is not yet available, contact the park for updates. Snorkeling and swimming are readily available in the springs where you can check out the underwater environment and take a peak down into the “crack” of the springs. Also available year round, Otter Springs has a heated pool.
Wedding & Event Venues
Seven Hills Farm
Seven Hills Farm is a family owned business offering both indoor and outdoor spaces for weddings and events. Located just 20 miles outside of Gainesville, Seven Hills Farm offers a beautiful and rustic venue for weddings, parties, and community events. Our barn is approximately 5000 square feet and will comfortable hold 200 or more guests. We offer 20 round tables and 200 white garden chairs, a warming kitchen, men and women’s bathrooms, and two changing rooms. Our outdoor areas give guests plenty of options for ceremonies, additional seating, or lawn games. Message us to make an appointment to come visit us today!
Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures
Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures currently serves the Lower Suwannee River and the middle Santa Fe River in North Central Florida. Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures is committed to excellence in customer service. The adventures may have only lasted a few days or even a few hours but the memories last forever, thus their motto is “Adventures Today…Memories Forever”. Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures business philosophy is that the customer is number 1 with their mission being to provide a memorable, fun and safe opportunity to experience Florida’s wild and majestic nature. Their vision is to be the premier outdoor adventure provided for North Central Florida and Gilchrist County.
Nature Coast State Trail
For those wanting to take their adventure off the water, there’s no better place than the Nature Coast State Trail. This 32 mile biking/hiking trail is a re-purposed railroad bed — one of Florida’s many “Rail Trials.” The trail traverses agricultural lands and forest and connects the towns of Cross City, Chiefland, Fanning Springs, and Trenton. Have a horse? A 4.5 mile equestrian trail flanks the main trail between Old Town and Fanning Springs. A highlight of this trail is the old rail bridge across the Suwannee. Few places offer a more tranquil and expansive view of the river — possibly even a jumping sturgeon!
In 1838, with the Second Seminole War dragging into its third year and no end in sight, the U.S. Army erected Fort Fanning a few miles downstream from Old Town. Placed on the east bank by an important river crossing, the post was well-situated for its role as a supply depot as well as for staging raids and sending out search parties for hostile warriors. Ravaged by disease, Ft. Fanning was abandoned soon after the war ended in 1842. Today, Ft. Fanning Historic Park sits on the site — a memorial to the fort and the men who served there.