Swim the crystal waters of Fanning Springs State Park

Like Otter and Hart Springs just to the north, Fanning Springs is a second-magnitude spring that empties into the Suwannee River.  Unlike those two, though, the park is part of the state park system and isn’t managed by the county or a private company.  Personally,  I think that state parks do a better job of managing these natural resources than other entities – and I imagine it’s not easy to balance human recreation with natural preservation.

But Fanning Springs is really a lovely place to spend the afternoon.  It’s a small park, but the spring is beautiful.  The water is crystal clear and the spring itself is pretty deep (maybe 30 or 40 feet to the lowest point you can see from the surface).  The park service has built a boardwalk that surrounds the spring on three sides, allowing people to sunbathe near the water and preventing boats form the river from getting all the way into the spring.

The spring vent is located under the far trees.

The park service has also constructed a short boardwalk system (less than 1/4 mile) that takes visitors out to the river.  Looking out at the river, you’d have no idea that below the surface, about 100 yards from the Old Town bridge, the sunken remains of a 100-year-old steamship have sat relatively undisturbed since the early 1920s.  There’s lots of false information about the wreck – many claim it was a Union gunboat – but the truth isn’t any less interesting.  The boat, The City of Hawkinsville (that’s its name), was a turn-of-the-century steamboat that hauled lumber and naval supplies up to the Gulf Coast and into north Florida.

It rests on a slope, with the port side just a few feet below the river’s surface, so keep an eye out for it if you are kayaking down the river.  Diving is allowed, but be careful, it’s in the middle of a well-used river.  I’m going to dig into this story a little more, but in the meantime, check out this great underwater tour from the Museum in the Sea project.

A real-life river shipwreck map.

The nicest thing about Fanning springs is that it still looks like a spring.  Other than the boardwalk and a diving platform (obnoxiously placed near the spring head), there isn’t a whole lot of man-made intrusions.  As I’ve said before, I love visiting springs and imaging them as they were thousands of years ago, when local tribes would stop by and cool off, much as we do today. Fanning Springs isn’t reinforced with metal siding, there aren’t fake beaches, there’s no floating platforms in the middle of the spring – and I like it that way.

Sure, when you’re swimming, you’re surrounded by a boardwalk of sunbathers, but at least you can’t see any of that when you’ve got your head underwater.  It’s not a change-your-life beautiful spring, but it’s deep and clear and altogether enjoyable.

Other than swimming and snorkeling, the park has your usual state-park amenities – playground, volleyball, grills and a few primitive campsites and cabins.

Really, though, this is a great place to go if you’re looking for a clean, cool, cheap way to spend an afternoon.

The park is open from 8 a.m. until sunset, unless the water isn’t clear, which happens sometimes when the Suwannee flows into the spring.  If you can’t see into the water, you can’t see rocks and critters, and they’ll keep everyone out.

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Admission is $6 per vehicle (up to 8 people), and the park is located off highway 19 at the Suwannee River (about an hour west of Gainesville).  Check out the park’s website for more details.

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Trackbacks

  1. […] shells line the trees and boardwalk at Fanning Springs State Park.  Cicadas molt their skins as the last step before they reach adulthood.  Just like human […]

  2. […] the wonderful Fanning and Hart springs, and the slightly less lovely Otter Springs.  And further north, there’s […]

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