Hart Springs in Bell, Fla., offers convenient dive location

The Suwannee River runs south from Georgia and cuts a diagonal line through Northern Florida, separating the panhandle from the Florida peninsula, before eventually dumping into the Gulf of Mexico.  It has a fascinating history, as it has been more-or-less continuously occupied for thousands of years.  At one time, the river was well-known for its antebellum steamship, the Madison – a sort of floating Wal-Mart for folks living near the river.  After the Civil War, steamships ferried customers from inland to the port of Cedar Key, which, today, is a quaint town with more seafood restaurants than residents.

For the outdoor enthusiast, there’s plenty to do along the river.  About 40 miles west of Gainesville, there’s a wonderful cluster of natural springs that are great for swimming and exploring.  Heading north to south, you could easily visit Hart Springs, Otter Springs, Fanning Springs and Manatee Springs in one day.  Going in order, the drive between parks is never more than 10 minutes.

Suwannee Springs Map

Hart, Otter, Fanning and Manatee Springs all located on a small stretch of the Suwannee River

Unfortunately, all of the parks are managed by separate entities.  Some are state parks and some are owned by private campgrounds, and they all require a separate entrance fee.  The going rate for most small parks is around $6 per car or $3 per person.  Still, head out with a group of friends for the day and you can explore all the springs for less than $15 a person.  It’d cost you more to spend two hours at the movie theater.

What’s more, all of the springs are accessible by kayak or canoe, and particularly with Hart, Otter and Fanning, you could easily get from to another without ever getting in your car.  We’ll take a look at what each has to offer, starting with Hart Springs.

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