Upon exiting the car, the smell of summer filled the air. At only 10:00 in the morning, the grills were lit with hamburgers and hot dogs cooking. Numerous grills and picnic tables scattered throughout the park provide ample space for those looking to spend a full day enjoying Alexander Springs Recreation Area, part of the Ocala National Forest.
After staking out a table, we gathered masks and snorkels and waded into the refreshing water. Although there were dozens of swimmers, we had the water over the spring to ourselves. Occasionally, someone would drift into the area of the head spring, but for the most part, the other swimmers were content floating on tubes or noodles.
Swimming, snorkeling and paddling in Florida’s springs were a highlight in 2014.
The park has canoes and kayaks available for rent, but unlike the lines of people waiting to launch at Weeki Wachee, the boat ramp was deserted. Our plans for the day did not include padding down Alexander Run, but it would have been a great day to have the run to ourselves and perhaps even throw in a line for a little fishing.
Alexander Springs is the only place in the Ocala National Forest where scuba diving is permitted; and as we left the spring, a group of about a half dozen divers hauled their tanks to the water ready to explore.
After snorkeling in the refreshing cool spring head, we walked the short distance following the Timucaun Trail along the perimeter of the spring. The easy one mile walk was close enough to the swimming area to hear the splashing and laughter of swimmers throughout the hike. Our only encounters with wildlife were a couple of skinks, one even posed so it could be photographed, and a critter of unknown origin that splashed away in the water as we approached. John says a small gator, but I believe it may have been an otter.
Alexander Springs, a perfect place to spend a summer day, and the 13th spring we’ve visited in 2014.
Tubes of all sizes and colors line the entrance roads to Ichetucknee Springs, the state park popular with tubers for its six mile run from the head spring to the point where it joins the Santa Fe River. Beginning Memorial Day weekend, tubers can float down the river from three different starting points allowing for float trips ranging in length from 45 minutes to 3 hours.
However, tubing is not the only activity available at the park. Visitors can hike the Pine Ridge, Trestle Point, or the Blue Hole Trails. While the shortest of the three trails, the half-mile Blue Hole Trail leads to the largest spring in the park. One that was nearly deserted on our recent visit.
After eating a picnic lunch, and hiking to Blue Hole, we waded into the crystal waters of the Ichetucknee Spring with flippers, mask, and snorkel and explored the head spring.
The Ichetucknee and its run, the most beautiful landscape in the world. ~Archie Carr, A Naturalist in Florida
There were many tubers on the river, but since they are not permitted in the head spring there were only a couple dozen people swimming in the area with only a handful snorkeling in the waters farther from the limestone steps making it possible to enjoy the Ichetucknee Spring on a summer afternoon.
The Icketucknee’s waters bubble up out of the ground and flow like melted diamonds across a sandy bottom through a natural forest. ~Al Burt, The Tropic of Cracker
Our definition of a triathlon just requires three activities: one on the bike, one on the water, and one on foot. It does not require training, competition, or a registration fee.
It February, we completed the Tamiami Triathlon in the Everglades. This month we completed what we call the OleMilltucknee.
For the first leg we biked from Ft. White to O’Leno State Park, a round trip distance of about 14 miles.
Next, we plunged into the cool waters of Ichetucknee Springs and snorkeled in the crystal clear water.
Finally, we hiked the 220 steps to the bottom of the sink at Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park.
The park ranger in the Everglades presented us with a bumper sticker for the completion of the Tamiami Triathlon, but since the OleMilltucknee isn’t sanctioned by the park service, I guess we’ll need to design our own award.