This weekend Andres and I decided to take a road trip to Gainesville, FL to explore a different part of our home state. On the agenda – floating through Ginnie Springs. Ginnie Springs is a privately-owned park offering one of the clearest spring waters in Florida. The outdoor nature park is the perfect spot for all ages given the variety of activities that are offered – such as diving and snorkeling, camping, canoeing and kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, and river tubing. The park is open year-round and no matter the weather conditions, the spring remains a cool 72 degrees at all times.
Upon arrival to Ginnie Springs, visitors are instructed to enter on the right-hand side of the entrance in which you receive a small piece of paper that you are then required to take to the ‘Dive/Country Store’. At the store, guests pay the entrance fee ($15 per person for adults) and rent any equipment needed (snorkel gear, tubes, kayaks, etc.).
Although the website states that a waiver must be signed before entrance to the park, we were never asked to confirm we submitted this waiver. We decided to bring our own double float (which had a built-in cooler) and snorkel gear so we didn’t need to rent any equipment. After paying the admission fee, we needed to exit the park and re-enter but this time on the left-hand side. We handed the attendant at the entrance our receipt (proof that we had paid the entrance fee) and proceeded towards the spring.
Tube Air Stations
As we decided to bring our own float, we had come prepared with a small pump to inflate our tube once we parked. However, to our pleasant surprise, the park actually has two tube air stations where we were able to inflate our tube in under five minutes! It was definitely useful as we would have easily taken MUCH longer with the small pump we had brought from home.
Now that we had our float all ready to go, we headed straight to the ‘Ginnie Springs’ parking lot entrance in search for a parking spot. We got pretty lucky and were able to snag a spot just a few steps away from the entrance to the springs in matter of minutes!
Now the Adventure Begins!
One of the best ways to cope with the temperature of the springs is to pack a cooler with your favorite adult beverages (anything is allowed as long as it is not a glass container)! On our way to Ginnie Springs, we stopped at a nearby grocery store and bought a mini cooler and filled it with ice, beers, and some champagne. The size of the cooler made it super convenient to easily carry to the entrance of the springs. There are several stairways allowing for multiple locations to enter the springs. We were able to easily throw our tube into the springs and use the ledge of the steps to hop right in!
Tip: We brought along our waterproof Bluetooth speaker and connected our phones (also waterproof) to be able to enjoy some tunes as we floated along. We bought this speaker back in December and have actually used it quite a bit – best of all, it’s waterproof so it can tag along for water activities like this one. The battery life on the speaker is amazing – we played music for over four hours and it still has the majority of its battery-life left. If you’ve been thinking of getting yourself one, we’d definitely recommend this one here. Just make sure to download music ahead of time as reception is spotty once you get out to the river so don’t count on being able to stream your tunes.
We had a great time floating through the river but will admit it wasn’t as relaxing as we thought it would be. The river was very busy so we were frequently pushed away towards the river edges by other (bigger) floaters and found ourselves having to constantly paddle back to the current. The few areas where the crowd would dwindle down were the best – but these were not very frequent. However, the scenery was spectacular. The water was one of the clearest waters we had ever seen and with the contrast of the greenery around us, it made it such a picturesque spot.
The End of Our Adventure: In The Back Of A Cop Car!
Unfortunately (and I guess fortunately because it has given us a story to tell) our time at Ginnie Springs turned into a complete disaster. As mentioned above, we were constantly getting pushed to the outskirts of the current and one of these times happened to be as we approached the “Tube Exit” signs. A huge multi-person party float pushed us to the opposite side of the tube exit and by the time we paddled our way from the edge we had missed our shot at making it out. Naively thinking the current would eventually loop us back around, we figured this was no big deal and could just go around one more time and catch the exit on our second trip. In the beginning it was actually pretty peaceful since it was much less crowded. However, when we stopped to look around (probably 30 minutes after we had passed the tube exit) we realized we were the only people out there on a tube – all the others were either on a motorized boat or a kayak/canoe. It wasn’t until about 45 minutes after passing the tube exit that two kayakers with a map asked us if we had been there on a float before – leading them to inform us that this river would NOT loop around and we should have gotten off at the tube exit. At this point, panic mode started to creep in.
Looking at their map, the kayakers informed us that if we kept floating with the current, we would eventually run into a bridge where a boat ramp was located and we would be able to safely get off and possibly have better cell phone reception to call for help. We floated for about another 30 to 45 minutes without any sign of people or the bridge until desperation kicked in at full-speed – we realized our time with daylight was only decreasing and we would not want to find ourselves at the mercy of the river’s current without any sun. At one point, we managed to park the float on the side of the river and considered walking the river’s edge back towards the direction of the tube exit. However, we quickly learned that we were pretty much surrounded by a swamp and since we did not have any footwear, the unknown animals in this swampy area were a risk we weren’t ready to take. Scared that we would encounter snakes or possibly alligators we hopped right back on the float.
At this point, as we were slowly approaching sunset time, I started to think we were going to end up spending the entire night out here on this float and began having a full-on panic attack – tears and all. It was then that we were able to get only single bar of cell service and called 9-1-1 for help! We spent over 40 minutes on the call with the dispatcher (praying the call wouldn’t drop). He pinged our phone location and was able to see that we were on our way towards the bridge. This whole time we saw no one else out in the river and the only noises besides our call and paddling were birds from a distance. It felt like we were paddling for hours and hours before we got to the bridge and were able to make our way to the boat ramp where it looked safe to exit from the river. It was exhausting, terrifying, and so stressful!
We left our float in the middle of the woods once we got to land and waited at Santa Fe River Park for about 30 minutes until the cops came to escort us back to the entrance of Ginnie Springs park. We had floated so far that the car ride was almost 5 miles back to the park! During the ride back, the deputies actually told us that on a weekly basis they have to rescue people in our same situation – that it is actually a frequent occurrence – which made us feel less like idiots! And even worse, they told us that if we would have kept floating we would have eventually ended up in the ocean. WHAT?!
In the end, we were able to get back to our car safe and sound, ten minutes before sunset, and we had a great story to tell and write about. And although it is such a great story to tell, the most IMPORTANT thing we wanted to share in this post is – GET OFF AT THE TUBE EXIT!!! Park employees do not inform you of how important this piece of information is but it is actually VERY CRUCIAL!
We wanted to give a big thank you to the cops and the 9-1-1 dispatcher that pretty much saved our lives and also to our wonderful float, abandoned in the middle of the forest, that stuck it out with us throughout our 4-hour long journey! Best $34 we have ever spent!!
Hope you guys enjoyed our story about the first time we visited Ginnie Springs and rode in the back of a cop car all in the same day! And like always, happy and SAFE travels!