In Florida, it’s almost a rite of passage to go tubing at a freshwater spring. I have been to Wekiwa Springs State Park once before and had a great time despite the chilly water! When our friends in Gainesville asked us to come join them for a day at Ginnie Springs, we knew it would be a fun opportunity and decided to make the drive up there. Gainesville is about a half an hour away from Ginnie Springs and we had only been there when driving through to Knoxville. I had not spent much time here in the past, so I was excited to see more of this college town.
Friday Night at First Magnitude
We took the three hour drive there Friday after work and made it in time for dinner. Our friends suggested First Magnitude Brewery which also happened to have the best taco truck in town on site. I am writing a brewery review for First Magnitude, but the short story is that we loved it! It’s a huge indoor and outdoor space with an adorable mermaid for their logo. They had some excellent dry hopped beers that went along perfectly with the Al Pastor tacos we got. We ended the night here without experiencing Gainesville’s nightlife because we wanted to be up early for heading to Ginnie Springs.
Getting to Ginnie Springs
Of course, this did not happen and we left for Ginnie Springs around 10 AM, Publix subs in hand. I would strongly recommend leaving MUCH earlier than this. It was almost an hour drive from where were in Gainesville. By the time we got there, the line of cars stretched a mile back and moved very slowly. This is a popular spot on summer weekends, so it’s best to get their early to avoid lines. We were in no rush though and just ended up eating our lunch in the car as we slowly moved forward.
It probably took about an hour to get through the gate. Once there you have to park and get in a line to pay for admission. It’s a painful process in the midday Florida heat. We decided to have a few people stand in line, while my friend Katie and I blew up the floats. You can rent floats at Ginnie Springs, but we decided to bring our own. I wanted to float down the river in a rose gold flamingo!
I would recommend bringing your own floats if you car has an outlet and you can get a compatible electric air pump. Our car outlet would not supply enough power to the one we had which we learned that the hard way as the air pump kept turning itself off. There is an air station for people to use for free, but the line for that was even longer! We were determined not to wait so I found an outlet on the side of the building and we just started blowing them up there! I’m not entirely sure if this is allowed, but plenty of people walked by and didn’t say anything. I think a car adapter is the best bet though so test yours out at home before you go!
Once you pay for your $15 per person admission you are free to enter the the park. It’s a few miles of driving until you get to spots close to the river. We had to hold all of our floats out the window while we drove, which made for a humorous situation. Finally we found a spot that was a ten minute walk from the start and from the end of the river.
At this point we were all sweaty and dying to get in the water! I was expecting it to be cold, crystal blue water like at Wekiwa Springs. There are springs like that here, but the river was not. The river was pretty brown and warm and not very enticing. It was too late though, we were here and it was time for tubing! There were six of us and we brought a rope that we used to kind of tie the tubes together once we were in. We meant to bring a tube for the cooler, but forgot, so Andrew held it most of the time. It was hilarious because he had bought the cheapest tube they had at Target which was pretty small. It looked like it could barely support him and the cooler on his lap, but he made it just fine!
I on the other hand, wanted a rose gold flamingo to float down the river on, mainly for taking pictures. Sadly, it was very hard to get good pictures here between floating down a surprisingly fast river and all the people around. Our friends had legitimate tubes with cup holders and if you are going to buy a tube, I would recommend something like that. The flamingo wasn’t the most comfortable.
We ended up floating down the river two times and had a very fun afternoon. It takes about a half an hour to get down the river. There are no alcohol restrictions so I would strongly suggest bringing a cooler with beer or canned wine, as it makes floating a lot more fun. Considering the proximity to Gainesville, there were tons of crazy college students here and I find that atmosphere a lot more tolerable if I have had a drink or two. It didn’t seem like the best atmosphere for kids. Maybe it’s better on a week day, but on this summer Saturday, I do not think young families would have an enjoyable time.
The river really is fast and deep too so you should make sure everyone is a good swimmer. I stayed in my tube the whole time, but you never know. As with any freshwater Florida body of water, there is a risk of gators, so you should stay in the middle of the river and not drift too close to the sides. Thankfully I did not see any gators or I would have been freaked out for the rest of the day! We did go to the side at one point because they have a rope swing that Andrew and a couple of the guys wanted to try. I was tempted, but after watching them, I realized it was a pretty high jump from the rope to the water and I chickened out.
To get out of the river, you have to maneuver into one of the springs on the side, where there are stairs. The springs were what I expected with icy blue water. We hung out in one for a while, but it was so crowded! You can see what I mean from the “artistic” panorama our friend took below. I have heard Blue Springs has a larger spring area and gets less crowded, so I would be more inclined to check that one out next time. The appeal of Ginnie Springs is definitely the long river to tube down, but I prefer cleaner water.
We made it back to our car five minutes before it started raining. That is another thing you have to be careful of here because you don’t want to be stuck half way down the river when it starts storming. With Florida weather, it’s always smart to keep an eye on the clouds and go in when they get dark.
We were pretty exhausted after a full day at Ginnie Springs, but we did make it out for pizza that night. We went to Satchel’s and it was a fun, quirky spot with live music and a general store. They only offer calzones, salad and pizza and both are pick your own toppings. We tried a tomato based and a white based pizza and both were excellent. The ricotta was really creamy and the veggie toppings we got were very fresh. Satchel’s is accommodating to all diets, as they have gluten free crust, dairy free cheese and even vegan pesto. The only bad thing is they are cash only, which I hate because we are all about the credit card points!
On the way out the next day we wanted to get a quick breakfast. Our plan was Einstein’s Bagels which Google Maps said there were at least five of around. All of them turned out to be part of on-campus buildings which we closed for the summer! We ended up stopping at this cafe called Root & Pecker. This was another very vegan friendly restaurant and I was seriously impressed. I was not expecting such progressive dining options from a college town in the middle of nowhere.
We were in the mood for breakfast burritos so we each got one with eggs, salsa, avocado and gouda. They are usually made with a tofu scramble instead but we substituted that with eggs. I am not sure if that was the reason or it is always like this but it took forever to get our food! Almost a half an hour for a couple of breakfast burritos. When we finally got them, I found them to be tasty, high quality burritos. I will say I barely tasted the cheese and they were on the small side though. They are famous for lunch and their sandwiches, so maybe it is preferable to check it out then. However, if you want a big or quick breakfast, definitely don’t go here.
After that we made our way back to Melbourne. We were very happy we went to Ginnie Springs even if it wasn’t perfect. We made a ton of great memories with friends throughout the couple of days we were there. I think this is a fun place to visit with a group of people and that as long as you don’t have high expectations, you will have a blast! You can definitely make a weekend out of going and stay in the awesome town of Gainesville. There aren’t many places in Florida where you can find a natural lazy river, so it is worth visiting!
Have you ever floated on a lazy river? I will say the real thing does beat the water park version! For more information on which Florida Freshwater Springs to visit, check out my guide to Florida Springs.