White Springs: Top Hiking, Biking and Paddling
White Springs, population 776.
It's Florida’s version of a mountain town, where music, culture and outdoor recreation come together to form a celebration of the true heart and soul of the Sunshine State.
During a regular week, things are typically pretty sleepy. Visit during an event (the Florida Folk Festival comes to mind) and you'll see the small town swell up into a sea of music lovers and fans of old Florida, riding bikes, peeking in the windows of the Adams Country Store and imagining what this place looked like way back when.
Looking around, things haven't changed all that much since those early days.
A good portion of the day-to-day traffic in White Springs comes from outdoor enthusiasts, and you'll commonly see long-distance hikers, backpacks fully loaded for the long haul, passing through or resupplying for the journey ahead.
Vehicles make the slow turn into Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park to set up basecamp for a multi-day, multi-activity adventure, first stopping to marvel at the 200-foot carillon tower before heading to the campground.
Here's how to do the big three – hiking, biking and paddling – in White Springs. Afterward, treat yourself to some downtime around a campfire. You deserve it.
With excellent views, plenty of services and just-rugged-enough topography, the Suwannee River section of the Florida National Scenic Trail is one of the most popular destinations for hikers in the state.
Follow the orange "blazes" – dollar-sized painted symbols that mark the trail's route – heading into Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park and along the Suwannee River Corridor. You'll have excellent views of the river from atop high banks, along with the occasional freshwater spring and small waterfall. At day's end, camp right on a sandbar (water levels permitting, of course) or in one of the state-owned river camps that dot the whole section. For maps and additional planning information, see www.floridatrail.org.
You might not know it, but White Springs has one of the strongest bike cultures in Florida. The town has attracted cyclists of all types to the area since the 1970's to tour lesser-traveled scenic back roads and ride wild off-road single-track trails. Each year, the Suwannee Bicycle Association hosts several organized rides and events, drawing in enthusiasts from all over the southeast. Choose your weapon – cruisers are great for seeing the historic buildings and houses downtown, road bikes can hit several routes along secondary roads with little traffic, and mountain bikes can bomb down over 50 miles of area off-road trails. See www.suwanneebike.org for maps and details.
With a Paddle
No trip here is complete without a kayak or canoe trip on the legendary Suwannee River. Start things off at the launch at Stephen Foster Folk Culture State Park, the official start of the 170-mile Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. Here, paddlers embark on the adventure of a lifetime, camping on sandy river beaches or living it up in one of the state's river camps, complete with showers and screened-in platforms.
The Suwannee's scenery is top notch, with huge outcroppings of limerick, high banks and ancient bald bypress trees. You've surely heard the name, now it's time to get out there and experience it for yourself.
If you go…
White Springs is located directly along U.S. 41, just a few minutes from I-75 and I-10 near Lake City and Live Oak. For more information on the town's history and other things to do while there, take a look at www.whitesprings.org.