Between Tallahassee and Jacksonville sits Columbia County Florida better known as Florida’s Gateway for being at the key corridor of interstates 10 and 75, which leads to Orlando. Instead of jockeying with 10,000 other minivans for left-lane advantage on I-75, plan to pull over in Columbia County’s Lake City because it’s actually the perfect place to park your fanny pack and to take the annual family vacation.
…Well, it’s perfect if you’re looking for something that’s as charming, hospitable, and as laid back as it is exciting and packed with adventure and outdoor exploration (that’s you, right?).
1. Summer Tubing at Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Summertime living is easy if you’re anywhere near the crystal clear freshwater springs of Ichetucknee State Park where six miles of river flows through stunning flora and fauna before merging with the Santa Fe River. Summertime tubing (May through September) is the premier activity at the park.
Meanwhile, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is more than ideal for picnicking and sightseeing year-round. White-tailed deer, turtles, blue herons, wood ducks, and wild turkeys are among the area’s often-spotted indigenous animals.
2. Take the Plunge on Iche Nippy Dippy Dip Day
If you’re camping at or visiting Columbia County at New Year’s and are looking for a way to adventurously ring in the new year, then head to the Ichetucknee Springs State Park for Iche Nippy Dippy Dip Day where attendees take a “nippy dip” in the crystalline 72-degree spring waters before warming up with a cup of hot cocoa or coffee.
3. Explore History & Heritage on the Suwannee River Greenway at Branford
Discover scenic Old Florida hiking the historic rail trail. Pass by the Suwannee River and finish your journey at the pristine Ichetucknee River on this 12.5 mile paved hike. Take respite under the canopy of trees or plan a picnic at one of the pavilions along the route. Reward yourself with a swim at the Ichetucknee Springs State Park or at nearby Branford Springs.
4. Paddle the Santa Fe River Trail at O’Leno State Park
Start your journey at O’Leno State Park and set sail down the Santa Fe River. Officially part of the Florida Statewide System of Greenways and Trails, this winding three-mile river journeys past hardwood hammocks, sandhills, and wildlife like deer, birds, and otters, and concludes where the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers merge.
Of course O’Leno State Park, which is one of Florida’s first state parks, is for more than kayaking; it’s also a key destination for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders; in fact, the park has an equestrian camp with 20 first-come, first-serve horse stalls for riders.
5. Hike & Bike Foster’s Hammock Loop Trail
This beautiful 8-mile backcountry trail is resplendent with natural beauty, limestone formations, and river bluffs making it a dream come true for hikers and bikers.
6. Hunting & Fishing at Bienville Plantation
Considered one of America’s most renowned hunting and fishing destinations, Bienville Plantation is a sportsman’s dream. Scenic landscapes of towering pines and placid waters provide the perfect landscape for things like bass fishing, quail hunting, duck hunting, and more.
7. Celebrate History at the Olustee Battle Festival
The Olustee Battle of February 20, 1864 was Florida’s largest Civil War battle in which over 10,000 troops fought bravely for five hours before Union troops retreated to Jacksonville. Each February, the Olustee Battle Festival takes place and where a rousing battle reenactment takes place. The festival precedes the Olustee Festival and Craft Show, which features bounce houses, pony rides, and rock walls in addition to food, entertainment, and, of course, arts and crafts.
8. Jam at Local Music Festivals
Speaking of festivals, Columbia County, Florida music festivals can’t be beat; two of the most popular are the multi-genre blues, folk, bluegrass, rock (and more) Suwanee Hulaween Festival, which takes place Halloween weekend each year, and The Wanee Music Festival, which has been described as the “Woodstock of the South”.
9. Sip & Savor at the Gateway City Craft Beer and Wine Festival
Make a special trip to Lake City the last weekend in February to sip and savor the experience at the Gateway City Craft Beer and Wine Festival where there will be over 20 regional craft beers and wines in addition to fine local BBQ and lively entertainment.
10. Sink Your Teeth into Local BBQ
There’s no denying that the local BBQ culture of Columbia County is alive, tasty, and well, but one place that is a must-visit for any BBQ fan is the Smokin’ Pig BBQ Fest. This year on September 16-17, the 8th Annual festival takes place and if you like good ol’, Southern hospitality and even better barbecue, this is for sure on your ways to kick back list.
So, if you’re looking to vacation where you can enjoy being wild and carefree in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, then head to Florida’s Gateway, your gateway for natural fun.
Skip the same-ol’ and visit one of nature’s most beautiful yet stimulating playgrounds. Natural parks and springs as well as festivals and opportunities for outdoor excitement abound in Columbia County Florida; visit the SpringsRUs website and start planning to have the laid-back adventure of a lifetime.