Standing in the security line at the Durango Airport in Colorado, everyone seemed to share the same destination: Florida. Escaping ice-cold fingers and wind-chilled cheeks sounded pretty ideal to me as I boarded the plane.
The next day I found myself in High Springs, Florida just west of Jacksonville and just north of Gainesville. Ginnie Springs is located on the Santa Fe River and was described by undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau as having visibility forever! When I first glimpsed this spring water, it was so clear I could see every leaf, plant, and grain of sediment on the bottom. I counted three turtles swimming underwater just from the riverside.
Ginnie Springs Outdoors offers campsites and small cottages with easy access to the crystal clear spring water that remains about 72°F all year round. It won’t feel like winter when you are scuba diving, cave diving, snorkeling, swimming, canoeing, river tubing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, or playing volleyball at Ginnie Springs.
Day 1: After a short hike around the riverside we set up our scuba equipment to dive the Ginnie Springs Cavern known as the “Ballroom.” Landside ladders led to the water providing access for both scuba divers and recreational swimmers. The “Ballroom” is an amphitheater-size underwater cavern with a maximum depth of 50ft. Snorkelers can easily free dive down and peer into the cave’s entrance while scuba divers of all levels can safely explore inside the cave.
I brought my dive light and ventured to the back corners of the cavern. Down at 50ft, the current was really strong! The back of the Ballroom has a metal grate to prevent divers from entering the more extensive cave system. Even pulling myself close to the grate was a challenge because water was streaming through at a rate estimated to be about 35 million gallons per day. After holding on for a moment, I let the water push me back and turned around to watch other divers exiting the cavern. Their dark silhouettes swimming into the sunlight mouth to the cavern was worthy of a double page photo spread in National Geographic.
Day 2: After a night of campfires and s’mores we were ready for round two of diving. Camping next to the river meant easy access to the Devil’s Spring System at Ginnie Springs. Apparently, we were not the only ones keen on exploring these springs. I watched a paddleboarder and a team of kayaks going by as we geared up.
The Devil’s Spring System features three springs known as “Devil’s Ear,” “Devil’s Eye,” and “Little Devil,” which together produce about 80 million gallons of water daily. Once again I marveled at the complete transparency of Ginnie Springs water. Devil’s Ear is a narrow rocky channel where you can watch reddish tannin-stained water from the Santa Fe River mix with the clear spring water to form swirls. Devil’s Eye looks like a round, empty crater, but as you swim down to the bottom there is a small opening to a much larger cave system. Finally, Little Devil Spring is about 50ft in length and depth with amazing skyward views whenever you reach the narrow floor below.
Positioning myself down in the bottom of these springs was a bit like rock climbing combined with scuba diving. The force of water outflow meant that I was constantly looking for ideal handholds on the limestone rock to work my way down without hitting the sides.
Given the option of rock climbing in cold winter weather where your fingers freeze to the point of barely holding onto the rock or descending limestone rock walls underwater into a cave system, I pick underwater. And if Ginnie Springs isn’t enough there is also Blue Grotto and Devil’s Den springs in Williston, FL. These springs are about an hour drive south from Ginnie and also offer camping and diving options for an extended Florida adventure.