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Columbia County, Florida

The Suwannee River Valley: Discovering Florida’s “Other Side”

By Heike Bachmann


Did you know that there is a region far away from Florida’s beaches and theme parks where you can find pristine nature and the highest concentration of freshwater springs in the world? Combine that with a rich culture and fun festivals, and you’ll find yourself in Florida’s Suwannee River Valley, located in the northern part of the Sunshine State. I recently toured this hidden treasure and instantly fell in love with the “other side” of Florida!

Tubing in the Wild on the Ichetucknee River

If you only have time for one thing, rent a tube and float down the Ichetucknee, a scenic river fed by a freshwater head-spring so beautiful and rare it was declared a National Natural Landmark in 1972. And for a good reason: When you see the crystal-clear water of the Ichetucknee for the first time, you’ll want to dive right in. Luckily, you can! My recommendation, however, is to experience it by tube, so you can observe the amazing wildlife which lives in the Ichetucknee’s magical shaded hammocks and wetlands. Tubes can be conveniently rented from private vendors outside the park. 

Exploring the Suwannee on the Wilderness Trail 

The heart of this area is the famous Suwannee, Florida’s last wild river. The spectacular Suwannee River Wilderness Trail is accessible from Suwannee River State Park. You can explore the Suwannee and the state park by paddle or foot, thanks to a broad selection of trails. My dream is to come back and embark on a multi-day excursion, staying overnight at the unique River Camps that are only accessible by boat or hiking trails. These camps feature hot showers and restrooms, but allow you to experience the Suwannee at night, while sleeping on raised, screened platforms. 

Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

When I told my family that I was on my way to the Suwannee River, my Mom immediately launched into: “Way down upon the Suwannee River….” While the melody and lyrics are known around the world, very few know that it stems from the Florida state anthem, “Old Folks at Home,” composed by Stephen Foster. Also called the “father of American Music,” he is honoured at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. Here you can learn about Foster’s famous songs in the lovely museum and hear them ringing out from the 97-bell carillon tower, home to the world’s largest tubular bell instrument! 

I enjoyed walking the scenic trails and visiting the Craft Square where locals demonstrate blacksmithing, stained glass making and other historic crafts of the region. On my next trip, I hope to catch the annual Florida Folk Festival, which is held here the last weekend in May each year.

Great Bands at the Wanee Music Festival

Every April, fans from all over the world flock to the Wanee Music Festival held at the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak. Hosted annually by the Allman Brothers, the festival showcases over 40 bands over three days on different stages. Featuring colourful vendors, thousands of happy fans, great campgrounds and food stands, this event is truly an unforgettable experience. There are also about a dozen other major music festivals held throughout the year in this park – just in case your visit doesn’t coincide with Wanee.

When I think back to my trip to Florida’s Suwannee River Valley, I don’t know what I enjoyed most: exploring the pristine nature, learning about Florida’s culture or enjoying the laidback vibe at Wanee. I do know that the real Florida is here – on its “other side!”

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Official Columbia County Travel Information

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