The seat of Suwannee County in North Central Florida, sits in the middle of a giant loop on the Suwannee River.
With rugged limestone banks and clear, spring-fed tannic waters, this is one of the most beautiful watercourses in America. Live Oak puts you in an awesome position to visit the many parks and preserves on the banks.
There you can paddle past primordial bald cypresses, go cave diving, snorkel in vast blue holes, or go tubing on crystalline spring runs. One thing that gets me about this part of the Suwannee River is its seclusion.
Despite being easy to get to, the banks have little more than a few isolated communities between the large protected areas.
1. Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Half an hour to the south is the beautiful aquatic paradise of Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Defining features include more than 2,000 acres of pine and hardwood forest, pristine swimming holes with warm water, and the spring runs that come together to form the Ichetucknee River.
In summer tubing down the river is my idea of the perfect way to spend a hot day. While swimming or snorkeling in the Blue Hole, you can see part of the cave system that runs beneath the surface. Certified divers are permitted to explore the cave system in this area.
During a hike along one of the nature trails in the park, visitors may spot wildlife, including beavers, otters, turtles, and many species of birds.
The spring run upper part of the park is a popular spot for kayaking and canoeing in cooler weather. Among the additional amenities are a picnic area, cycling trail, playground, and washrooms.
2. Downtown Live Oak
While I’m sure you’ll be itching to break out and discover all of the wonders of the Suwannee River, Live Oak has a downtown in great health.
Concentrated around the intersection of Ohio Avenue and Howard Street are an array of restaurants, interesting specialty shops, and other service businesses.
When it comes to dining, there’s Southern cooking, Mexican, health food, sandwiches, South American, small plates, burgers, baked goods, and ice cream all close by.
Many of these are in beautiful old brick commercial buildings, and there are a couple of pocket parks where you can pause for a moment. Look out for one of the regular concerts at Millennium Park’s covered stage here.
Grand landmarks downtown include the Old City Hall (1909) and Suwannee County Courthouse (1904), both in variations of Renaissance Revival.
3. Suwannee County Historical Commission and Museum
Dating back to the turn of the 20th century, the fine Atlantic Coast Line Freight Station has become a historical museum for the county. This structure was raised at a junction of the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad and Seaboard Air Line Railroad.
So I don’t think it’s a shock that the railroads feature prominently in the museum’s displays, especially their impact on economic development. There’s also a lot of space devoted to the Timucua Native Americans, along with farming, natural history, and everyday life here in the early 20th century.
A couple of things that stuck in my mind were the preserved original courthouse clock, and huge fragment of a prehistoric mammoth tusk.
4. The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park & Campground
Even if you don’t plan on doing any camping during your stay in the Live Oak area, The Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park and Campground is the perfect place to spend a day. The docks at Rees Lake are a popular fishing area, and there are hiking and horse trails throughout the park.
Canoes and tubes are available to rent. Also on site are an in-ground swimming pool, a restaurant, a Craft Village, and a museum. For visitors who would like to stay the night but don’t like the idea of sleeping in a tent, there’s a luxury treehouse available for rent.
5. Troy Spring State Park
On a small property by the Suwannee River, Troy Spring and its short run are the focus of this state park.
With remarkable clarity, the spring rises at 72 °F and brims with fish and turtles. There’s another much-loved swimming hole here, while more adventurous types can snorkel.
If you are certified, you can scuba dive into the spring and see the stunning natural features up to 70 feet under the surface.
Most intriguing of all is the faint outline of Madison, a Confederate steamboat, scuttled at the mouth in 1863. Finally, on the Suwannee River you’ll find a dock where you can begin a boating or canoeing trip.
6. Suwannee Canoe Outpost
The top paddling outfitter on the Suwannee River is the Suwannee Canoe Outpost at the Music Park. For me, this is the local go-to around Live Oak if you don’t have your own canoe/kayak.
Open since 1993, this company offers trips and shuttles daily, on the hour from 9 am to 3 pm. You’ll be dropped at a point upstream, and can choose from between 2 and 13 miles.
From there you’ll float back to the base through some of the prettiest stretches of the river, with cypress knees poking up on the banks, Spanish moss hanging from branches overhead.
My one word to the wise is to bring a hat, sunblock and bug repellent for your trip.
7. Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park
There are two main springs, a spring run, and six sinkholes to discover at Wes Skiles Peacock Springs State Park.
Certified divers can descend into one of the longest underwater cave systems on the continent. Very few people get to see these stunning underwater caverns, with 38,000 feet of explored passages when I wrote this list.
For visitors who are not certified divers, there is much to explore above ground. You can hike the interpretive nature trail through mature forest, and walk a special path that tallies with the winding cave tunnels below.
Peacock Springs and Orange Grove Sink are cherished swimming holes in summer, and there’s an idyllic picnic area.
8. Heritage Park and Gardens
Within walking distance southeast of downtown is a 90-acre former estate, purchased by the city in 2012 and maintained by a non-profit.
The sprawling landscape gives visitors and locals the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of outdoor activities. To illustrate, there’s a paved walking trail, a picnic area and a playground.
The prime feature for me is a highly-rated 18-basket disc golf course, over a mix of open ground and pine woods. Various events take place throughout the year, such as a Civil War reenactment in November.
9. Lower Suwannee River Wilderness State Trail
Starting in White Springs, this trail follows the Suwannee River for almost 180 miles to its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico.
Given Live Oak’s location, wrapped in a giant loop, I found the Lower Suwannee River Wilderness State Trail to be an endless source of inspiration for sightseeing and recreation.
It’s mainly a paddling trail for kayaks and canoes, but you can also use it to plan road trips. Along the way, there are many things to see both on the water and on land.
On the river, you will experience tranquility, with only occasional sleepy fishing villages and small towns. Awaiting you on land are springs, nature trails, green spaces, campgrounds, museums, and unique cultural experiences.
10. Suwannee River State Park
In the lineup of unmissable natural spaces near Live Oak, I’ve got to talk about this state park, at the confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers.
On 1,800 acres, this is a wonderfully varied landscape, blending springs, sinks, streams, limestone geology, majestic cypresses and sandy pine forest.
The paddling in this park is some of the best around Live Oak, and canoe/kayak rentals are available. There’s also a lot of history if you know where to look.
On the banks are earthen mounds harking back to Confederate Civil War gun emplacements built to defend against Union gunships. Two ghost towns have become buried by the park’s sandhills, while you can make out the vestiges of a 19th-century steamboat in the water.
11. The International Falconry Academy
Falcons, hawks, and owls are expert predators, and you can learn all about these fascinating birds and their hunting skills at the International Falconry Academy. This facility is in beautiful pinelands, a few minutes southwest of Live Oak.
Start your visit with an introduction to falconry, followed by a hands-on course or workshop that will allow you to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures. The highlight is holding out an outstretched glove and having the birds land and perch on your hand.
These experiences are suitable for all ages. They include watching these birds do what they do best, and nature walks with a trained and informative guide.
12. Suwannee Country Club
It may sound exclusive, but I was happy to learn that the Suwannee Country Club is open to non-members.
A brief drive southeast on US 90 this is a 9-hole course that has been here in some form since the 1920s. I say, in some form, because in the early days the greens were actually sand.
Now it’s a pleasing test, with a blend of wide-open and tight fairways, all in a mature landscape. Be prepared for #4 and #9 in particular, which are truly devilish. You’ve also got a driving range if you need to get back into the habit of hitting a ball.
To go with that there’s a banquet hall with a full kitchen on-site. Meanwhile, everyone has access to White Lake, located on the grounds.
13. Mystic Jungle Educational Facility Inc.
Run by a non-profit organization, Mystic Jungle Educational Facility is a sanctuary providing lifetime homes for exotic animals, especially big cats.
This isn’t so much a visitor attraction as a conservation facility, but there are public guided tours on Saturdays. This is available with a $10 donation, which goes back into the facility and conservation.
When I was here, Mystic Jungle had a number of Bengal and Siberian tigers, as well as leopards, several bobcats, and a pair of ring-tailed lemurs. For a more personal experience, you can book a private tour.
14. The Dixie Grill
A must-do while in Live Oak Florida is to try out some local Southern Cuisine. It doesn’t get much more authentic than at The Dixie Grill in the historic heart of downtown.
This restaurant, which has been around since 1959, is a favorite with locals, which I think tells you something.
Lavish breakfasts, hearty comfort food, and healthy sandwiches and salads made with fresh, local ingredients are just some of the items on offer. Now, if there’s one thing you need to try it’s their renowned Dixie Fried Chicken.
Follow this up with another signature, a slice of homemade coconut pie, crowned with a generous coconut meringue.