15 Best Things to Do in High Springs (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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An inspiring place in remote North Central Florida, High Springs was first settled almost two hundred years ago. The railroads accelerated development later in the century, and there are hints of this heritage across the downtown area. 

For you and me, High Springs’ appeal comes from the scores of natural springs flowing into the Santa Fe River. These come to the surface at a constant 72 °F, cool in summer and mild in winter. 

They have a clarity that needs to be seen firsthand to be fully appreciated, and are the focus of all kinds of outdoor recreation. You can go diving, swim, snorkel, relax on an inner tube or paddle, upstream or downstream as the currents are so light.

1. Downtown High Springs

Fitting for a gateway to the sublime natural attractions on the Santa Fe River, High Springs has a dynamic downtown at the intersection of US 27 and US 41 (Main Street).

Whether you’re passing through or are staying locally, you can get out of the car and do some wandering. I came across stores for things as diverse as antiques (four spots), art, jewelry, classy lingerie, craft supplies, and equipment for adventures on or in the springs.

Try to come on a Friday afternoon when there’s a farmers’ market by the chamber of commerce. You’ll find eateries scattered throughout the downtown area, whether you’re in the mood for pizza, diner classics, Southern cooking, steak or ice cream. 

North of the intersection is a reminder of the area’s karstic geology, with a small sinkhole at James Paul Park next to the city hall.

2. Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

Gilchrist Blue Springs State ParkSource: Ron Bennett / shutterstock
Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park

In 2017, this property containing five magnificent springs was acquired by the state to become Florida’s 175thn state park. 

A stone’s throw from downtown High Springs, the landscape is commanded by the large, second-magnitude Gilchrist Blue spring. Even by the high local standards, this has exceptional water clarity, traveling to the Santa Fe River along a waist-high, quarter-mile run. 

If you want to swim, I’d recommend being here in summer when the water is refreshing on searing hot days. 

It’s an extraordinary natural playground for swimming, snorkeling and paddling. One of the most rewarding things you can do is navigate a kayak or paddleboard upstream to Gilchrist Blue.

3. Poe Springs Park

The largest of all the many springs in Alachua County is Poe Springs, a little way down the Santa Fe River from High Springs.

Every day, some 45 million gallons of water rise to the surface, at a steady temperature of 72 °F. The spring, ensconced in 200 acres of lush parkland and reached via a boardwalk, is open for swimming and snorkeling, although scuba diving is not permitted.

For me, the ideal way to arrive is by kayak while paddling down the river. You can pause here to take a dip before continuing on your way. The water clarity is extraordinary, and you can explore a small underwater cave.

4. Ginnie Springs

A short drive west of High Springs the Santa Fe River is fed by another spring, this one on private land. 

Since the 1970s, Ginnie Springs has been a multifaceted visitor attraction, offering a range of water-based activities, and camping at 120+ RV sites, and numerous primitive sites.

You can rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard, or swim and snorkel in the crystalline waters. Ginnie Springs also has three different dive sites, available for certified scuba divers, while there’s a dive center offering instruction.

To my mind, the best way to spend time at Ginnie Springs is lying back in a tube, floating along the river for an hour.

5. Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Ichetucknee Springs State ParkSource: Joanne Dale / shutterstock
Ichetucknee Springs State Park

If you’re willing to travel a little further there’s yet another hydrological attraction, along a stretch of the Ichetucknee River, fed by numerous springs. 

Covering almost 2,700 acres, the park is a veritable wonderland, with eight sparkling springs all linking up. Without question, I think you have to come between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day for an unforgettable tubing trip on the river. 

Also essential is the Blue Hole, which has a beauty I can’t really do justice. You’ll know what I mean once you’re snorkeling here. As the water rises at 72 °F this can be a year-round activity. 

Manatees make their way upstream to bask in these warmer waters during the winter. And are just one of the many wild animals, from turtles to otters, commonly spotted at the park.

6. Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures

A minor drawback of paddling adventures is the hassle of organizing the practicalities of a trip. This rental service at Santa Fe River Park specializes in self-guided kayak, canoe and paddleboard adventures, and all you have to do is paddle.

You’ll meet them at the Santa Fe River and then take a shuttle to one of the many launch points upstream. One trip is Eight Springs in Eight Miles, beginning at Poe Springs and gliding back downriver, past the likes of Rum Island Springs and Ginnie Springs.

Alternatively you can rent a vessel at Blue Springs or Poe Springs, paddle upstream against the gentle current, and then turn around and float back.

7. High Springs Museum

High Springs MuseumSource: High Springs Museum / Facebook
High Springs Museum

The railroad was so integral to the history of High Springs that it forms the basis of the town’s history museum. Just behind the City Hall, this attraction is housed in a listed former elementary school building. 

First-time visitors to High Springs looking to get a unique insight into the history of the town should stop by. The museum’s exhibits focus on the pioneer era, the local economy and culture. 

Displays include railroad equipment, tools, whistles and bells, along with artifacts and photos to shine a light on everyday life in 19th-century High Springs. One exhibit that blew me away was the city’s original 1924 Brockway-LaFrance Fire Truck.

8. High Springs Pioneer Days

Try to time your visit to High Springs for this annual festival in late April. High Springs Pioneer Days has been on the calendar for half a century now, and brings a weekend full of old-timey festivities by the city hall.

At the heart of the event is the Heritage Village, where costumed artisans show off time-honored skills. There’s a Seminole Native American dance demonstration here, as well as more than 100 vendors, including a food court serving fair foods like corn dogs and funnel cake.

Children will be kept entertained at the Kids’ Corral, while one of the annual highlights is a cowboy shootout that always wows the crowds.

9. O’Leno State Park

O'leno State ParkSource: William Silver / shutterstock
O’Leno State Park

Also on the banks of the Santa Fe River, this property is upstream from High Springs, and has a different feel to other places on my list. 

Developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, O’Leno State Park is on the site of a ghost town that disappeared at the turn of the 20th century after it was bypassed by the railroad.

There’s a rich array of habitats, including hardwood forests, swamps, sandhills, and primordial sinkholes. Another facet is the 1930s parkitecture, including an impressive suspension bridge over the river.

10. High Springs Playhouse

High Springs PlayhouseSource: High Springs Playhouse / Facebook
High Springs Playhouse

Founded in 1993, this community theater has a wonderful home in a converted church downtown. 

The High Springs Playhouse has a season for all, with comedies, suspenseful murder mysteries, Broadway musicals, and new twists on old classics, from Shakespeare to A Christmas Carol.

Tickets may be purchased individually or for the entire six-show season. I’d recommend the latter if you live locally, as it’s a fine way to support High Springs’ creative talent and infuse some extra culture into your calendar. You also get a discount, paying for five shows instead of six.

11. High Springs Brewing Company

High Springs Brewing CompanySource: High Springs Brewing Company / Facebook
High Springs Brewing Company

Arriving during the craft beer boom of the 2010s, High Springs Brewing Company has become a local staple.

I’m a big fan of the rustic set-up here, and the large yard packed with picnic tables under a big canopy. There were ten beers on tap when I came through. Give it a Dry (Irish Stout) was my pick, as I’ll always order dark beers if given a choice. 

Local food trucks usually take-up temporary residence in the lot to feed visitors with anything from wood-fired pizza to mexican street food. There’s also live entertainment many nights, and trivia on Tuesdays.

12. The Great Outdoors Restaurant

The Great Outdoors RestaurantSource: The Great Outdoors Restaurant / Facebook
The Great Outdoors Restaurant

Downtown, The Great Outdoors Restaurant is known for its understated décor, hand-selected steaks, fresh seafood, and mouth-watering desserts.

Over the last decade, this steakhouse has consistently won awards that rank it in the upper echelons of similar eateries in the state. 

Though it may not be a good fit for those looking to feed a family on the cheap, it’s the perfect place for a special occasion.

I love the atmosphere at this spot, with live music on Wednesday and weekends. The menu is elevated Floridian cuisine, so if you’re not up for steak you could go for the Fisherman’s Catch platter or the Caribbean Spiced Mahi Mahi.

13. Traveler’s Campground

Traveler’s CampgroundSource: travelerscampground.com
Traveler’s Campground

A great place to stay during our time in High Springs, this RV resort is nearby in Alachua. I found Traverler’s Campground to be clean, orderly, generally well-managed and that it had all the amenities I expected, including a playground and pool.

But beyond that there’s a variety of rescued birds and barnyard animals to give this place a homey feel. Some of these animals can be petted or fed, so they’re a really nice addition.  

Daily, weekly, and monthly rates are available, and most sites include electric and water. There are plenty of restrooms, showers, and a travel store that provides food, toiletries, and camping supplies like propane and ice.

14. High Springs Fall Festival

James Paul Park is the venue for another annual event, hosted by the local chamber of commerce. The High Springs Fall Festival is a day-long celebration marking the transition from summer to winter.

At the park and downtown you’ll find numerous vendors, with arts & crafts, fresh produce, delicious prepared food, and representatives for nonprofit groups and local businesses. 

Kids will have a blast at the Fall Festival, decorating pumpkins, bouncing on inflatables, and taking part in a range of craft activities. There’s also a Halloween costume contest, and winners get a spot on the city’s Christmas Parade.

15. River Ranch Water Park

On the north side of High Springs, the Kulaqua Retreat and Conference Center goes all the way back to 1953. In blissful woodlands, this is primarily a destination for the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, offering camping and lodgings.

Now, the facility does open to the public on Community Event Days, taking place several times throughout the summer season. 

On these days you can make the most of their excellent River Ranch Water Park. Like something from a major theme park, this has a wave pool, 600-foot lazy river, and a thrilling waterslide.

There’s no fee to borrow tubes, and the water park has lovely grounds, with grassy areas, sun chairs, and covered picnic tables.

15 Best Things to Do in High Springs (FL):

  • Downtown High Springs
  • Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park
  • Poe Springs Park
  • Ginnie Springs
  • Ichetucknee Springs State Park
  • Anderson's Outdoor Adventures
  • High Springs Museum
  • High Springs Pioneer Days
  • O'Leno State Park
  • High Springs Playhouse
  • High Springs Brewing Company
  • The Great Outdoors Restaurant
  • Traveler’s Campground
  • High Springs Fall Festival
  • River Ranch Water Park