Kalle and I wanted to reinforce the efforts of whoever had the courage to drive over there and tell them to turn it down and we both screamed something refined, in unison like ” YES ASSSHOLLLLLES ITS TOOO LOUD!!!”
Arriving at the privately owned campground at Ginnie Springs is a bit overwhelming. Ginnie Springs Outdoors LLC operates this privately owned nature park, with over 200 acres of pure woodsy Florida located on the Santa Fe River. It is a very popular north Florida destination for campers, divers, tubers, and folks with all night partying on their mind. Checking in on a weekend involves lines to the check in area inside a well appointed dive shop, filling out forms and signing away your right to sue the owners for any possible mishap.
Security is high. Sneaking into Ginnie Springs will probably not be an option unless you are in someone’s trunk. You can’t even leave Ginnie Springs park without driving past a guard.
The 7 dramatic crystal clear springs located on the property, make the park popular with scuba divers, snorklers and cave divers. All springs feed the Santa Fe River and tubing down the river from one end of the park to the other is popular pastime. Certified Cave divers can explore over 30,000 feet of passageways in the Devil’s Eye and Devil’s Ear cave system.
Fees are a bit steep. Campers pay a per day per person charge and must also pay a per day per person charge for use of the park. Our party, 2 adults and one child were charged over 150.00 for a 3 night stay. In return, you are turned loose in the campground to choose from a huge plethora of campsites, plenty located directly on the river. It probably doesn’t matter what time you arrive.. there will still be an acceptable campsite at Ginnie Springs. While there are a lot of sites on the river there are still more in the woods surrounding. You will find a suitable site just about on any weekend There is much property, all wooded all with primitive campsites set up. Some are even located directly on one of the 7 springs. When we called for information when planning the trip, we found they don’t take reservations for small tent parties, because they “always have plenty of room.” When we arrived, we found that large parties do have the right to make reservations and these parties will reserve blocks of prime riverfront or spring front campsites. On our weekend there was a fraternity located at the top of the park, another fraternity claiming the area around Deer Springs at the bottom of the park, and a Cub Scout troop claiming a large area on the river.
Feeling a bit frazzled after checking in around 2 pm Friday, we rushed to hopefully claim a riverfront site. We drove from one end of the huge park to the other seeing no riverfront sites available, or finding reserved signs on the ones that “looked” empty. Rounding a bend we found it. The last riverfront site. Hollering “YaaaY” we rolled in and set up camp.
The first thing we noticed was noise reverberating through the campground. Air horns, loud music of all genres, lots of hootin’ and hollerin,’ occasional girly screams, and woooo hoooo’s everywhere. Being a private campground is definitely appealing to the partying crowd because alcohol is very definitely…. allowed. “Quiet hours,” we’d noticed from the brochure were on the party folks side as well. 12AM to 8AM. Well hey, Ginnie Springs is definitely close to Gainesville and obviously a destination for the college crowd (and the redneck crowd we’d discover. )
With the fire going and the ribs rubbed with seasoning we cooked our first meal on the Q. Beef Ribs, Corn and Beans. The Adults in our 3 person party were enjoying the alcoholic beverage policy, sharing a bottle of wine.
By 10 pm, the volume from the party folks on each side of us, behind us, and down the river across from us was escalating with each passing minute and we looked at each other wondering how.. we would sleep through this! It had been a long day with packing, unpacking, setting up, cooking and we were drowsy.
We decided to try. No problem here.. I fell right asleep, so did Jake, Kalle however did not. She layed awake, for hours, and around midnight, started seething. Noise at Ginnie Springs does not stop at midnight, at all. At 1:30 AM I awoke with a start, the ground vibrating from the noise from the rednecks next to us, who had just turned the volume of their music up all the way. The entire area was completely drowned with sound. During the course of the song I find out that Kalle had been awake the entire time, and was totally, completely furious over the noise from next door. I suggested meekly that perhaps it was just this one song they wanted to “hear.” But nope.. the next one starts (The Doors, I believe) We hear a car approaching and slowing at their campsite… and the music turns down and the guy who says “dude” every third word says … “what. is it too loud?” Kalle and I, wanting to reinforce the efforts of whoever had the courage to drive over there and tell them to turn it down, both screamed something refined, in unison like “YES ASSSHOLLLLLES ITS TOOO LOUD!!!” Kalle threw in a “YOU IDIOTS!!!” caveat at the end. Jake sleeps through it all.
The car drives away and our neighbors spend the next couple of hours grumbling loudly about “people who don’t expect Ginnie Springs to be loud shouldn’t come to Ginnie Springs” and “wait till that DUDE drives away and we’re turning it back up.” Kalle and I spent the next couple of hours listening to the rednecks, plotting revenge (how bout a 6am wake up call outside their tents? Some WOOOO HOOOOOOOS and a blast from the truck speakers on max? and maybe the horn?) But perhaps a better idea, was just to leave. That would be such a hassle and a disappointment. Maybe… earplugs? I tell a story from my favorite travel site: OneBag.com, where they say you can sleep through Carnival in Rio De Ja Nero with earplugs.
Tubing was our next order of business. With only one car we knew we’d have to walk one way or the other. Our plan was to leave the car at the campsite which was close to the tubing exit, and walk to the tubing rental place and then to the tube launch. Lines and more lines awaited us but we finally had our tubes and headed to the closest launch, another 10 minute walk. The spring was packed with Russian divers at that moment. We carefully maneuvered around them and ungracefully flopped into our tubes and started our gentle float down the spring run and down to the river. Merging with the river also merged us with about 60 other folks who had put in up stream from our launch. Everybody rafts up so you have groups of 3 to groups of 20 all tied together and floating down the river. It is not peaceful, but it was fun.
We got back to the campsite around 4 to rather eerie quiet. The noise was all from the river from the tubers drifting by. We relaxed awhile, Jake walked up to the close by boat ramp with his tube and went for another short float, drifting by the campsite. The calm prevailed all through sunset, all through preparing our famous campfire chicken and dumplins, all through after dinner fireside chat. Around 10, as we were winding down a bit, we realized as we heard an air horn blast from down the way, and a few girly screams from the other direction… that everyone had been NAPPING and getting ready for Saturday night! Those two punctuation marks started the party everywhere!
Country music down river, hip hop behind us, rock all around, the action ramped up quickly. Lets at least check these earplugs out we decide, and mush and cram them into our ears as directed, holding the ear canal open with the other hand bent around our heads. I can hear everything… for a moment. Then, miraculously, the ear plug foam fills with air, fills the ear canal and just like a hand on the volume control, the noise dissipates into very faint background noise. I honestly could not believe the effect. We are all looking at each other in amazement and high fiving. Being rather exhausted from last nights lack of sleep, we crawl into bed and pow… down for the count. It was one of the best night’s sleep I can remember. Cool breeze blowing in the tent, moon light, and, perhaps not silence exactly but total peace. Wow.
It’s amazing how late you can sleep hearing nothing. We woke at 9 with nature calling. Our campsite was a LOOOONG way from the limited facilities, by foot, at least a half a mile. It was a driving activity. When you arrive at the restrooms and showers you are met with one or two things. Either it is wet and filthy with muddy footprints everywhere, or it is just wet. It seems that managements method of cleaning the bathrooms involves one component: water. They don’t mop, they don’t wipe, they don’t use cleaners, they simply blast. Arriving shortly after a “cleaning” all of the counters are soaking wet, the floors are soaking wet, the stalls are soaking wet. It is purely disgusting. Toilet paper is hit or miss. Bring your own to be safe. I couldn’t bear to shower, figured the river activities were good enough for me. Facilities are very limited compared to the number of campsites on the property. There are maybe 4 bath houses and a few portalets scattered about this huge property.
Returning to camp with teeth brushed and faces washed, we were welcomed by lots of tear down activity. Tents collapsed, packing going on everywhere. The rednecks were leaving, the big party on the other side was in the middle of tearing it all down, the folks with the pop up almost in the middle of the narrow road, were pulling out. “Yessssssss” we hissed and headed out to rent a canoe for the day. We loaded up and headed upstream paddling hard through long grass that almost clogged the shallower areas. The Santa Fe River is just amazing in the number of springs that feed it. We paddled into Blue Springs, which is also privately owned. Chatted with a lady who had a passel of kids who said that they just can’t even go to Ginnie Springs with the kids because of the partying. We smiled in kindred spirit. Blue springs has a huge platform and we watched as teenage boys jumped into the spring boil in death defying feats. We paddled on back to the Santa Fe to continue up stream. Rum Island, a county park, has a spring and it looked like a crowded day at the beach, packed with kids. We wanted to make it to Poe Spring but ended up turning around prior so we could drift back slowly. Jake tied his tube off to the canoe and donned mask and snorkel for the drift back.
We discovered a tiny little spring and stopped and explored it.. watching the little boil in about 3 feet of crystal clear water, surrounded by deep woods.
Camp was a different place completely. Everyone was gone. Everyone. Wow! Birds were chirping, butterflies were everywhere, squirrels were all over campsites looking for leftovers. We decide to take a walk to see what might have been left behind by all the revelers. We find 3 brand new deluxe floats blown up and discarded. “OURS” we yell joyfully! We drag em back to our camp and stow them and head back out. We enjoy a sweet country walk, as sunset approaches. We examine the spring camping areas that had been occupied and talk about “next time we come here” laughing that we could even consider it. We stop for a photo opportunity and i set the camera up for a timed photo.
Kalle was going to make a smoke run into town and Jake and I decided to use our new floats, jumping off at our neighbors campsite. They were soooo comfortable! Lounge types, where you can lean your head back and look at the sky. We laughed our way down the river floated up to the takeout point and just layed there in the spring in our floats, “swirling around.” There wasn’t a soul in site. We decided to go back out to the river and float down to the last spring on the property, Deer Spring, It was choked with hydrilla but we made it up in there and swirled around some more, finally climbing the stairs and walking back to camp. It was one of my high points of the trip.
After Hamburgers on the Grill and some great smoked beef sausage, we winded down on our last night. The campground was ours but it was a little spooky! Everyone but me slept well.. I kept hearing owls and dogs barking in the distance, maybe some coyotes. Something brushed by the tent and freaked me out. Finally it was morning and I got up to stir up the fire for coffee.
So much nature. The little bream at the waters edge were plentiful. Throwing in bread always resulted in a feeding frenzy. There was a light mist on the river and bird calls from all over: CAWWWS from the crows, chirps from the cardinals, hoots from owls, screams from hawks. So many things that the party folks were oblivious to. Seemed a shame. Isn’t that why we go camping? To experience the awe of nature, the call of birds, the flow of the river, the stillness of a morning? I guess for us it is.
Now it’s our turn to tear it down and feel the regret we always feel at the end of a great getaway. BUT not before we run up the boat ramp and jump in our new floats and make one last float down the river. It was a good time all in all. We are good at making the best of things. Ginnie springs is a beautiful park, no doubt about it and we would go back, prepared for revelry with earplugs, and hopefully an extra day or two after everyone else goes home.