From alligator spotting and fresh water swimming to hand packed milkshakes and a large game of checkers, Wakulla Springs offers families a step back into an undisturbed part of Floridian life.
Just a picturesque 30-minute drive from the urban center of Tallahassee, we set off to explore a part of Florida caught in time. Wakulla Springs State Park is a 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary built around Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. When financier Edward Ball developed the area his plan was to keep the area as untouched as possible. “I knew then that the area had to be preserved,” he said later.
The basically untouched habitat can be explored on the nature trail but for families I would recommend the riverboat tour. The kids will love riding in the open-air boats as your guide takes you on a slow ride down the Wakulla River. Of course the best part of any tour has to be the guide and ours, Pat Mahoney, was a real treat. It was obvious to me he really enjoys his job and is very knowledgeable.
I loved seeing the Florida vegetation from the water, like the cypress islands created as the tree’s roots turn upwards (called cypress knees). You’ll see plenty of Spanish Moss, a sight I always attribute to the south, plus a peek of the state’s Cardinal native wildflower.
I think the kids were more excited about the wildlife over the wildflowers. Our guide pointed out slider turtles, blue cranes, white ibis, and athingas but the big draw was the alligators and a few manatees.
Gliding across the water it really felt as though we had stepped away from civilization for a brief moment.
Along with riding on top of the Wakulla Spring you can also swim within it. Near the river boat dock is a designated fresh spring swimming area with a shallow sandy entry point for those just wanting to get their toes wet. For the more adventurous there’s the two level diving tower. As the Wakulla Spring is one of the deepest in the United States cannonballers will love the thrill of plunging deep into the spring water.
After exploring the outdoors at Wakulla Springs don’t forget to venture indoors. Created in the 1930’s by Edward Ball, the Wakulla Springs lodge is like a step into the past. Entering the enclosed terrace you are greeted by a wonderful cypress paneled ceiling. I’m not sure if the blue hue is the wood splits occurred naturally or it was painted that way after the fact but it was memorizing. I can imagine guests sitting on the terrace looking out over the lawn and spring. Ceramic tiles handmade in Spain specifically for the lodge flank the large double doorway leading to the lobby.
From the huge windows within the lobby you are drawn up to the 16-foot height ceilings but your eye lingers there to take in the beautiful painted scenes that adorn the beams. It’s amazing how colourful and detailed these paintings are even now.
The kids enjoyed sitting by the windows playing a game of checkers on marble checkerboard tables.
You’ll notice marble everywhere, on the floors, stairs, baseboards, windowsills and counters. In fact the counter in the gift shop is the world’s longest known marble bar measuring just over 70 feet. Most of the marble used in the Lodge came from Tennessee and Mr. Bell even brought a marble craftsman from Tennessee to do the work.
After enjoying the park a stop at the soda fountain for a hand packed ice cream and milkshake is a must but bring an appetite. These scoops are huge. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the Lodge’s dinning room at the far end of the lobby.
A drive to Wakulla Springs Park is a most memorable day trip offering a peek into an untouched side of Florida life and wilderness.
Thanks to the folks at Wakulla Springs Park and Visit Tallahassee for the chance to visit Wakulla Springs.