POWERED BY FORD VIP BLOGGER PROGRAM: This is the first in a brand new series of columns that we will be sharing in partnership with our friends at Sunstate Ford and Ford Corporate to share some of our new favorite day trips in the Orlando area. The Downtown “bungalow” neighborhoods are undoubtedly the best places to live in The City Beautiful, but sometimes you need to get away!
This week’s Straight Trippin’ piece took me to Ginnie Springs, by way of the Ocala National Forest, a wildflower field in Hampton, Florida. Holler at Sunstate Ford for loaning us a beautiful 2019 Ford Escape for our journey.
Ginnie Springs was one of those places I had never been before but I’d heard lots about (like a gym), usually accompanied by the statement that it was a real slice of “pure Florida” but I knew absolutely nothing else about it, other than that I could swim there and that the water was 72-degrees all year round.
The springs are actually a privately-owned park in Gilchrist County, about 139 miles up the 75 from Orlando. But I’d also recently heard about a magical flower field in Hampton Florida that was apparently the best place to take a selfie, “like, ever.” So I decided to make a day of it and see what I could find. That meant driving through the Ocala National Forest.
The drive through the forest is fairly uneventful. Lots of big rigs, hunters, and stands of old long-leaf pine trees for hours. It was a great way to just shut out the pressure of the week and ease into a day away from the laptop. No Swamp Ape sightings but I did see a few dudes with big beards heading to a place called Hog Waller Mud Bog.
I made a pit stop across from Alexander Springs to carb up and people watch before continuing on my way. Why do roadside diners always have the best fries?
From there it was only an hour and a bit of driving by the odd horse field, abandoned farm, and feral house before I found myself in Hampton and one of the most beautiful spots I’ve seen in a long time; the Flower Fields.
Not much is known about the origin of the field but it happens to big spoon the periphery of a small family cemetery. Despite the looming presence of some really old tombstones nearby, the fields are usually lined with families and graduates marking the spring with fun photo shoots and picnics.
You can park alongside the road and just walk on in. There are little trails that people should stick to in order to avoid trampling the flowers. Please take out any trash that you may bring with you. Littering is for jerks.
The exact address is County Hwy 221, Hampton, Florida, 32044 [GMap] and the blooms generally last from mid-April to late May.
I ate the rest of my roadside diner meatwich off in a corner of the field and had a little siesta to the sound of bugs bugging out around me and the hum of little bees wiggling into the coreopsis flowers jutting out all around me. Epic side journey and definitely worth the trip.
Now, Ginnie Springs was something entirely different. It was like a frat party summer camp and it took a bit to adjust to a forest full of beer-drinking weekend revelers after spending an hour smelling flowers in a field like that cartoon Disney bull.
The park is located at 7300 Ginnie Springs Road just outside of the most adorable little town, High Springs [GMap]. Be sure to budget some time to walk around the old downtown area – I didn’t and I instantly regretted it as I drove past a handful of really interesting indie shops.
When you arrive at the springs, you pull up to the main park entrance where you’re directed to check in at the main lodge/gift shop building before being allowed access to the park. General admission is $14.02 for an adult, $3.73 for children aged 6-12, and free for children under 5. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t really a kid-friendly destination; more on that later.
There are spots to scuba dive and camp but I was just there for the day so you’ll have to head to the Ginnie Springs website HERE for more information on those offerings.
HOT TIP: Fill out the admission waiver to the park online HERE before leaving home to save time in the line.
So, this park is really big and it is easy to get lost when you’re down in the campground area looking for a place to jump in the water. Take it slow and remember that there are multiple access points to the river and the water flows from right to left as long as you’re facing north.
There are university kids, families, and random singles like myself all over the place. People are grilling, singing, farting, drinking, puking, and smoking copious amounts of reefer all over the place. I waddled over to the furthest tube run dock to the east, past Beaver Landing and the beach volleyball court full of hot dudes thumping their chests, and hopped in the water as soon as I could to try to find a place to chill.
I thought I was being cute by bringing a tube that looked like a hamburger, but I was quickly humbled by the creativity of some of the other floaters; there were whole inflatable pools being used as makeshift barges with 5-6 people a piece doing their thing and colorful flotillas of llamas, unicorns, and flamingos with sprawled out teenagers linking their feet together so they didn’t drift away like sad sea otters. River status was clearly linked to how imaginative your tube was and people on boring inflatables were kind of ignored. Don’t be like all the Sallies on the donuts, you guys – go a little whacky on Amazon Prime if you want to get noticed.
Click HERE to check out our Amazon shop to get your beach/lazy river supplies delivered straight to your door.
The entire route took about an hour and a half of twists and turns at a really leisurely pace. Pot and campfire smoke leaked through the trees along the riverbank like a scene from a Stephen King movie adaptation and everyone had a super blissed-out look on their face like you’d expect to see on an elephant seal in a nature special.
Strategically placed Tarzan swinging ropes can be found along the route for anyone (mostly bros) looking to turn a few tricks to impress their friends while breaking up the slow pace of the river so pay attention in case you end up with a surprised UF student straddling your tube.
There are multiple little exit points along the river if you see your camp or a hottie up in the bushes you’d like to say hi to. Or maybe a bathroom.
Everyone had a beer when I was there. It was like a big tailgating party and it was super fun, but again, maybe not the place I’d bring my kids to. And that’s ok, not everything is family-friendly in Central Florida.
All-in-all, it was a great way to spend a day but it seemed like you’d have maximum day-trip enjoyment from a visit to Ginnie Springs if you came with a car full of friends and a cooler full of beer and brats.
This day trip possibility gets a good 4 out of 5 thumbs up. 👍👍🏿👍🏻👍🏼