This is an interesting and unique spring to say the least. The spring is actually under the main section of the Suwannee. Since the Suwannee is filled with tannic acid, the clear water emanating from the spring isn't immediately visible. In fact, while I'm fairly sure the spring is under the middle of the river, the spring water is forced to the bank on the east side (due to the temperature difference). Check out the pictures below to get a better idea of what I mean. This creates the opportunity to see the strange mixture of crystal clear and tannic water that is constantly changing.
The temperature difference is also fascinating. Just wading from the shore let's you take steps from warm water into icy water and back. I don't think swimming was intended at this spring but it was remote and inviting enough to give it a go.
I took a few movies of the descent to the spring mouth but I was never able to reach it completely; the visibility drops off linearly as the river water becomes more of the mixture. It's actually very creepy; the clear and chilled water is quickly replaced with increasingly darker and warmer water. It's enough to make you turn back simply from the sensation.
The banks are covered in limestone formations and rocks as is typical of the upper-Suwannee springs. It's somewhat difficult to position yourself for good photos as the only way to travel down the beach is over said rocks. Also, as motorized watercraft travels down the river, the waves disturb the visibility and mixture of the spring heavily.
This spring isn't much fun, but it's quite unique, well-marked from the road, and less than five minutes from the interstate, so I would recommend a quick trip to see it.
I expected something rank when I looked at the satellite view; it was dark, heavily wooded, and with a name like "foul mouth", it wasn't looking good. However, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't my favorite memory from the entire trip. We parked at the top of the landing and scaled down the boardwalk to the karst window (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karst_fenster).
This spring is one of those "sum of its parts" locations that just feels so nice regardless of its individual values. The water visibility was pretty bad. I took a few snapshots of the rise but it was nothing but a solid slightly-tannic scene. It's also in a small ravine, so the sun doesn't reach much and the canopy is thick. It's also a fair bit creepy. The spring water emerges from a dark shaded area; I tried to swim into it but I lost my appetite for adventure fairly quickly. About 200ft down the run the water abruptly enters another cave, and given the speed of the water, I didn't want to get anywhere near the hidden sinkhole.
Despite all that, it was very quiet and pristine. The transparent water gurgled down through the rocks and fallen branches in such a way that the normal soothing sound resonated throughout the area. The run was a perfect depth - about 2.5' - to allow wading or swimming. The water as always was icy cold, but the tree cover made it just a little cooler. After I'd been taking pictures from the run for about 10 minutes, the sun slid behind some clouds and the area became very chilled, almost like an AC unit kicked on. Mist/fog started to rise off of the run and within minutes, the sun came back and started lancing through the fog to create some of the most sickening sweet imagery I'd ever seen at a spring. My camera didn't do it justice (especially since the lenses kept fogging up). I ran down the bank to get shots of the sink and the trees in this state.
I wanted to stay and just bask in the privacy and peacefulness of the spring, but I had too many more to see on this trip. I don't know if I could go back with the same expectations, but I do hope I can chill in the run for an hour or so one day.
I thought it would be larger from the pictures I'd seen, but it was still a nice sight. The walls are rigid and carved and the spring looks other-worldly. I'm sure I could have taken a dip into the spring but I was afraid I might damage the rock cutouts. I lied; it looks really creepy in-person. The water flows out a small opening the in wall into the Suwannee River, but it's very difficult to get down to that area. I jumped out one of the "windows" and promptly discovered the 6-foot drop to the sand bank below.
The smell of sulfur is strong from the outpouring of water and the characteristic white bacteria/algae/whatever was all over the plant life surrounding the outlet. I walked around the area a bit, finding some other smaller seeps coming from under tree roots. The river has long outstretched banks in this area allowing you to walk out and grab some nice pictures. I walked all the way to the eastern bend in the river and found a set of concrete stairs leading back to the parking lot; good thing too, because the dock leading down to the bank stops about six feet from the ground.
It's a very cool sight-seeing spring, but don't expect to do much else. There's also an abandoned bridge not too far up the road which is worth seeing (see the pictures below).
Honestly one of the dirtiest springs I've ever swam in. The water quality is fine (with low visibility due to many children stirring up the sand), but I discovered a half-dozen plastic bottles full of sand in and around the spring vent. As I took a couple out, I saw children pick them out of the trash and throw them back into the water.
Think of this place like a typical community pool. Even toward the end of the day, there were many, many more children than parents (leading me to believe many of them were dropped off to swim unattended), an entrance fee of $1, poorly run facilities, and a staff that seemed more interested in telling me to, "be careful not to let 'em steal that camera." I was told four or five times that I'd turn my back for a second it would be gone.
Needless to say, I don't really recommend this place unless you get here bright and early. The spring itself has a very interesting landscape along the bottom but isn't really explorable or interesting.
The first visit was a bust (March 2010) due to the flooding of the Suwannee. Apparently this happens fairly regularly, so be sure to check ahead to make sure the Springs are open and clear.
The second visit was a pleasant surprise and did not disappoint. I sort of forgot that the park was maintained/owned by Gilchrist county (and thus had an entrance fee), but my $4 was well worth it a few minutes later. The facilities for changing were very nice, and the concession stand wasn't half bad either! With two vents, even the number of people didn't deter me from hopping in and going for the more-eastern vent. While a little scary being all alone in the pool surrounding the boil of this vent, the depth was extraordinary. I was able to dive a good 15 to 20 feet before reaching a horizontal cave gushing clear water. Visibility wasn't great due to all the vegetation, but I'm not sure why the spring showed so little use. I was pleased.
Rather than exit at the beach and walk to the other vent, I chose to swim the gap. Visibility in this area wasn't quite up to what I expected, but it was mostly due to the crowds and sand being kicked up. Swimming a few feet under the surface gave me a better if darker view, spotting many schools of fish darting around unsuspecting visitors. After a quick breath under the bridge I arrived at the pool for the second vent.
I see now why it was more populated and fresh: the walkway above the sharp banks opened a tiny bit to allow jumpers access directly over the boil. It was more difficult to swim in this area due to that fact, but the clarity and force of the water made up for it. Check out the photos below for July 2010; the clarity of some of the later shots is amazing.
A boardwalk takes visitors out to the Suwannee which flows by just a quarter-mile from the springs. Had the mosquitoes and heat not been as bad I may have snapped more shots, but it is nice to take a step away from the crowds and see a seemingly different ecosystem.
Overall, Hart Springs surprised me. I think it's only downside is its location: fairly far from I-75 for hoppers from the east. However, if you ever end up in the High Springs / Suwannee River area, stop by. Just make sure it's in the summer!