Do you enjoy kayaking but tire of paddling the same trails? Now is a great time to explore new places. The weather is warm, and the mosquitoes aren't yet biting. Make a weekend of it and head to North Florida, where you can set up base in the charming town of High Springs, about 25 miles northwest of Gainesville. High Springs is close to several trails suited for novice and experienced kayakers.
Holly Fults, Times staff writer
>> Ichetucknee River: The spring-fed Ichetucknee is better known for tubing, but it's also a popular place to kayak. This 6-mile, shady river is a good choice for those who enjoy watching wildlife. It's a tributary of the Santa Fe River.
>> Santa Fe River: The Santa Fe is part of Florida's Greenways and Trails system. Start your trip at River Rise State Preserve, where the river re-emerges after going underground for 3 miles. This river is known for its beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife.
>> Suwannee River: The river made famous by songwriter Stephen Foster is also part of Florida's Greenways and Trails system. High Springs is near the lower section of the Suwannee, where the water is wide and usually gentle.
>> Newnans Lake: The lake covers about 6,000 acres and is a good choice for paddlers who like open water. The lake is popular with bird watchers, and alligators are also plentiful.
>> Santa Fe Canoe Outpost: Offers day and overnight trips on the Santa Fe River, including full moon trips once a month (next is Friday). Day trips range from 1 1/2 to 5 hours; prices start around $25. Day trips are not guided, but the outpost will provide shuttle service. Shuttle service is available for kayakers with their own equipment. Reservations recommended. (386) 454-2050; www.santaferiver.com.
>> Adventure Outpost: Offers a variety of unguided and guided day trips throughout North Florida. The outpost also offers specialty tours. Its manatee tour was recently recommended in National Geographic Adventure magazine. Unguided trips range from 2 to 4 hours; prices start around $25. Prices for guided trips start around $35. Shuttle available for kayakers with equipment. Reservations recommended. (386) 454-0611; www.adventureoutpost.net.
High Springs was an important phosphate mining and railroad center in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today it's a destination for kayaking, swimming, fishing, scuba diving and tubing. Though small, High Springs has a number of places to stay and to eat. Here are a few suggestions.
>> O'Leno State Park: If you want the full outdoor experience, kayak by day and camp by night. A campsite at O'Leno is $15 per night, includes electric and water hookups and accommodates up to eight people. (386) 454-1853; www.floridastateparks.org/oleno/.
>> Grady House Historic Bed & Breakfast: Highly recommended. Innkeepers Lucie and Paul Regensdorf are friendly, and their house and gardens are beautifully maintained. Grady House has all the standard amenities as well as extra touches: shelves of DVDs and books to peruse and a dining room stocked with free sodas and brownies. Weekend rates start at $115, including gourmet breakfast. (386) 454-2206; www.gradyhouse.com.
>> Great Outdoors Restaurant and SpringHouse Tavern: The menu is mostly seafood, burgers, steak and salads but you also can try a bison burger or fillet of elk. Meals begin around $8 for lunch and range from $10 to $30 for dinner. Live music Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. (386) 454-1288; www.greatoutdoorsdining.com.
>> Station Bakery & Cafe: The Station offers sandwiches and salads at lunch and a few more choices at dinner. Prices begin around $5. Save room for a selection from the display case full of treats: cakes, pastries, cheesecakes, brownies, shortcake and ice cream. Hours are 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. (386) 454-4943.
Out of the kayak
Once you've had your fill of kayaking, you'll find many other attractions in High Springs.
On the water: Swim, snorkel or go tubing. Poe Springs, Blue Springs, Ichetucknee Springs and Ginnie Springs are all nearby.
On the shore: Picnic, hike or fish at O'Leno State Park on the banks of the Santa Fe. The River Trail leads to the sink where the river goes underground.
Downtown: Shop for antiques or take a tour of historic homes.
Offbeat: Visit the Retirement Home for Horses at Mill Creek Farm. The farm is home to about 200 horses and is open to visitors from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Admission is two carrots, but the staff recommends bringing as many carrots as you can carry. (386) 462-1001.
Directions from the Tampa Bay area
Go north on Interstate 75 and take Exit 399 toward High Springs. Merge onto U.S. 441 N and drive about 5 miles. Turn left onto U.S. 41 (N Main Street). Driving time is about 2 1/2 hours from St. Petersburg.