A Quiet Getaway at Wakulla Springs State Park 

By Diane M. Loeffler

 

If you would like to get away for a few days, but don’t want to have to travel far, Wakulla Springs State Park may be the place for you. The park is located south of Tallahassee, about a five-hour drive from Sun City Center.

The main feature of the park is a spring that is the source of the Wakulla River. If you are warm-blooded enough to enjoy swimming in 69-degree water, you can wade into the water or jump from the first or second level of the diving platform. For the rest of us, the most pleasant way to enjoy the springs is to take an hour-long boat tour on the river.

The dockside ranger station opens at 9:30 a.m. for anyone who wishes to purchase a ticket. The hour-long boat tours run from 9:40 to 5 p.m. The 9:40 tour is the best if you want to see birds, turtles, alligators and other creatures at their most active time. On cooler days, manatees can be easily seen through the surprisingly clear water. Happily, the boats are usually not very full at 9:40 a.m., so you can move around for the best views.

Thanks to the Friends of Wakulla Springs, two of the tour boats are powered by electric motors. Those two boats have rooftop solar panels to charge the batteries. The ride is very quiet allowing you to hear the songs of the birds.

If you like to walk, there are walkways all around the lodge. At the lodge front desk you can pick up a map of the six mile (one way) Sally Ward Trail and the nine-tenths of a mile Hammock Spur Trail. Some sections of the trail are raised wooden walkways. However, most of the path is on uneven ground with lots of exposed roots.

If you wish to do more walking, you may wish to drive to the Wakulla Forest Trail or the trails in St. Mark’s State Wildlife Reserve. While there, you can visit St. Mark’s Lighthouse and Visitor’s Center.

Want to stay at the Lodge at Wakulla Springs? This charming building was constructed in 1937 and is on the register of Historic Hotels. Once you step inside, you will see a lovely fireplace and various seating areas around the huge lobby. If you are there between 4 and 7 p.m. on most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, you will also be treated to a pianist performing.

When admiring all of the artistic touches, be sure to look down at the marble floors and up at the 16-foot-tall ceiling. The cypress ceiling is adorned with paintings by Mr. Piplack, a man who was also the last court painter for Kaiser Wilhelm.

A large dining area with windows overlooking the park and the springs is located to the left of the lobby.  On the opposite end of the building is a combination souvenir shop and soda parlor. There you will see the world’s longest known marble countertop. It measures seventy feet and three inches.

The marble continues in the twenty-seven guest rooms on the second floor.  Rooms sleep two to six people. There is also a library and game room on the second floor. However, be warned. There are no televisions.

The second floor can be accessed by taking the oldest operating elevator in the state, an 80-year-old elevator with walnut walls. If you wish, you can take the 30 marble stairs instead. The stairs are not as steep as most steps, have railings on both sides and include three landings.

The front desk greeters will give you a pamphlet detailing the history of the park and the lodge. Financier Edward Ball first saw the land in 1920. He said, “I knew then that the area had to be preserved but I didn’t know exactly how at the time.” He bought the area with the springs and surrounding land from several dozen landowners.

The busiest times are weekends, spring and summer. You will want to make reservations in advance. You can make them by going to the website “thelodgeatwakullasprings.com” or by calling 855.632.4559.

Wakulla Springs State Park is located at 550 Wakulla Park Drive, Crawfordville, Florida 32358.

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