Updated May 2021
Have you been camping with 75 of your favorite friends and relatives lately?
Mother’s Day at Ginnie Springs is a family tradition, one we’ve been carrying on for almost 20 years. Every second weekend in May, our crowd of campers gathers for a few days of grilling and chilling at one of Florida’s best natural attractions, a privately owned site featuring seven freshwater springs that gush hundreds of millions of 72-degree water into the Santa Fe River every day.
This year was our biggest group ever, with somewhere between 75 and 100 friends, cousins, parents, in-laws, former prom dates and people I haven’t seen since high school. Parents with babies and toddlers and kiddos, lifelong bachelors, party animals, shy gals, singers and songwriters and all manner of musicians, men with very serious beards… and a quintessential “Florida man” or two.
All-in-all, it was a really fun mix of folks.
For the first time in all these years, I arrived on Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised at how quiet and peaceful Ginnie Springs can be midweek. It was a nice change from the hubbub of the weekend crowd, which is markedly different, consisting mostly of very drunk, very ridiculous people.
Last year at Ginnie Springs, I was sidelined with a wretched case of strep throat, so it was so much more fun to be there free of the fever and pain this time. (Though I did discover a bit of food poisoning or a stomach bug on the last night. Always fun to deal with that IN THE WOODS.)
The Santa Fe River was flooded due to a very rainy spring, making the water black for the second year in a row. That’s always a total bummer, because I love to snorkel in the usually crystal clear water. The springs were still clear and cold though, except for Twin Spring where we always camp, so there was still snorkeling and underwater photo-snapping to do.
NOTE: Just because the river is flooded and not-so-clear doesn’t mean you can’t do the tube run! It’s a must and plenty safe. To my knowledge, no one has ever been chomped by a sea monster in these waters.
Did you know? While I’ve never been myself, Ginnie Spring’s freshwater cave system is world renowned for scuba diving. One of these days I will get down there to check out the cave entrances, but I strongly doubt I’ll pursue the certifications needed to go way back into the system. That’s some serious stuff and I’m just not keen on the darkness. I get a little claustrophobic underwater in tight spaces, so it just doesn’t appeal to me. But you will notice bubbles from more intrepid folks than me exploring down there. Don’t let it startle you!
What to Pack for Ginnie Springs?
After my post about Florida’s secret natural waterpark, I find I am getting tons of reader questions. As a veteran Ginnie Springs camper, the No. 1 question is what do you pack for a weekend in the woods?! Followed by question No. 2: are there alligators at Ginnie Springs?
Question 2 is easy: yes, there are alligators at Ginnie Springs and basically in every body of water in Florida. I can’t recall ever seeing one in 20 years, and I suspect that’s because the campground is full of rowdy revelers. Alligators want no part in beer-fueled tubing down the river.
Question 1 takes a bit longer to answer, but if I can tell you one thing, it’s bring a big enough vehicle! I seriously need a bigger trunk if I’m going to be a real solid Florida camper, because we tend to pack way too much for our Ginnie Springs weekends. We have coolers and candles and lanterns and sleeping bags and air mattresses and chairs and about 40 pounds of meat and clothes and electronics and usually extra tents. (You never know who’s going to show up empty handed!)
Ginnie Springs Must Haves
- Insect Repellant & Citronella Torches
- Instant Pop Up Tent (unbelievable how much of a difference this makes!)
- Whimsical Floats
- GoPro for the best underwater shots in the springs
Over the years, we’ve accumulated tons of goodies, probably 5-6 tents in total, a dozen coolers and every variety of accessory. The best tents are the ones that go up in 60 seconds, because there’s nothing worse than spending 2-3 hours screaming at your husband about who left the poles at home. (I’ve seen it time and again, y’all!)
It’s nice to have a tent that’s tall enough to stand up in, because it’s really nice to be able to change clothes without having to go to the restroom… but Ginnie Springs has plenty of clean bathrooms near the campsite, so it’s not a total must.
For a much more specific Ginnie Springs packing list, check out this post.
Every year, we try to outdo the last year’s campsite for comfort, convenience and customization. For me, I like a well lighted campsite with an easy-to-set-up tent and plenty of places to sit. As far as food, I’m probably a bit too hands-off. I hate cooking on the grill or over a fire and would much rather go up to Ginnie Spring’s restaurant for a sandwich or snack than cook and then wash dishes in the woods. But that’s just me.
We had quite a few local visitors to our campsite – turtles, friendly dragonflies, possums, nosy armadillos, herons, chatty raccoons and some hardcore ninja squirrels — those sticky-fingered little thieves ripped off with quite a few snacks.
Where it all began – the original Orths of Orthapalooza in Ginnie Springs
That’s another Orthapalooza in the books. Let me know if you want to join us next year!