PICKY PEACHES ON THE ROAD #2: There’s a Jungle in Florida? We Found It In Wakulla Springs!

 

Have you ever seen a 1,000-pound alligator in its natural habitat? Have you ever been within ten feet of a manatee? Have you ever been swimming in a natural spring? You can do all three at the second stop on Peaches on the Road, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park near Tallahassee, Florida.

 

 

This unspoiled, untamed, tranquil, 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary is breathtaking in its natural beauty and a world away from the hustle and bustle of the busy beaches. Industrialist and financier Edward Ball purchased the property in 1934 to protect it from development. Looking around the place, we are so thankful for his foresight and for the Florida State Parks.

When you go, plan on spending a few hours, a day, or a leisurely weekend. If you only have a few hours, get tickets for the boat tour as soon as you park the car. Tours leave several times a day and last 50 minutes or so. They fill up quickly and they don’t take reservations. Even if you’re not a boat person, and Peach 2 definitely isn’t, this is one boat ride you don’t want to miss. Peach 2 didn’t get motion sickness one little bit. As you board the boat, keep your eyes peeled. Several fish and a snake were clearly visible as we walked down the dock.

 

It doesn’t matter which side of the boat you sit on because it’s so stable in the water that you are allowed to move from one side to another as the park ranger/tour guide points out wildlife along the way. If it’s very crowded, sit on the left as you go downriver so you’ll be on the side facing the islands. That’s where you’ll see the alligators and exotic birds.

 

 

We were there during manatee season, which runs from late winter through early spring, and we saw about six of these fascinating creatures.

Speaking of creatures, the underwater scenes in The Creature From the Black Lagoon were filmed at Wakulla Springs due to the clarity of the water.

The boat makes its way back upriver, through a different channel, and the surroundings look more and more like a jungle. That may be one of the reasons that several of the early Tarzan films, including Tarzan’s New York Adventure starring Johnny Weissmuller, were filmed on location here. Other films such as Return of the Creature, Night Moves, Airport ’77 and Joe Panther starring Brian Keith and Ricardo Montalbán were also filmed there.

 

Now … back to the boat tour, as you pass the dock on your way back upstream, keep your eyes peeled for “Joe, Jr.,” who is believed to be the largest alligator (1000lbs) on the property.

Joe, Jr. . . . 1000 lbs.

The next sight is the diving platform at the swimming and beach area.

Yes, you read that right–alligators and people swimming in the same vicinity. Some folks might find the crystal-clear water and its year-round, 68-degree temperature irresistible. However, we are not in that group with that big gator nearby! The park also offers hiking, biking, and picnicking beneath the Spanish moss-draped trees.

Make time to visit the Lodge at Wakulla Springs.

As you enter the lobby, take a minute to see the original “Joe, Sr”, who is preserved in a display case.

 

Be sure to look up at the whimsical painting on the ceiling’s exposed beams and see how many exotic birds you can find.

 

The stately Mediterranean Revival-style lodge was completed in 1937 and served as a reclusive retreat for many years before the entire property became a state park. The lodge’s 27 guest rooms are furnished with period furniture and, in keeping with the idea of a retreat, the lodge’s only television is in the lobby.

There’s a dining room for lunch, or if you just want a snack, have some ice cream in the snack bar at one of the world’s longest marble counters. If you decide to have lunch, allow about 30 minutes for your food to arrive, since every entree is made-to-order and not mass-produced. Choose a table by the window to enjoy a view of the spring.

We recommend:

Enjoy the Lodge Crab Cakes With Remoulade appetizer. It’s a nice portion and combined with a side salad or cup of soup, it makes a nice, light lunch.

The Wakulla Springs Famous Navy Bean Soup was so delicious and perfectly seasoned with bits of ham, that it’s easy to see why it’s famous.

For an all-around flavor sensation, try the Jessie Ball DuPont Salad featuring local organic produce from Wakulla County’s Sacred Springs Farm. It looked and tasted like the ingredients were picked that same morning. It’s a perfect blend of sweet red onion, tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles, candied pecans and crisp, green apples served on a bed of mixed greens with balsamic vinaigrette.

The All-American Burger is a hearty combination of a half-pound 100% Black Angus beef with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and black pepper aioli. Served on brioche. It comes with a side item of your choice, but we think the Parmesan garlic fries are the ideal choice.

In our book, they get extra points for having Gluten Free Selections as a section on the menu and for having the foresight to make the iced tea strong so it doesn’t get all watery-tasting as the ice melts in the glass.

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, 465 Wakulla Park Drive, Crawfordville, FL.
Park Hours: 8:00 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. floridastateparks.org

Park Entrance Fees: $6 per vehicle with between 2 – 8 occupants,
$4 per vehicle with single occupant, $2 per extra vehicle occupant, $2 per pedestrian or bicyclist.

Glass Bottom(only when water is extremely clear) or River Boat Tours:
$8 (13 years old and up), $5 (3 – 12 years old), Free (under 3 years old).

Wakulla Springs Lodge Hours: The Lodge is a full-service hotel facility, open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Check-in time is 3 p.m. and check-out time is 11 a.m.
Visit wakullaspringslodge.com for rates and reservations.
The Edward Ball Dining Room, Hours: Open Daily 7:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Catch us next week to find out about some of the best seafood in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. Their menu may be small, but every item is superb.

Until next time, Love and Peaches!

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