This was my first trip to Florida and it was incredible!
Most nights we camped at state parks or other camp grounds, so if you are not into camping there are definitely hotel options not far away and going to all the springs as day trips is definitely a possibility. Also, our first day was technically the drive down to Chattanooga but for this I am starting in Chattanooga.
Day 1: Drive from Chattanooga to Hart Springs. We stayed in a hotel in Chattanooga and started driving early in order to get to Hart Springs in time for some snorkeling. Hart springs is a pretty area in north Florida with lots of opportunity for swimming, canoeing and walking along the boardwalk. We arrived in the heat of the afternoon and chose to go straight to the cool water. Bringing some snorkel gear (or at least goggles) is definitely a must in this area. We saw some amazing wildlife including Swanee River Cooters, Loggerhead Musk Turtles and many fish. The boardwalk here is incredibly beautiful when the sun is setting right over the water.
Day 2: The next day is a drive from Hart Springs to Kelly Park. This time instead of leaving early, we spent the morning walking along some of Hart Spring’s trails listening to birds and spotting frogs. We stopped several times along the drive to Kelly Park to see wildlife.
Day 3: Kelly Park & Wekiwa Springs. We spent almost the whole day at Wekiwa Springs which is about 30 minutes from Kelly Park. This is a definite must visit destination if you are in the Orlando area. The water is a little chilly but there is a nice place to sun bathe, there are lots of trails and you can rent canoes to paddle down the creek. We were with the North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group for the morning, helping them catch, process and release turtles which was a very fun experience! We also walked along the boardwalk and some of the trails. There is lots to see and do here. The evening was spent at Kelly Park which is a great place for picnicking and also swimming. I actually liked the swim set up better here. You walk up the path a little ways to the top of the lazy river and can tube or just swim down. The water is crystal clear and there are turtles and other fun things to see! There are also many nice trails here.
Day 4: Drive from Kelly Park to the National Seashore and then Manatee Hammock for the night. This was our big beach day and it was amazing! We spent almost the whole day on Cape Canaveral seeing lots of wildlife and walking along the National Seashore. I highly recommend visiting this area. It is one of the few places to see the Florida Scrub Jay and Roseate Spoonbills which was very cool. This beach is also so pretty and not too crowded. We drove a little ways to Manatee Hammock to camp for the night and this was probably my favorite place we stayed the whole trip. It was right on Indian River Lagoon which is so beautiful (make sure to get a campsite right on the shore). This sunset was absolutely gorgeous!
Day 5: Manatee Hammock to Alexander Spring State Park. We went to Blue Springs on the way to Alexander Springs in order to see manatees. There were many of them just laying in the water right in the springs (even some calves). We also saw lots of other wildlife. Seeing manatees is seasonal here so definitely check before you go but it was incredibly to see them. Also swimming is not quite as great here (or not open depending on when you go). We drove on to Alexander Springs State Park (in Ocala National Forrest) which was one of my favorite swimming locations. There were so many turtles and fish so it was perfect for snorkeling and the water was not too cold. I also just really liked this campground because you can walk to the springs and it is very pretty.
Day 6: Stay in Alexander Spring State Park for the night and spend the day canoeing Juniper Springs Run. This canoe trip was so fun! The river starts off very narrow but it is slow moving and just very picturesque and it opens up as you go. It took us about four hours so it is pretty long but it was so worth it (you can definitely do it faster if you are paddling fast and do not take stops). We saw several alligators along the way which was pretty cool as well.
Day 7: Alexander State Park to Otter Spring State Park. This was, sadly, our last full day in Florida. We visited a long-leaf pine forest and saw the rare Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. These types of forest are so interesting because there are really tall pine trees with not many understory plants. From here we drove to Otter Spring State Park and spent the rest of the day snorkeling in the spring and swimming in the pool (which was heated). This spring is also a great place to go especially if you have kids with you.
Day 8: Drive from Otter Spring State Park out of Florida all the way to High Falls State Park in Georgia. The morning was all driving but the was enough time once we arrived to enjoy the walking the trails. The sunset here was gorgeous and the camp hosts were so friendly.
Day 9: This final day was technically just driving from High Falls all the way back home, which took the entire day.
Overall this trip was amazing! It is a great circle if you are interested in seeing northern Florida especially visiting the many springs Florida offers. It can definitely also be modified depending on the amount of time you have and how much time you want to spend in certain places. I would definitely spend more time in the Cape Canaveral area (more beaches) and I would want to spend a little bit of time in Orlando (we avoided the city for the most part but it was very close to several of the locations we visited).