When I do plan my trips, which is about half the time, I like the ALL STAYS app. I can find state, national, BLM and private parks to camp. They have links to websites, routes and maps, phone numbers and general info. Best of all, I can switch to satellite imaging and look at the layout and surrounding area.
State and national parks, so far, are my favorites. And I managed to find a couple of home runs in northwest Florida.
The first was Ochlockonee River State Park. This is a smaller, 543 acre park, but is adjacent to the huge Apalachicola National Forest. It lies just south of Tallahassee where the river meets the gulf. It also boasts creeks, swimming, canoe and kayak rental, fishing, hiking and biking. There are 30 water/electric campsites and a dump station.
My stay was only 2 nights and I was sorry to leave. Not only are there well marked trails from many of the campsites, but the park is also home to the rare Red- Cockaded Woodpecker and to a local population of White Grey Squirrels that are a hybrid species. I did see plenty of squirrels, but didn’t get to see the woodpecker. I tried a little shore fishing, but no luck there, either. I’m going to have to come back next year. (Happy dance!)
My last day, the park hosted a Primitive Weapon and Tool show down by the swimming area, away from the campground. There were a few, leather and feather clad vendors showcasing homemade bows and arrows, deer jaw knives, atlatls, arrowheads and demonstrating flint knapping. While interesting, I'm not in the market for an obsidian bladed spear, so I just browsed.
The second state park, Manatee Springs, was a little different. I arrived on Saturday, which was quite crowded, as weekenders fill the more popular parks. I was traveling with my friend Dan, who had his own Roadtrek SS. I had a reservation- he didn’t. We asked and they had a few cancellations so Dan was able to score a site in another loop. Sunday and Monday were very quiet- kids back in school!
Manatee Springs is just beautiful! It’s a good-sized spring that flows into the Suwanee River, at a constant 72 degrees. There were 5 manatees in this one, who stayed close to the spring headwater, which is crystal clear and also full of other fish. At the head of the spring is a swimming area (monitored for alligators) and, since the weather was warm, in we went for a refreshing dip! Did I mention that the algae make the water appear iridescent green and blue like gemstones? Mesmerizing!
Interestingly, scuba divers come from all over to dive tributaries, trough a few cave and tunnels to end up in a pool just near the spring. Most sported 2 tanks.
I was lucky enough to get a good look at a Sturgeon, which are present during the spring months to mate then head out to sea. I saw big turtles, cormorants and herons. But the fun surprise was the hundreds of vultures that roosted where the spring meets the river!
Mostly Black Vultures with a few red headed Turkey Vultures. Vultures will fly in smaller groups called “kettles” but tend to roost in large groups and this was the largest I have ever seen.
These birds had no fear of humans and, in the early morning, would congregate on the boardwalks and concession area. I could get within 6 feet before they would hop away or take off, grunting and with much flapping of wings. Of course, you do NOT want to go barefoot as they leave a lot of “whitewash”. Ruka, my dog, was itching for a chase; alas for her, leash rules are enforced.
During summer months, there are canoe and kayak rentals but at this time, because of the manatees, boating the spring isn’t allowed. Instead, there is a private company, which will pick you up at your campsite to shuttle if you want to take an easy Suwanee float.
Be sure to bring your camera as the sunrise and sunset make for amazing photos of the cypress, moss and water. The morning mist is especially magical and you may have the place to yourself.
With so many choices down here, it’s tough to choose which to visit, but I’m loving the challenge. Let's see, where to next?
Enjoy your travels!