O’Leno State Park and three more Florida Springs

Our next destination was O’Leno State Park, less than a two hour drive from Silver Springs. This was our first visit to O’Leno, one of Florida’s oldest state parks. The park is located just a little north of Gainesville, near the town of High Springs, and close to several of Florida’s springs.

The campsites are arranged around a loop. Despite some overhanging trees we had no problem navigating the narrow road through the campground. Our site was at the end of the loop and our patio area faced the woods, not the back of another camper.

As soon as we got set up we started exploring. One of the focal points of the park is a swinging bridge over the Santa Fe River. Now, I don’t usually like walking across a swinging bridge but this one was very steady and I’m proud to say I went all the way across the river and back!

20190226-Oleno-IPhone-(3)
Swinging Bridge over the Santa Fe River at O’Leno State Park

We followed the trail beside river for a few minutes before returning to our campsite.

The next morning fog made everything look eerie.

Later that day we hiked the River Trail to the Santa Fe River sink where the river disappears underground. The river rises back above ground about three miles away in River Rising State Park and can be seen by hiking or horseback riding about 2 miles each way.

Wild dogwoods were blooming all through the woods.

20190228-pm-Woods-Oleno-Dogwood-(2)
Wild dogwood in the woods at O’Leno State Park

Florida has more springs than anywhere else on earth. Springs are huge underground caves and caverns that formed naturally to hold water.  From O’Leno it is easy to visit multiple springs in one day.

Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a popular destination for tubing down the crystal clear Ichetucknee River. When we went tubing there with our kids many years ago we never even saw the river’s headspring. On this trip we stopped to see the headspring before exploring the rest of the park.

20190227-Ichetuchnee-Springs-(8)
Itchetucknee Springs

When the weather is warm, the park fills up quickly with people coming to tube down the river. We did it with our kids twice and I remember the huge parking lot was full of cars. On one of our tubing trips Henry and our son donned their scuba gear to dive the whole way while my daughter and I lounged in the tubes enjoying the float. The most fun part was hearing people yell as they hit the 72 degree Fahrenheit water. On a hot day, after the initial shock the water feels wonderul.

It was too early in the season for tubing on this trip and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. At the end of a short trail was an overlook and boat ramp with a nice view of the river. The only other person we saw was kayaking down the river. He told us he paddled up river and was floating back down.

20190227-Ichetucknee-Springs-(10)
Kayaker on the Ichetucknee River

The next day we visited two more springs where we dove during our scuba diving days. Our first stop was Troy Springs State Park. The water was high and closed for diving. When we dove there back in 1987 the spring was located on private property. When the state park was created they added ramps down to the spring to make it easier for divers to get their scuba gear to the spring.

20190228-pm1-Troy-Springs-(1)
The high Suwanee River raised the water level at Troy Springs

We also dove at Ginnie Springs in 1987. It is a privately owned park that has been expanded since we were there.

20190228-pm-Ginnie-Springs-(1)
Ginnie Springs, FL

A fire in the fire pit was a great way to relax after all that wandering.

20190228-Sink-Troy-Ginnie-Springs-Iphone-(16)
A fire in the fire pit is a great way to relax at the end of the day

I’m glad we discovered O’Leno State Park. It was a great place to end our latest Florida adventure.

 

Wandering around Silver Springs State Park

After our four hectic days in Daytona we enjoyed a relaxing week at Silver Springs State Park. Up until the last day the weather was perfect for getting out and exploring the park.

There are two entrances to the state park. The main entrance (also called the historic entrance), on highway 40, is the location of the world famous glass bottom boat tours, a boardwalk trail, kayak and canoe launch and rental, a restaurant, meeting rooms, and paved trails on the beautifully landscaped grounds. The other entrance, on highway 35,  leads to the campground, several hiking and biking trails, a day use area, The Silver River Museum, and a cracker village.

A trailhead next to the Silver River Museum is the starting place for the swamp trail and the river trail. We chose to explore the swamp trail first. This two mile loop trail took us through a lush tropical forest before crossing a boardwalk over the swamp. At the end of the trail is an overlook on the Silver River.

Another day we walked on the river trail to a different overlook on the Silver River. We returned by way of the river field loop which meanders along the Silver River before meeting back up with the main trail.

We chose to drive to the main entrance instead of taking the 2 1/2 mile walking and biking trail. From the Ross Allen Boardwalk Trail we could watch the kayakers paddling out to Silver River. From the paved paths beside the springs we were able to look down into the crystal clear water. We continued along the path next to the river and stopped at another overlook before following the path beside gardens blooming with azaleas.

One day we drove about 30 minutes to Juniper Springs Recreation Area for a swim and a picnic. Swimming in the 72 degree water was a great way to cool off on a warm day.

Relaxing at the campsite one day, we spied this gopher tortoise munching on the grass.

20190221-Site-58-Silver-Springs-Gopher-Tortoise-(2)
Gopher Tortoise, Silver Springs State Park

On Saturday morning, the Friends of Silver River State Park had a pancake breakfast to raise funds for their organization. After breakfast we took a tour of the cracker village, a replica of a 19th century settlement, and the Silver River Museum. The term “cracker” refers to the people who settled in Florida.

The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is a program of Marion County Public Schools. During the week, the museum is closed to the public while school children are attending classes. On some weekends, the museum is open to the public. The well done exhibits cover the history of the area from prehistoric days to the present.

We had planned to rent a canoe and paddle on the Silver River on our last day but we changed our plans when cold weather moved in. On our visit last year we took a glass bottom boat tour so we decided to skip it this year.

20190221-Silver-Springs-Boardwalk-Trail-(18)
Glass Bottom Boats, Silver Springs State Park

 

 

 

Wandering around Saint Augustine

It’s been over 40 years since we last camped in Anastasia State Park. We were camping in a tent with our kids and back then you could drive on the beach.

Today there is no more driving on the beach in the state park. Instead, there is a huge parking area with walkways over the dunes and a wheelchair accessible beach mat to the beach.

It was chilly, foggy and raining during most of our stay. On the first sunny day we went exploring. After a drive south on famous highway A1A, we headed to the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park.

Founded in 1893, the Alligator Farm started out with just a few exhibits of Florida reptiles. It has expanded over the years to include not only reptiles but also birds and mammals from all around the world. Today, in addition to the educational shows and exhibits, it is also used for research.

As we wandered through the zoo toward the Native Swamp and Rookery to see the nesting birds (I posted about them here) we stopped to observe the many varieties of animal life.

We took a break for lunch and drove to the nearby Conch House Marina and Guesthouse to eat outside on their waterfront deck.

20190211-St-Augustine-Alligator-Farm-(17)
Lunch with a view at Conch House Restaurant

After lunch it was back to the Alligator Farm to watch the 3:00 alligator feeding. Can you say feeding frenzy?

Our next stop was the Saint Augustine Lighthouse. Gorgeous views were our reward for climbing all the steps to the top.

When we weren’t exploring St. Augustine we enjoyed being in Anastasia State Park. Our campsite was surrounded on three sides by natural vegetation and the beach was only a 10 minute walk from our campsite. One afternoon we explored the nature trail near the campground.

 

 

Sunsets and the Okefenokee Swamp

We are off again on our first RV trip of 2019. Our first stop was Laura S. Walker State Park in Hoboken, Georgia. We were there during the weekend and the park was full of families enjoying their days off. The park was a perfect home base to explore the Okefenokee Swamp Park which is a short drive away.

During the last 12 years we have visited the Okefenokee Swamp several times from the southern end in Fargo. I posted about our last visit there at The Land of Trembling Earth It’s been over 40 years since we visited the Okefenokee Swamp Park in Waycross. Our two young children were with us back then. Oh, the memories!

This well run and well maintained private park has been attracting visitors to the swamp since 1946. There are boardwalks with views of the swamp, a train ride, educational exhibits, and wildlife presentations which are all included in the entrance fee. For an additional fee, visitors can take a guided boat tour through the swamp.

Not all of the boardwalks were open when we were there. Some are closed due to the high water level caused by heavy rainfall in December and January. One of the boardwalks that is open took us by several American alligators in their native habitat.

After seeing an interesting presentation on native reptiles of the Okefenokee we took the train ride through the swamp.

After so many visits to the Okefenokee Swamp in Fargo, it was fun to see it from a different location.

Best Campgrounds of the year – 2018

These days we are taking shorter RV trips and staying close to our home state of Georgia. It’s no wonder that this year our top three parks are either in Georgia or Florida. All three campgrounds are parks we have returned to numerous times during the years.

Number 3 – Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, White Springs, FL

We’ve been returning to this park over and over since we first discovered it in 2009. This year we camped here twice. Spring flowers were blooming in late February and the Festival of Lights were the highlight of our December stay.

All of the sites are large with water and electric hookups, a fire ring and picnic table. The bells from the carillon tower can be heard all through the campground.

20181210-Stephen-Foster-Site-9-(2)
Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park

Located on the Suwannee River, the park has a museum honoring Stephen Foster, hiking and biking trails (currently closed for maintenance), a gift shop and craft village with local artisans. Just outside the park is the historic Spring House and the town of White Springs.

There’s more about our latest stay at Festival of Lights and the Suwannee River

Number 2 – Pine Lake RV Campground in Bishop, GA

20171014Pine-Lake-(1)
Wandering Dawgs

Located less than 15 miles from Athens and the University of Georgia, this private park is well maintained with large sites, sparkling clean bath houses, full hookups, and fantastic staff.

Whether you stay here to attend a Georgia Bulldogs football game, to visit the University of Georgia or are just passing through, this quiet campground can’t be beat.

20180928-Pine-Lake-(5)
Pine Lake Campground, Bishop, Georgia

Read more about our latest stay at A favorite campground and Georgia Bulldogs Football

Number 1 – Silver Springs State Park in Silver Springs, FL

20180220Gopher-Tortoise-Silver-Springs-(2)
Silver Springs State Park

By far one of our favorite Florida state parks, we have returned to Silver Springs State Park a number of times since we first discovered it in 2009. The sites are all very large with fire rings, picnic tables, water and electric hookups. A few of the sites have been upgraded to full hookup. The bath houses are clean and each one has a washer and dryer.

Located close to the three campground loops are hiking and biking trails, an educational center, and observation decks on the Silver River. Just up the road at the Silver Springs Historic Entrance are the famous Glass Bottom Boat Tours, canoe and kayak launch and rental, more walking trails, a gift shop and snack bar.

20180221Silver-Springs-Glass-Bottom-Boat-(11)
Glass bottom boat at Silver Springs
20180222Kayaking-(17)
Kayaking the Silver River at Silver Springs
20180223River-Trail-(8)
Silver River

Many birds and other wildlife can be seen in the park. Watch out for the monkeys!

There’s more about this year’s visit at Historic Silver Springs

Honorable Mention:

  • Always a favorite, we camped this February at Stephen C. Foster State Park, Fargo, GA, Number 2 in our “Best Campgrounds of the Year – 2016“.
  • River Vista Mountain Village, Dillard, GA – This large, well maintained private park  in the north eastern Georgia mountains is a great location to use as a home base to explore the area. There’s more about our latest stay at Blue Ridge Scenic Railway

Wishing you a very happy and healthy 2019 filled with safe travels and happy trails!