Harrison Bay State Park – Harrison, TN

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, this 1,200-acre park is named for the town of Harrison, which is now partially submerged under Harrison Bay along the Tennessee River near Chattanooga. The town was named after President William Henry Harrison and had been the county seat until after the Civil War. It was largely flooded in 1940 when the Chickamauga Dam was built, as depicted in the 1960 film “Wild River”. The park is also historically significant because this area consisted of three villages which were ruled by one the last great Cherokee chieftains. Originally established as a Tennessee Valley Authority Recreation Area in the 1930s, it became Tennessee’s first state park in 1937.

Visitors can enjoy 40 miles of scenic shoreline, six short hiking trails (1 mile or less), a 4.5-mile biking/hiking trail, a marina, interpretive center, camp store, and a concession/gift shop. All types of boats and watersports vehicles are allowed. There are also two large picnic pavilions with a swimming pool, playground, and horseshoe pits nearby. Of special note is the Bear Trace Golf Course, a Jack Nicklaus-designed course known for its integrity, playability, and environmental sensitivity. Certified by Audubon International and recognized as Tennessee’s first Groundwater Guardian Green Site, it is exemplary for other golf courses in the United States and worldwide.

Campers can choose from 128 RV/tent sites with water/electricity year-round, and 21 primitive tent sites (closed during winter months). Restrooms are centrally located in each of the four camping areas. A group camp consisting of 24 open-air cabins along with a playground, picnic pavilions, dining/recreation hall, baseball field, basketball court, and volleyball court is also available from April through October.

The park is home to white-tailed deer, raccoons, woodchucks, rabbits, eagles, herons, snakes, and many other critters, so please respect their space and habitat. Hiking is excellent here for people of all skill levels, and the scenery is absolutely gorgeous! What a true gem of a park. Next time, my visit will be longer than two nights!

Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park – Haines City, FL

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Adjoining Lake Kissimmee State Park along the Lake Wales Ridge (the high and dry “spine” of Florida), this park protects over 8,200 acres of scrub, pine flatwoods, and ponds, providing some of the most challenging and scenic terrain in the state. The park is dedicated to Allen Broussard, a wildlife biologist who understood the essential, dynamic relationship between human activity and the natural world. He died at the young age of 29 due to complications from Hodgkin’s disease, and his parents established the Allen Broussard Conservancy to help inspire and educate the public about the critical need for preserving natural communities and our dependence upon them. It was officially established as a state park in 1991, one year after his death. You can support the conservancy by clicking here.

Although the land now known as the state of Florida has been submerged underwater several times throughout Earth’s history, this unique environment was the only part of Florida above water between 2 and 4 million years ago, before our current age of polar ice caps. This ancient land is home to rare plant and animal species endemic to Florida such as the scrub jay and sandhill tippitoes, as well as many other endangered species including gopher tortoises, bald eagles, Eastern indigo snakes, and sandhill oaks.

Six miles of wide, rugged hiking trails and eight miles of equestrian trails traverse up and down steep slopes and thick white sand, offering open views of rare Florida terrain, but expect very little shade and possible sudden thunderstorms. Please be prepared with proper footwear/clothing, plenty of water, sunscreen, insect repellent, and preferably a hat! Trail maps are available near the trailhead. Sections of these trails are so blindingly white and steep that they resemble ski slopes. These trails are part of the Florida National Scenic Trail, so thru-hikers may be encountered along the way. A tribute to Allen David Broussard atop a high hill a couple miles in overlooks this amazing “Florida desert”.

There are two primitive camp sites available by reservation only, but remember – leave no trace. Fishing is allowed in all ponds but require a mile hike in. Picnic tables and a clivus toilet are located near the parking lot; however, due to COVID-19 safety concerns, the toilet is currently unavailable for use.

This must-see park adds an extra boost to your hiking workout and is 100% worth it! Shew!

Lake Kissimmee State Park – Lake Wales, FL

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In 1969, the state of Florida purchased this “prime” Central Florida land situated between three gorgeous lakes from the estate of a cattle rancher named William Zipperer. It opened to the public in 1977 and today consists of 16 miles of hiking trails, 6 miles of equestrian trails, and provides access to over 30,000 acres of lakes for boating, fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. This 5,930-acre park is home to deer, bobcats, grey foxes, sandhill cranes, eagles, woodpeckers, fox squirrels, armadillos, marsh rabbits, turkeys, otters, and many other species, including over 50 plant and animal species that are threatened or endangered.

A boat ramp/kayak launch is located near the campground, providing access to Lake Kissimmee via Tiger’s Cove. Paddlers can launch their own vessels into the Zipprer Canal for a quiet paddle to Lake Rosalie. The challenging 11-mile Buster Island Trail is a designated Florida paddle trail, circumnavigating the park and taking adventurers through Lake Kissimmee, Lake Rosalie, Tiger Lake, Rosalie Creek, Tiger Creek, and Zipprer Canal. Conditions can be quite difficult, so it’s not advised for novice paddlers. The park also offers a large, shaded picnic area with three small pavilions and one large pavilion, a playground (currently closed), geo-seeking, and a 30’ observation tower.

Cattle ranching was the primary “industry” here in the late 19th century and 20th century and throughout much of Florida, and still exists in many parts. Florida’s cowboy heritage comes alive at the Cow Camp reenactment of a “Cow Hunter” at a frontier camp along the route of a typical cattle drive. The Cow Camps are usually held on weekends and holidays between October 1 and May 1; however, due to safety concerns related to COVID-19, they are temporarily suspended (as all Florida state park events). The camp store was also closed, but supplies such as firewood, ice, and snacks can be purchased nearby.

Overnight guests can choose from 60 full-facility camp sites with restrooms, showers, and laundry facilities, two backcountry primitive camp sites, two youth campsites (25 people max each), and two equestrian sites. Sites in the campground are quite shaded and private but vary greatly in size.

If you’re in the area, do yourself a favor and take a small step back in time, explore the scenic old oak hammocks, pine flatwoods, prairie, marshes, and you’ll see why this park is many people’s favorite Florida state park.

Highlands Hammock State Park – Sebring, FL

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When locals near Sebring, Florida heard of plans to develop these 9,000 acres of precious old-growth hammock into farmland, they rallied together and protected it instead, hoping it would one day become a national park. Although never reaching national park status, it opened as a state park in 1931, officially becoming one of Florida’s first four state parks in 1935. As with many of our earliest state parks, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed buildings and created a campground, hiking paths, and additional park facilities. The state’s only CCC museum is here as well, located in an original CCC building; it contains historical photos and mementos but is currently closed due to covid-19.

Visitors can explore nine connecting hiking trails ranging from 975-3,000’ long as well as a six-mile mountain bike trail, and an eleven-mile multi-use trail, and a scenic three-mile paved driving loop suitable for bicycling, rollerblading, and jogging. Several elevated boardwalks take guests through swamps, oak hammock, and pine flatwood habitats. Be sure to soak in the wonderment of the ancient oaks and hickory trees in these unique and delicate habitats, including at least two massive thousand-year-old live oaks. Also, don’t miss the narrow, winding, 1/2-mile CCC– style cypress catwalk with one railing located in the oldest part of the swamp on the Cypress Swamp Trail. FUN!

The park is situated along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, making it an excellent place to see deer, bobcats, black bear, foxes, bobcats, otters, alligators, woodpeckers, owls, and a multitude of other species, including many endangered and threatened plant and animal species. This protected area is also one of the remaining Florida panther habitats.

The full-facility campground offers 120 sites with four modern bathhouses/showers and a centrally-located emergency telephone. There are also four equestrian camp sites, a youth camp, and 14 drive-to primitive sites with a communal solar vault toilet. At this time, online and phone reservations are accepted, but walk-up reservations are not allowed.

The park also offers an amphitheater, recreation hall, playground, and picnic pavilions. Tram rides, campfire circles, and guided hikes are temporarily suspended due to covid-19. Hammock Inn Camp Store offers snacks, ice, camping supplies, firewood, bicycle rentals, and Wifi (during peak season).

Folks, this is the real, old Florida! This park has been on my bucket list for a long time and I wish I had camped there sooner! It is truly one of my favorite Florida state parks – a breathtaking and stunning step back in time that should not be missed, whether for a day hike or a fun camping adventure.

Ravine Gardens State Park – Palatka, FL

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Located just minutes from hot spots like Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, this 152-acre park is truly a feast for the eyes and a wondrous escape from crowded beaches, streets, and tourist attractions. Officially opening in 1933 and adopted by the Florida State Parks System in 1970, Ravine Gardens is one of Florida’s nine New Deal-era state parks. It began as a “tropical landscape paradise” attraction for the town of Palatka to increase tourism and boost economic growth during the Great Depression, displaying some 40,000 azaleas planted along two steephead ravines, suspension bridges, a fountain, and benches. The gardens were a success, and today as a state park, it boasts 270,000 azaleas of many varieties, most of which are original to the gardens. Visitors can also enjoy hiking/biking trails, picnic pavilions, a playground, an auditorium, an amphitheater, civic center, meeting rooms, and more.

The ravines are up to 140’ deep, formed by a spring-fed creek that has eroded the soil, rocks, and vegetation over time. There is a 1.8- mile paved path around the ravines for bicyclists and hikers, but it is closed to motor vehicles due to erosion and safety issues. If you prefer a more challenging path, the 2.5 mile Azalea Trail is for hikers only and traverses up and down the ravines on steep and narrow paths, old stone steps, along the stream, and across both suspension bridges. This trail can be slippery, demanding, and dangerous, so be aware and prepared. You are responsible for your own safety, as always, but this trail is worth it – the views will leave you wondering if you are even in Florida anymore!  

The park is an even more spectacular experience in the months of January, February, and March when the azaleas are in bloom, and it is part of the annual Florida Azalea Festival the first weekend in March. No matter what time of year, this park is worth a visit, and, in my opinion, one of the most under-rated parks in the state. Just incredible!

Rodman Recreation Area/Campground – Palatka, FL

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Located on the northern border of the Ocala National Forest, Rodman Campground and Rodman Recreation Area are managed by the State of Florida Office of Greenways and Trails (under the DEP, like Florida state parks). Their stories began in the 1960s when then-president LBJ flew into Palatka and began the Cross Florida Barge Canal project connecting the Ocklawaha River to the St. John’s River. The canal was intended to span the entire width of the state, connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, thus destroying the Ocklawaha River and decimating sensitive ecosystems across the state. In 1971, environmental protests led by biologist and activist Marjorie Harris Carr succeeded in limiting the canal to its current length (this section is about eight miles, another eight mile section is on the Gulf Coast). The canal required a lock, formerly known as St. Johns Lock, now Buckman Lock, located near the St. Johns River end of the canal. The project also included the 7,200’ Kirkpatrick Dam to impound the Ocklawaha River, creating a reservoir and flooding the forested land at lower elevations. Today, both the dam and canal are still environmentally controversial but remain intact with no plans to alter or remove either.

This 9,500-acre man-made “lake” is rated one of the Top 10 Trophy Bass Lakes and hosts popular annual fishing tournaments. Other fish such as bream, catfish, and mullet are plentiful as well. In addition to river and lock entry for boating/fishing enthusiasts, there are two fishing piers and plenty of bank fishing opportunities. Boat ramps and kayak launches are located at the dam, and a nine-mile paddle will take you down the Ocklawaha River to the St. John’s River. Another boat/kayak launch is located in the campground, but may be closed due to low water levels. Boat, canoe, and kayak rentals are available from several local outfitters along the waters as well. Boats lock through on the half-hour and hour and are often accompanied by manatees, fish, eels, and turtles.

Every three to four years, the water level of the reservoir is lowered several feet to help control vegetation overgrowth and enhance fish populations, exposing parts of the land and plants normally covered by the dammed water. This changes the scenery dramatically and presents different navigational challenges for boaters and people fishing on the water and shorelines.

There are two hiking/biking trails within these boundaries – a nine-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail and the two-mile St. John’s Loop Trail.

Overnight guests can choose from 67 camp sites divided into two campgrounds. The older campground is located less than a mile from the dam and consists of 39 sites – 13 have electric/water, 26 do not and are for tent camping only. There is one restroom/showers/laundry facility for all to share. The second campground opened in 2003 and consists of 28 electric/water sites situated along the canal. There is one restroom/shower/laundry building here as well.

Snakes, turtles, manatees, alligators, eagles, herons, ospreys, black bears, deer, woodpeckers, and many other creatures live in these areas, so please respect their home and activities. This is a gorgeous and popular spot for many locals, and for good reason. Be sure to stop by if you’re in the area for a few hours or a few days – you’ll be glad you did!

Dunn’s Creek State Park – Crescent City, FL

Rodman Nikon 1 208 lumLike all Florida state parks, Dunn’s Creek State Park is steeped in American history, including the native peoples who lived here for thousands of years thriving on the rich abundance of the St. John’s River and surrounding areas. Located in northeast Florida, this was prime territory for European conquests, wars, and slavery during the 16-18th centuries. In 1765, a British attorney and coffee-grower named John Dunn became the “property owner” of much of this parcel of land adjacent to the St. John’s River. Farming, citrus groves, cattle ranching, turpentining, logging, and steamboats soon followed.

Obtained by the state of Florida from the Nature Conservancy in 2001, the state park boundaries protect over 6,200 acres of pristine sandhills, flatwoods, scrub forests, and seepage slope environments. Sandhills were once common throughout Florida but have greatly diminished due to human development. These important natural ecological communities are home to many endangered species such as gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, and fox squirrels. Deer, grey foxes, sandhill cranes, pileated woodpeckers, black bears, bald eagles, and a variety of waterfowl and many other birds and creatures also call this park home.

Three hiking/biking/equestrian Piney Bluff Trails ranging from 1.4 to 6.1 miles in length traverse a variety of challenging terrains including thick sand, exposed roots, mud, and narrow trails. Please note that Blue Pond Trail, another 2-mile trail accessible via a separate entrance, is temporarily closed due to maintenance issues at this time. Fishing, picnicking, kayaking, and geo-seeking are also popular activities here. The day-use area offers a fishing pier, canoe/kayak launch, picnic tables/grills, and a vault restroom. A composting toilet and picnic pavilion are located at the Blue Pond Trailhead. There are no overnight facilities. This beautiful park is perfect for a fun day trip, so bring your water, snacks, bug spray, and remember to respect all wildlife, and as always, leave no trace.

Lake Louisa State Park – Update

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I camped at this wonderful Florida state park several years ago and recently had the opportunity to do it again. As most of you know, I like to cram in as many experiences as I can during any adventure, but I’ve found it nearly impossible to enjoy every feature or activity at any park in any given stay, so visiting more than once offers the opportunity to do so.  Although it’s not unusual for me to visit the same park multiple times, I usually don’t write subsequent posts about them. In this case, I am making an exception to share a few updates. You can read my original post HERE for basic park info.

A major addition to the park’s facilities since my last visit is the concessionaire, P3 Visitor Services, which offers equipment rentals and other amenities. Their Camper Canteen is conveniently located between Hammond Lake and Dixie Lake, in the middle of the campground. It serves as a small camp store, selling basic camping supplies (bug spray, food, ice, firewood, etc.) and provides equipment rentals such as bicycles, kayaks, paddleboards, and fishing poles. Guided kayak tours on Lake Louisa are available as well. The campground is also considerably more shaded than it was during my previous visits due to natural tree growth, providing more protection from the elements as well as more privacy between camp sites….always a plus in my book! The park has also become a hot spot for photo shoots, due to the hilly terrain and abundance of colorful wildflowers and grasses.

Also during this visit, I was thrilled to partake in another activity that was not offered when I camped here before, a one-hour guided equestrian trail ride with about eight other riders and our two experienced and knowledgeable trails guides. Woohoo! The guides match each person to a suitable horse, based on size, weight, and experience level – mine was a beautiful Arabian named Star. We traversed roughly three miles through scenic and diverse equestrian trails in just over an hour. They offer two-hour rides as well, and most of the horses are suitable for children.

Another amenity offered by P3 is “carefree camping” – choose from a traditional site, luxury tent, or luxury double tent – just show up and everything is already taken care of for you.

So as you can see, there is something for everyone at this delightful and diverse park just minutes away from the Orlando metro area. The next time you’re in the area, stop in and see for yourself!

North Peninsula State Park – Ormond Beach, FL

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Established as a state park in 1984, this 534-acre protected wild space just north of Daytona Beach is a relatively small but important coastal haven for many rare and beneficial plant and animal species such as the Florida scrub jay, Eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, and the occasional bobcat. It also provides valuable nesting area for endangered sea turtles – when I was there I saw many nests, clearly marked and of course, protected by law. Deer, osprey, pelicans, and many other species live in and/or visit this “small but mighty” park, so please remember to respect their space and activities at all times. The park is situated along the Atlantic Flyway, and birding is spectacular here, especially during spring and winter migrations.

Encompassing almost three miles of pristine beachfront property, visitors can not only enjoy the sun, beach, and waves, but the beauty and serenity of the two-mile Coastal Strand Trail through shaded hammocks as well as the paved bike trail along SR A1A. Surfing, swimming, fishing, shelling, and picnicking are also popular activities. Smith Creek Landing offers a scenic overlook and a picnic area with restrooms as well as access to the Coastal Strand Trail and the Halifax River. Another smaller parking lot is situated along A1A but has limited spaces and no restroom facilities. Overnight camping is not allowed anywhere in the park, but like most other Florida state parks, it is open 365 days a year from 8:00 a.m. until sundown. I absolutely loved it here…eyegasms galore! This is another park I will definitely be visiting again soon!

Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park – Flagler Beach, FL

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In 1821, Major Charles Wilhelm Bulow acquired over 4,500 acres along a tidal creek just a few miles north of what is now Daytona Beach and began development of a plantation, using African slaves to clear land and cultivate crops such as rice, cotton, and sugar cane. Today, this 150-acre park contains relics of the Bulow family’s plantation home and sugar mill, a spring house, and several wells; however, very few remnants of the slave quarters exist. The plantation was destroyed during the Second Seminole War in 1836, but the remnants are a powerful reminder of Florida’s pioneering yet violent and turbulent history.  Established in 1957, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

Visitors can hike or bike all or part of the 6.8 mile Bulow Woods Trail which leads from Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park to Bulow Creek State Park. A screened pavilion overlooking Bulow Creek is available for reservations and has six picnic tables, grills, and nearby restrooms. Fishing and kayaking are popular here, and an access ramp is located near the picnic area. Bulow Creek is recognized as a State Canoe Trail, and canoes and kayaks may be rented from the park office.

Wildlife such as bald eagles, swallow-tailed kites, osprey, snakes, and manatees live and traverse through these lands and waters, so be sure to respect their home.

This park’s hours are different from most Florida State Parks, opening from 9am until 5pm and closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The $4 entrance fee is payable via iron ranger. There are no overnight facilities. Bring bug spray, water, snacks, and wear proper attire for your adventure…..and enjoy!