We left Ocean Pond on Sunday morning about 9 AM for a short 35 drive to Oleno State Park. Over the years we have camped here at least 4 times.
When we were younger we did some long bike rides but today with the soft sand and roots on the trail Peggy decided 3 miles was enough and took a short cut back over this narrow walking bridge which was build by the CCC in 1935.
The trail along the Santa Fe River goes around the end of the river where it disappears into the ground for 3 miles before reappearing downstream at River Rise.
This sign explains it. The river stops here.
Our favorite place to canoe is at the nearby Ichetucknee Springs State Park. It’s about 15 miles away but you don’t want to go there in the summer when the 3 mile long river is full of swimmers floating on inner tubes. It’s best to stay away on warm weekends also, so we paddled on Monday. We saw 5 kayakers and 2 canoes the entire day.
We drove our RV to the last take-out where they have a little parking lot and access to the river. It’s about 13 miles from Oleno. I noticed that there is now a 8’ wide paved bike trail that parallels the roads the entire way. It would be a long bike ride and too bad the trail isn’t away from the road. Bike Trail
We saw lots of Egrets, Herons and other birds plus more tame turtles than I had ever seen anywhere. A few jumped in but most just sat there and kept an eye on us.
It took us about 1-1/2 hrs. paddling against the current to get to the head of the spring and less than an hour to paddle back.
Temperature was in the mid-70’s and partly cloudy.
We are now at #9 on my planning map and tomorrow we move about 40 miles south to another Florida State Park, Paynes Prairie. It’s just south of Gainesville and is a nice park with several different choices of bike trails.
One note about Florida State Parks, there is no discount for being old unless you are a FL resident and don’t bother trying to get a site on the weekend without making reservations in advance. The parks south of Tampa are usually booked 11 months in advance. Those in the North maybe only a few weeks in advance.
A view from the Visitor Center Fire Tower, shows why it’s called a prairie.
A hot day and some sandy trails got Peggy in her complaining mode, also on our 6 mile round trip ride we found that the visitor center was closed and under construction. The view of the Florida Prairie was cool but we saw no Buffalo in sight.
The weather report for Wednesday was warm 81oF by noon and a light rain in the late afternoon. So we left early to enjoy the bike trail before it got too hot.
The 11 mile round ride from Rochelle included some actual hills which challenged Peggy but didn’t stop her. She likes the nice downhill coasts after the uphill’s. After we laughed at the Wildlife Crossing sign above, guess what we saw going across the bike trail.
I took a look at the view back toward Paynes Prairie Campground from the Alachua Lake Overlook.
The picture below is what I was looking at.
I posted a map of this portion of our trip in my last blog. We are currently at #10 and tomorrow morning we will leave for Silver Lake, #12. This place is pretty popular and convenient to the 46 mile long Withlacoochee State Bike Trail and on a lake which is a wide spot in the Withlacoochee River. So this will allow us to canoe & bike and use the bike trail to set up a shuttle.
I hope we can snag a site before the weekend. They do not take reservations in this State Forest campground and if they enforce the 14 day limit we may get a site.
We got here on Thursday morning after filling our Propane tank and grocery shopping. We were worried the place might be full like the state parks but unlike the parks they don’t take reservations, enforce a 14 day limit and give a nice discount for campers over 65 years old.
What a surprise, all three of their adjacent campgrounds were virtually empty. We recall when we stopped here eight years ago it was full of Quebecers who were staying for the whole winter. We complained that they were not enforcing the 14 day limit to no avail. I guess they decided to enforce it now and even though it was only $15/night with power and water hookups not many were here to enjoy the warm dry weather.
We took a short bike ride through the other two campgrounds and only found a total of about 15 campers in the 75 campsites.
On Friday morning Peggy and I did a 14 mile bike ride on the Withlacoochee State Bike Trail, a paved 46 mile 12’ wide bike trail that runs right past our campground.
When we returned we found Rob & Shirley camped next to us. They live in Martha’s Vineyard in the summer and for the past 3 years have camped all winter with us in Mexico at Xpu-Ha. We had been communicating with them so we knew where we were but had no idea that they were going to come here. However in the morning off they went and we may or may not see them again.
So we decided to go canoeing today as our campsite is right on Silver Lake which is a wide spot in the Withlacoochee River
Later Saturday Rob & Shirley came back from their shopping trip and spent two more days with us before heading to Orlando.
We have a nice campsite right on the lake for easy canoeing access and 1/2 mile from the 46 mile bike trail.
On our paddle trip Saturday downstream from camp, we found the water was 3.8’ on the USGS 02312500 Gauge which was a nice level.
We made it to Hog Island and then paddled back upstream to camp, about 8 miles and 3 hours paddling.
We saw lots of birds and turtles and right near where we turned around we saw a really big gator. We didn’t notice his nice bed of flowers until I looked at the photo.
On Sunday I biked to town to buy some groceries and Peggy got a little rest. After saying goodbye again to our friends on Monday we went south on the bike trail for about a 10 mi round trip. Peggy made it up the bike highway overpass without walking so she is getting stronger.
On Tuesday it got a little warmer so we decided to go canoeing again. This time we went upstream past all 4 campgrounds for about a 7 mile round trip. It is not as scenic and there is not as much wildlife as the downstream section, Even though it was sunny we didn’t see any gators.
Of course this isn’t Peggy, she paddles harder than I do.
On Wednesday, we decided to walk the nice hiking trails around the park.
With all our exercise how did Peggy manage to make me look so fat when she took my picture walking the trails along the Lake between the two campgrounds?
There are actually three campgrounds in this state forest at the Silver Lake complex. The first one called Silver Lake has Electric & Water with hot showers. A second similar site called Cypress Glen has bigger sites and is further from I-75 but was closed for bathroom repairs. The third called Crooked River is rustic and for tents only and has very wooded sites.
We did see some interesting wildlife, an Armadillo wandered by seemingly oblivious to us walking nearby.
Our campground was never more than half full even on the weekend. I guess the 14 day limit keeps out the snow birds. Maybe in January it will be more full.
On Thursday the weather warmed to the high 70’s with plenty of sunshine. The bike trail had all sorts of bikes travelling in both directions enjoying the longest 12’ wide paved bike trail in Florida.
We headed north to just past Istachatta, a small town on the trail. I told Peggy she was doing well, by the time we got back to camp it would be a 16 mile ride. She grabbed the map and stopped at one of the nice benches along the way to check it out.
On Friday, we decided to paddle downstream again from our camp since we saw way more birds and an alligator when we did this stretch last Saturday.
Today we saw a couple of timid alligators that jumped into the river when they saw us. But mostly we saw lots of birds. Egrets & Herons who never stood still for any pictures and dozens of Ibis running around the shallows along the edge of the river.
|A couple of vultures along the river.
The river had dropped about 5” to 3.4’ and it was a little harder to detect the main channel, but there was still plenty of water. You needed to carefully look for the leaves moving downstream.
However someone, probably the canoe livery, tied yellow tape to the branches occasionally so that you knew you were still in the main river channel.
Wekiwa Springs State Park home of the National Wild & Scenic Wekiva River. I can’t figure our the significance of the two ways they spell this.
We decided to try the 8.5 mile long Rock Springs Run. The river starts at Kelly Park and flows into the Wekiva River near the State Park.
Camping is available there as well as in the popular the State Park which is only 10 miles North of Orlando. It is an amazing preserve with thousands of acres of wilderness with hiking trails and many paddling options.
You can rent canoes and kayaks at several different locations depending on what part of the river system you want to paddle.
Rock Springs Run had lots of good recommendations. It is a crystal clear stream with an abundance of wildlife.
One thing I noted was that they rented tubes for floating the upper portion of the run in Kelly Park and it was probably a zoo on weekends in warm weather.
We decide we would start a half mile downstream at an outfitter called King’s Landing. For only $20 a canoe they let you launch your own boat at their property and pick you up at the end of the 8.5 mile run, which they say takes about 4 hours.
We decided to go on a Monday and there were 5 other customers who launched about an hour before we did. The outfitter said that if we called him when we finished and we all were there, he would bring us back early, rather than have to wait to the normal 4 PM shuttle time.
It was a very pretty run, it had a white sand bottom in places so you could see the fish. It was wide with lily pads in places and very narrow in some places. Beside all the birds, we saw an otter, raccoon, lots of turtles and a couple of small alligators. I think this one had his eye out for a turtle for lunch.
We passed the other group, so we stopped for a short break at one of the three nice campsites along the river. We passed them once again and were waiting on the shuttle when they pulled up.
It was a warm day, 83oF but cloudy, it was very pleasant day and we got back to camp by 3:30 PM.
We will camp here again on Tuesday night, getting everything set for our drive to near the Orlando Airport on Wednesday morning. We will leave our RV at a storage lot at Lake Whippoorwill KOA and fly back to Cleveland on Spirit Airlines. Flights were cheap and we have no luggage, so we will see how it goes.
Peggy & I love canoeing in tropical Florida but today we are in Westlake, OH raking leaves.
And it’s too frigin cold.
So far we have had warm weather here back North in Cleveland for the Holidays.
We stored the RV at a KOA campground near the Orlando airport. It looked like a safe guarded lot and cost about $80 for a month or less.
It’s been great to be back enjoying our big family and visiting friends, but we know winter will finally come and we would rather be enjoying the warm weather than fighting the snow and lack of sun back home.
Our plans have been very flexible up until now. On this portion of the trip we made reservations at a few of the more popular campgrounds.
We plan to keep travelling around Florida to enjoy some of the campgrounds we have stayed at over the years. Then we will head back north in the spring.
If this is the first time that you are visiting our Florida Blog you may want to click this to read about our trip in Chronological Order rather than going backwards from the present day to trip start.
When you get to the bottom click “Older Posts” which are really newer ones.
We flew back to Orlando on Spirit Airlines. Our plan to catch the first hotel bus to outside the airport worked fine, but we had to assure them we had hotel reservations.
We walked in the Holiday Inn and then out another door and walked over to Denny’s where I planned to contact Uber for a ride back to the RV.
First thing, I forgot my Uber password. I had to get it reset, then I kept hitting the wrong buttons with my fat fingers until Peggy was ready to kill me. Finally I suceeded after wasting 40 minutes trying to enter my request correctly, in order to catch my 15 minute ride which cost only $12 to get to the Whippoorwill KOA where we had the RV stored for the past 18 days.
We decided that we had enough daylight left to drive west toward our next Florida State Park. But we needed to stop overnight and stock up on groceries first. You can click on the above map and zoom to see more or less detail of where we stored the RV.
We made it down I-4 to Gibsonia where we had dinner at a Steak n’ Shake shopped at Aldi’s, Sam’s Club and finally at Wal-Mart where we spent the night. It looks like tomorrow is supposed to be a cool rainy day, so we are in no rush to get to Hillsbourgh River State Park for our 3 days of canoeing and biking.