Okefenokee – Cool Nights

It ‘s only a 130 mile drive from Jekyll Island to Stephen Foster State Park in the Okefenokee Wildlife Refuge.

The park is in GA but we had to drive through about 20 miles of Florida to get there. They had forecast rain with a cold front passing through but it only drizzled a little on the drive over. So when the sun came out after lunch we decided to take our canoe out for a short paddle to Billy’s Island. About a 2 mile paddle each way and a nice hike around an abandoned town.

JohnBillysIslandHikingSince it was cool there were no alligators sunning themselves, they preferred the warm water of the swamp. But plenty of Egrets and Heron with an occasional Hawk and Vulture.

Since we got here on a Sunday the campground was almost empty. Peggy and I haven’t canoed since our Michigan trip 3 years ago, but she was as strong as ever and I had to paddle fast to keep up with her stroke rate.


We are able to get on the internet here tethering my smart phone to the computer but phone calls barely work. Early Monday morning the temperatures were down to 39oF, so we waited until after lunch to venture out. By then it had warmed to the low 50’s and very sunny.

We decided to do an 8 mile round trip paddle to Minnie’s Lake. We took our time and enjoyed the solitude and all the birds.

Today we spotted a couple of small alligators in the water. It was still too cold for them to come up on the shore or logs like the turtles. CypressTrees
The water trail going north is all big Cyprus trees and the reflections of the trees and knees in the water was very beautiful.MinniesLakeShelter

By the time we made our way to the platform that campers use in the swamp Peggy noticed that if we go as slow as we did getting here it would be dark before we got back. The sun sets about 5:15 PM and it gets dark instantly.

So we jumped back into the canoe and went into full racing mode. We made it back in half the time finishing up at 4 PM. Maybe a little sorer for the effort. But we sure weren’t cold although the high today had only reached 53oF. So far there have been no mosquitoes.

Thanksgiving at Ocean Pond, FL


The Okefenokee is in GA only a few miles from the FL border. We loaded up our canoe and headed south for the Osceola National Forest about 40 miles due south. On our way we decided to do an 8 mile bike ride in Big Shoals State Park near White Springs.

BigShoals2The park has a nice paved bike trail, called the Woodpecker Trail, which goes from the south entrance up to the Suwannee river near the biggest rapid in FL called Big Shoals. A 1 mile trail along the river takes you to an overlook of the rapid below.

The rapid drops about 9’ in a quarter mile over three sharp limestone ledges. They say it’s a fun run when the river level is between 55-65’ on the USGS gauge. An interesting thing is that you can put-in right here in the park 1 mile above the rapid, then paddle down, run the rapid, walk back on the portage trail and try it again. Then when play time is over you can paddle the slow moving river back to the put-in. But today the water level was only 52’ and it looked too low for us to consider taking our View of OceanPondcanoe down.

We had some grocery shopping to do in the town of Lake City, FL and then we got to our next campground called Ocean Pond. The round lake is 2 miles in diameter and the campground has three different kind of sites.

CampsiteatOceanPondNFWe never had a problem in the past finding a site with electricity but we were here for the long Thanksgiving weekend and all those sites were already taken. We got a nice big site that only had water hook-ups, but at $6 a night it couldn’t be beat.Peggy Thanksgiving in RV 

Most popular FL State Parks are 100% reserved on the weekends but here they take no reservations, so it’s usually easy to get a campsite at any time.

We had our leftover turkey from our big family dinner before we left on the trip, Read Blog about Family Dinner, but we sure missed the family and also Gene at Tepetapan RV Park in Mexico where we have spent the last 6 Thanksgivings.

On Friday we did a 13 mile bike ride around the lake. There are no trails but if you have a good map you can find local roads, some are dirt and some are paved but they provide a good ride all the way around the lake. Several miles are on the highway leading to the park but we only saw one vehicle so Peggy didn’t mind the highway ride.

We are not sure what we plan for Saturday yet but we will leave Sunday morning and head about 35 miles southwest to OLeno State Park, near High Springs, on the disappearing Santa Fe River.

Oleno State Park & Ichetucknee Springs


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.

SanteFeRiverSinkThe 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. IchetuckneePegPaddle

Turtle Family 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 TrailWater Flowers

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.Big Turtle

JohnIchetuckneeSpringIt 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.

Map2 - N FL

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.

Paynes Prairie & Hawthorne State Bike Trail

Paynes Prarie View2

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.Hawthorne Trail Sign

Wildlife Crossing Sign

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. Peg on Hawthorne TrailShe 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.

Turtle Crossing

John at OverlookI 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.


Alachua Lake Overlook

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.

Withlacoochee State Forest & Bike Trail

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.Rob-ShirleySilverLake

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

Staying at Silver Lake for 10 days

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.

A Few More Days at Silver Lake











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–Our Last Camp Before the Holidays

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.

Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River Warning

This is a really nice state park, and it was a good thing we made reservations a few months in advance. Even though we got here on a Sunday afternoon all the campsites were full for the night.

The weather finally got back to normal for the Tampa area. It had been running 10-15o F hotter. When we got here it was cloudy, 65o F and it looked like rain.

Snake BirdWe had enough time to bike all around the 3 campground circles and bike along the river to see the big Class II rapid. We stopped at the little museum near the fort to learn about the Second Seminole war. On the way back from our 4 mile bike ride a little drizzle began and then it rained off and on until we went to bed.

We decided to paddle on Monday afternoon after it got sunny and warm. Even though the river was right behind our campsite I needed to carry the canoe down about 4 more campsites to find the path to the boat launch since the river banks were very high.

Stationary Bridge

The river was very pretty, we paddled about 3 mile down past Dead River Park. We took a break and paddled back upstream about a 3 hour trip. We only saw a couple of small alligators and a half dozen turtles since it was cool. They rent canoes upstream of our campsite but I guess the cooler weather kept everyone off the river, we only saw 2 other canoes.

River Bridge

We left our canoe at the boat launch so that we could paddle again on Tuesday. This time we paddled upstream past the livery, past the two bridges and one little rapid. But it was too rocky to paddle upstream above the Class II rapid. We only paddled a couple of miles in one hour and then I carried the canoe back to the RV.

Tomorrow we will leave early and see if we can get a campsite at Lithia Springs County Park, which is only about 25 miles away.

Lithia Springs Park

Lithia Springs1This Hillsborough County Park is one of our favorite campgrounds in FL. In fact my main blog picture above is from this park. There are about 45 campsites , all with power and water. They have two nice modern clean shower houses. There are only 5 campsites that are along the Alafia River. These are usually the sites we stay in.

We got here early Wednesday and found the camp nearly empty with our choice of camp sites. We paid until today,  Sunday, and today decided to stay here for another 4 days.

They do not take reservations and up until now had a 14 day limit. The camphost said that now all RV’s could stay as long as 180 days. They limit tent campers because some homeless people find it an inexpensive place to stay.

Alderman FordThere is a beautiful natural spring swimming area and beach that is probably popular in hot weather but it is not our cup of tea. There are two things that we enjoy here, paddling and bike riding. The Alafia River is a beautiful wild & scenic river with birds, alligators, otters and turtles. There is a county park upstream, Alderman’s Ford, that is a great put-in. Alafia ShoalsSeveral times in year’s past we drove there and left our RV and then took a bike ride back to pick up the RV after we paddled the 11 miles down to our campsite.

On Thursday we decided to try paddling upstream for about 1-1/2 hrs. The water level was just over 100 cfs and we had some trouble paddling up some of the shallow shoals. They were easy to float back downstream and it took only half the time.

FishHawkTrails5Ten year’s ago we discovered that they were building a huge housing development called Fish Hawk Ranch just south of our RV park and they were putting in miles of concrete trails. Well, over the years this 5000 acre area has expanded to thousands of upscale homes, shopping centers and schools. Last year they put in a new trail that connects our park directly to their development, so we no longer have to take the 1-1/2 mile road out of the park and the 1/2 mile road to the first trail.

Fish Hawk Sandhill Cranes










On Saturday we biked about 11 miles of their trails. We were surprised by the almost tame Sandhill Cranes that we saw in three different areas along the trail.

We then did some shopping at the Winn-Dixie before heading back to camp. Late in the afternoon it started to rain and we had heavy overnight rains while we watched the NFL playoff games in our nice dry motorhome. They call this camping?.

We biked about 12 mi again today. The Alafia River went up from 100 to 400 cfs, it would be good to paddle on Monday but the canoe livery is not doing shuttles in the winter. I have to decide if we want to load the canoe back on the RV and drive or find someone else that could take us to the put-in.