Summer is here, the kids are out of school, and finding shade and staying cool are the major activities of the day. A canoe or camping trip to Maine or Minnesota would be great. However, most of us can’t afford that much money or time. The Florida State Park system has taken the lead in addressing this issue. The solution is providing comfortable cabins in some of Florida’s State Parks. Here are my two favorites.
Hontoon Island State Park near Deland on the St. Johns River offers rustic cabins with screen porches, electrical outlets and ceiling fans. The community bathroom offers toilets, hot showers, and outlets so the wife can bring the hair dryer. In addition the park has picturesque hiking trails with lots of birding opportunities and open prairie views. And it is an island, so obviously there are lots of paddling opportunities. The nature trail that leads to the shell mound is a favorite due to the heavy canopy of Spanish moss, resurrection fern, and orchids. Paddling around the island on the Dead and St. Johns Rivers is a great way to see large gators, wading birds, river otters, and snakes.
Spend a day kayaking to Blue Springs State Park just a few miles upstream. Enjoy the 72-degree spring run. The large springhead offers great snorkeling and swimming. The boardwalk offers great views of the run and all its fish, turtles, gators, and, in cooler months, manatee.
The cabins at St. Joe Peninsula State Park are world-class bayside accommodations. Each sleeps five comfortably and has full amenities, including air conditioning and a porch overlooking St. Joseph Bay. You can consider it wilderness luxury. Who doesn’t love catching a fish 30 feet from the kitchen stove?
What you will see at the park is miles of brilliant white sand beaches and 30-foot high dunes. The whole park is just a long, narrow finger of land surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. The northern part of the park is a 1,650-acre wilderness preserve. Visitors to St. Joseph Peninsula enjoy fabulous scenery, beachcombing, snorkeling, sunbathing, camping, kayaking, boating, saltwater fishing, hiking, and bird watching. The best kayaking spots are Eagle Harbor and all the area around Pig Island. Strong, experienced paddlers can make the trip around the northern tip of the peninsula; be careful of the powerful winds and outgoing tide.
After a relaxing night’s sleep, grab the boats and head east on 30A until you reach the right turn that takes you to Indian Pass Campground. Once you reach the dead end, park the car, unload the boats, pack your fishing pole and paddle the short distance to St Vincent Island and the National Wildlife Refuge. Walking the islands deep sugar sand trails is a major effort. Its best to paddle around and just walk the beaches. The best fishing is in the Big Bayou and the sand dunes at the southeast point overlooking Little St George Island. Don’t be surprised if you happen to catch a glance of a red wolf. There is a breeding program on the island for the National Park Service.
By now you’re good and hungry, and probably thirsty, too. Head into the fishing town of Apalachicola and take your pick of filling stations. You will soon realize that there is no bad seafood in this town. The next thing you will discover is the lack of high-rise condos filled with Northerners and the strong presence of good people who make their living fishing. I’ve always said, “A great town has more boats than cars, less churches than bars.” In Apalachicola this holds true.
If you find time for an extra day, drive east on 30, the only road through town, over the bay and go north on Hwy 65. This road parallels the Apalachicola River. Every creek you cross while driving is a great place to drop in your kayak and paddle west into the Apalachicola River. The tupelo trees that line the bank will remind you of the huge stands of mangrove in the Glades, a wonderful tunnel of green over black shiny water.
There are several other areas of interest in the area, including the historic Fort Gadsden, known locally as the “Negro Fort,” Wewahitchka (Yulee’s Gold with Peter Fonda was filmed here), and one of the oddest-looking paddling lakes in Florida – Dead Lakes State Park.
OUTFITTERS, SERVICES, and REFERENCES
- Adventures in Florida: Fully guided kayak trips to Hontoon Island and St. Joseph Peninsula.
- Reserve America: Best place to make reservations for Florida State Parks.
- St. Joseph Peninsula State Park:
- Hontoon Island State Park:
- Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce: