Tag Archives: Florida

Apalachicola National Forest

Apalachicola National Forest

Florida

Managed by U.S. Forest Service, Southern Region

634,042 acres (563,403 federal/ 70,639 other)

Website: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/florida/home

Overview

Apalachicola National Forest is the largest of the four National Forests in Florida and also manages the tiny 1,152-acre Choctawhatchee National Forest (which is off limits to the public on a military base, so we did not include it in our total of 155 National Forests).  The forests proximity to the state capital of Tallahassee makes it an outdoor recreation destination in the Florida Panhandle.

Highlights

Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway, Fort Gadsden Historic Site (closed), Ochlockonee River, Rock Bluff Scenic Area, Leon Sinks Geological Area (closed), Morrison Hammock Scenic Area, Silver Lake Recreation Area, Camel Lake Recreation Area, Post Office Bay, Florida National Scenic Trail

Must-Do Activity

When we visited Apalachicola National Forest in April 2021, two of its biggest attractions were closed from hurricane damage: Fort Gadsden Historic Site and Leon Sinks Geological Area (a series of sinkholes in limestone karst).  We finally ended up at Camel Lake Recreation Area (day-use fee) where the beach was closed due to alligator presence, so we opted to hike a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail.  We also made a stop to see the swamp at Big Gully Landing boat launch where Equaloxic Creek flows six miles west to the Apalachicola River.  We read that canoeing the Ochlockonee River is a popular activity.

Best Trail

Apalachicola National Forest includes 67 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST).  We hiked a portion of it at Camel Lake Recreation Area hoping to find where it connected to the Trail of Lakes nine-mile loop, but we never did locate the junction.  We read that the segment of the FNST from Oak Park Trailhead along the Sopchoppy River bluffs is especially beautiful.  Closer to the capital city, busy trails include the 14.4-mile Tallahassee Saint Marks Historic Rail Trail, 30-mile Vinzant Horse Trail, and 8.3-mile Munson Hills Trail (which is popular with mountain bikers).

Watchable Wildlife

When we think of Florida wildlife the first animal that comes to mind is the alligator, so it was no surprise that the swimming beach at Camel Lake Recreation Area was closed due to their presence.  Other places to see alligators are Tate’s Hell Swamp and the Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness.  Cottonmouth snakes and plentiful mosquitoes also make the swamps uninviting to guests.  We were surprised to see signs warning of black bears since that is not an animal we associate with Florida.  Other wildlife includes turkeys, fox squirrels, gray foxes, bobcats, raccoons, and armadillos.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Stands of longleaf pine and turkey oak had us reminiscing about hiking the sandy trails on the coastal plains of North Carolina’s Croatan National Forest.

Peak Season

Winter

Fees

There was a day-use fee at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but it was half-off with an America the Beautiful pass.

Road Conditions

The unpaved roads were hard-packed sand, so they were in really good shape during our visit.

Camping

There was a nice 10-site campground (fee) suitable for RVs at Camel Lake Recreation Area, but there is no camping at Silver Lake Recreation Area closer to Tallahassee, Florida.

Wilderness Areas

Bradwell Bay Wilderness

Mud Swamp/New River Wilderness

Related Sites

Osceola National Forest (Florida)

Gulf Islands National Seashore (Florida)

Andersonville National Historic Site (Georgia)

Nearest National Park

Everglades (Florida)

Conifer Tree Species

baldcypress, pondcypress, longleaf pine, spruce pine, pond pine, slash pine, loblolly pine, Atlantic white-cedar

Flowering Tree Species

magnolia bay, sweetbay, black titi, myrtleleaf holly, swamp cyrilla, black cherry, sassafras, Darlington oak, southern red oak, live oak, bluejack oak, turkey oak, laurel oak, diamondleaf oak, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, water hickory, persimmon, black gum, flowering dogwood, southern magnolia, basswood, American beech, sweetgum, ogeechee lime, swamp azalea, swamp cottonwood, pop ash, black willow, red buckeye, horse sugar tree

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Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Overview

The Timucuan Indians inhabited northeastern Florida’s coastal wetlands and maritime hammocks when French colonists first arrived in 1562.  The settlers constructed Fort Caroline (a National Memorial established in 1950), which the National Park Service (NPS) administers as a unit of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (established in 1988).  Start your visit at the NPS museum at Fort Caroline National Memorial, which provides information on the indigenous Timucuan, as well as the European colonization efforts.  Then you can tour a one-third scale reconstruction of the triangular Fort Caroline based upon a drawing from 1564 by French artist Jacques le Moyne.

Highlights

Fort Caroline, Kingsley Plantation, Theodore Roosevelt Area

Must-Do Activity

The second place the NPS manages a visitor center is at Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island east of Jacksonville, Florida.  Established in 1798, it is the oldest remaining plantation house in Florida.  Slaves here harvested Sea Island cotton, which is still grown in a small garden alongside indigo, another regional cash crop.  Visitors can take a self-guided trail around the property, but tours inside the main plantation house are only offered on weekends and require a reservation.

Best Trail

The 1.5-mile Willie Browne Trail winds through the 600 undeveloped acres at Theodore Roosevelt Area, donated by the trail’s namesake to the Nature Conservancy in 1969.  The Spanish Pond Trail connects this trail with Fort Caroline National Memorial.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The tabby walls of 23 of the original 32 slave quarters still stand in a row at Kingsley Plantation. 

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/timu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved, but the fastest route between Fort Caroline and Kingsley Plantation is probably via the St. Johns River Ferry.

Camping

The NPS does not have a campground, but nearby Little Talbot Island State Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park all do.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

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Canaveral National Seashore

Overview

When NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) prevented this portion of Florida coast from development in the 1950s, surely they did not imagine it would soon become one of the last long stretches of wild coastline left on the Atlantic seaboard.  The area north of John F. Kennedy Space Center was set aside as Canaveral National Seashore (in 1975) and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (in 1963).

Highlights

Eldora State House, shell mounds, wildlife, fishing, kayaking, beaches

Must-Do Activity

About 310 avian species have been spotted in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Other than birds, we were excited to see our first living armadillo and manatee outside of a zoo.  Despite its unappealing name, Mosquito Lagoon is a nice spot for fishing and paddling.  We hope someday to return to witness a rocket launch from John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Best Trail

Human activity in Canaveral National Seashore is evident in Timucuan shell mounds that date back thousands of years, with a separate trail to Eldora State House preserving more recent history.  At the southern end of the park in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you will find Oak and Palm Hammock Trails, as well as Cruickshank Trail that leads to an observation tower.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park ranger told us the most likely place to see a West Indian manatee was at the boat launch in New Smyrna Beach, Florida just north of the park boundary.  There were also dolphins, great blue herons, anhingas, great egrets, ospreys, brown pelicans, and royal terns.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cana/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle day use or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but the six-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive and some boat launches are not.  Unlike at other National Seashores, there is no driving on the beach allowed, but you can bicycle or walk to remote Klondike Beach.

Camping

Inside the park boundaries there are no campgrounds, but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

Related Sites

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

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Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

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Big Cypress National Preserve

Overview

Big Cypress National Preserve was originally planned to be a part of Everglades National Park (established in 1947), but this wild area to the north did not gain federal protection until 1974.  There are few roads and trails in the 729,000-acre preserve, which makes it ideal habitat for the endangered Florida panther.  The easiest access points are along Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) or the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41).  While many of the “trails” require route-finding and slogging through deep water, there are also designated ATV and canoe trails located throughout the park.

Highlights

Kirby Storter Roadside Park, Big Cypress Bend Trail, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Many of the baldcypress and pond cypress trees that once stood here were logged in the 1930s and 1940s.  At the Kirby Storter Roadside Park, you can still see some large examples of these trees famous for their buttressed boles and root nodules, or “knees,” that stand above the high water level.  We previously reported on these unique deciduous conifers at Congaree National Park in South Carolina, but here they grow right alongside tall palm trees that we typically associate with sandy beaches. 

Best Trail

Many of the trails in the park are underwater and require slogging.  Two exceptions with boardwalks are at Kirby Storter Roadside Park and Big Cypress Bend (technically within Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wherever you look, you are likely to spot an alligator or two in this wild section of south Florida.  An extra photo-op can be found at the smallest post office in the United States, a former irrigation pipe shed located in Ochopee, Florida since 1953.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bicy/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None (except for off-road vehicle permits)

Road Conditions

Highway 41 and Interstate 75 are paved, but just about every other road in the park is sandy (and/or submerged) and should only be attempted with an ATV or swamp buggy.

Camping

The NPS offers two campgrounds along Highway 41 (there is also one in Collier-Seminole State Park), as well as designated primitive wilderness sites.

Related Sites

Everglades National Park (Florida)

De Soto National Memorial (Florida)

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

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