Visiting Florida's state parks and beyond in our Roadtrek. This is how we saw it all. Hopefully, the posts will give you some useful information. Questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Weekend at Florida's Lake Manatee State Park

We returned to this quiet park during Christmas week.  This is a great park for getting away from it all.  And, if you fish or kayak/canoe it is even better. Contrary to the name, there are no manatees in the lake or river as the river has been dammed to form the lake which supplies Sarasota and Bradenton with its drinking water. 

There are two loops with paved driveways.  All the sites appear to be very level compacted sand.  This one is perfectly level. Shade varies from full to slightly partial.  Most have palmettos and trees between each site. 

The view out our back window.  

And, the front window.  A great site.

Almost every site had Christmas decorations on the ground and/or on their RV.  Most spent the Christmas week at the park. 

Besides the paved loops and a couple of miles of paved road from the ranger station to the marina and the day park to walk or bike, there is a narrow paved short cut through the campground loops to those areas. 


This path meanders from through the two loops connecting them and the marina/day park.


The day park includes a pavilion, swing set, volleyball court, park benches, picnic tables and a paved trail to the lake.

 Lakeside has tables and benches to use while enjoying the lake scenery.


 And, you can rent a kayak.

But, no swimming. 

Looking for a gator.  None seen.


The marina area is a short walk from the day park and is great launching facility and dock.  You can launch your small boat (20hp max) and do some great fishing or boating...


...or, fish or relax on the dock.   Sitting on the dock of the bay, er, lake.

One of the local residents keeps a vigil on the fishing in hopes of scoring a handout.

 Kayakers paddle by the marina dock.  The lake is large and provides a lot of shoreline to quietly paddle along.

There are three easy hiking trails ranging from .5 to .7 miles in length.  They are all service roads and can be, for the most part, navigated by fat tired bike.  This is part of the Longleaf Lane trail (.53 mi) which connects to the Campground Alley trail and ends up at the day park.

Along this trail we encountered a short trail toward the lake that appears to be a favorite rooting place for the wild pigs on the property.  Saw a sow and three piglets traveling in the bushes.  Don't want to mess with a momma and her children.

This trail also passes through a marshy area as it nears the day park and lake.

Another trail is Campground Alley (.62 mi). that starts on the park entrance road, passes around the two camp loops and ends at the day park area.

 Another view of the trail as it passes by our campsite.  This trail continues to the left.  To the right, just beyond the brown Lopsided Indian Grass starts the Longleaf Lane trail.

 Bobcat Trail (.69 mi) can be accessed at the ranger station or across from the campground area.  It is mostly a service road style trail, but if you take one leg of it you have to walk a bike for a short distance.

A view along Bobcat Trail.

A field of Saw Palmetto and pines.

Some flora along the trails.

A Longleaf Pine against morning gray skies.

Pine Barren Frostweed

Hydrilla. Pieces break off and are seen floating in the currents in the lake.  This clump landed on shore at the day park.

 Florida Tickseed (?)

Purple Thistle

Yellow Bachelor's Button 

Lopsided Indian Grass

And, a visitor to our campsite.  Also saw many butterflies and one Eastern Black Racer.

Sunset on our last evening.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Weekend at Florida'a Gold Head Branch State Park

 One of nine Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) parks in the Florida State Park system, the park contains 12 natural communities ranging from very dry habitats to basin marshes, seepage slopes and sinkhole lakes.  There are paved roads to bike and several trails to hike from less than a quarter mile to 5.4 miles, including an equestrian trail.  The park includes a picnic area with playground and a meeting lodge.

Our site was in the Sandhill loop.  Partially shaded, it was very level compact sand with a lot of space between neighboring sites.  Quite private.  There were some that were fairly close together.  Good if staying with another family.

A view of Sandhill Loop. Paved driveway with partial fencing.

Looking in the opposite direction. Very few tents in this loop.

As opposed to the dirt roads and more rustic landscape of Turkey Oak Loop ( the tenting loop) and......


Lakeview Loop.  This weekend these loops were occupied far more with tents although partial utilities are available for RVs. There are also, group and primitive camping areas and a small park with playground.

For bikers there are a few miles of paved road with sufficient elevation changes to give one a fair workout.

About a mile from the campsite is the stairway down into Steephead Ravine that we came to see.  So we park the trustee steeds and begin the descent.

Somewhere down there is the spring.

Eighty five concrete steps and you are at the bottom of the ravine....65 feet from the ridge.   That's 85 steps back up if you left your car or bike at the parking lot.  The spring carved this ravine over many years of water seeping from the ground as a result of rainfall filtering through the sand and hitting hardrock so it could sink no further.  This is unlike other springs we visited that are a result of water bubbling up from the aquifer.


Go to the left and you take a short loop to the spring head which is a wall covered in plant life.  The water seeps out and forms a clear spring with a white sand bottom.

At this time the spring is no wider than about 5 feet at parts.  Sometimes as little as a foot wide.

While crystal clear the blue sky overhead is reflected.

One of the wider points that we saw.  Not very deep, either.  Maybe a foot or so.

A good view of the white sand bottom.

Turn right at the bottom of the stairwell and you head along the spring toward 
Little Lake Johnson.  A one way 1.1 mile hike.  This is not a loop. It's 1.1 miles back to your car or bike.  But a very nice walk.

Walk a little way, cross the spring and you start heading up the side of the ridge to the top.  Hence the name Ridge Trail.

A welcome bench at the top.

Traveling along the ridge.

Informative signage is posted along the trail.

Along the way you do encounter slight elevation changes.

And some pretty foliage changes.

Brilliant red that will soon turn to yellow.  Then, brown, then drop.

 More color change to contrast with the many pines and other trees that haven't started turning, yet. 

Along one spot in the trail we spotted this lone cactus.  No telling how it got here.

Every now and then there are side trails leading back down to the spring.  Some pretty steep.  The 85 concrete steps are more assuring.

Continuing along the trail.

The Ridge Trail descends to the spring again at its end.  This metal bridge crosses over to an area where a mill once stood.  The mill contained a sawmill, cotton gin and grist mill, all driven by a paddle wheel turned by the flow of the spring.  Don't know why the metal bridge.  I prefer the wooden bridges in the woods.

This is where the mill building once stood.  Now only the end of the Loblolly Loop.

The only remains I could find of the building.  Remnants of the steel legs embedded in concrete footers by the spring.

Before crossing the metal bridge to the mill site the Ridge Trail meets the Loblolly Loop.  A .75 mile loop through a Loblolly Pine hammock.

Along the Loblolly Loop.

Continuing along the loop.

The trails are all well marked.  Off to the left of this point is the primitive campground.  Left that part of my life back with my days as a Boy Scout.

This little bridge over the spring marks the halfway point in the loop which then circles back to the mill site.

At the end of Loblolly Loop you are back at the Mill Site and metal bridge.  If you turn left you can take a short hike to the camp site.  However, we left our bikes at the other end of the Ridge Trail.  So, we cross the bridge, turn left and hike 1.1 miles back to where we started.

After the 1.1 trek and climbing the 85 steps to the parking lot our steeds await.  The 1 mile ride back to the campsite is ahead.  Enough exercise for the morning.

Riding past our campsite entrance the road leads to the third camp loop and the 16 cabins overlooking Little Lake Johnson.

Not much water in Little Lake Johnson this time of the year.  Since it's 
fed by the spring  the amount of rainfall is a huge factor.

The same can be said for Lake Johnson.  Normally much bigger, it provides good fishing and boating.  Not today.  The website advises a call to the ranger station for current lake conditions before coming to the park for water activities. 

 The end of the road.  All-in-all a nice park.  While the website touts plenty of wild life we were amazed to see none.  Not even the venerable squirrel.  A different season next visit.