Camping at Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park covers nearly 3383 acres, 1040 of which are upland, with the remaining acreage being submerged or mostly wet. The park is located off of Highway 301 about 15 minutes North of Tampa. Hillsborough River State Park is composed of Pine Flat-woods, mature hardwood hammocks, and low floodplain swamp. The park was opened in 1938 and was one of the earliest Florida “New Deal” projects according to the Florida State Parks website.

Camping

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This looked like a small pond the next afternoon.

All types of camping are available at Hillsborough River, from primitive camping to RV sites with full hook-ups. You have to hike in to reach the primitive camp, but maybe that’s the idea if you really want to get the full experience of primitive camping. We didn’t personally walk to the camp so can’t offer any specific details as to what it’s like. The main campground looks to have taken some damage from Mathew and Irma the last couple of years, but nothing that would interfere with camping now. Many of the sites had large sections of oak or pine trees bordering their edges. I’m guessing it was easier to use them than move them after they came down. A few buildings had tarps on their rooftops.

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Camp while it was dry.

The camp sites were for the most part pretty level. One fairly significant issue you’re likely to encounter at this campground in the summer rainy season is minor flooding. Being from Florida ourselves, we know to expect summer storms in the afternoon, but the layout of this particular area seems to exacerbate the situation a little. The sites that sit to the inside of the camp site loops probably held the least water while it was raining, but they also have the fewest trees, shade, etc.

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The water had come down some by this point.

If privacy is an important aspect of your personal camping experience, the outer sites may be your best bet. You may have to make a concession one way or the other. Either deal with the water buildup on the outside when it rains hard, or deal with the lack of privacy on the spots with better drainage on the inside.

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Waterfront property!

Our site had water up to about 4 inches deep thanks to rafts of leaves creating dams. We cleared the dams and created a small trench to drain the fire pond… I mean pit… that looked like a pond… The site drained fairly quickly thanks to our efforts. We kept our wood covered and elevated so we had a fire going strong before the rain had even completely subsided.

Trails

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Love this!
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Short trail to the rapids.

Approximately seven miles of trails meander through the old growth woods and along the river’s edge. We didn’t have the opportunity to explore the trails, but these particular trails along the river appeared from the canoe to be more suitable for hiking than biking. The wetlands trail is said to be appropriate for mountain biking, but as a result of our short stay there wasn’t time to check it out. A bike lane runs the entire look of the paved road in the park.  The area around the campground has some fairly open woods that looked ripe for exploration on foot, but if you do so I advise taking precautions against ticks, chiggers and as always watch for snakes. There are fitness stations at some of the viewing platforms around the park, so as you make your way around to check out the natural sights, you can enhance your workout at the same time.

Wildlife

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This thing was as big as it looked! Probably three inches or even a little more from tip of one leg to the tip of leg on opposite side.

As you can see, Florida always offers a large supply of crawly critters, but Hillsborough River State Park offers opportunities to view a wide range of wildlife. Bird watchers might see large read-headed woodpeckers, wading birds, hawks, and many other species of birds. Feral hogs abound on the property, to include the campground areas. Sows with babies can be very aggressive, so steer clear if you see them. There were clear signs of fresh hog rooting a few camp sites down from our own, so no doubt they are there in the evenings. Alligators are a possibility in any of the bodies of water on the property, so keep an eye out and never feed them.

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Hello Alligator!

If you walk, bike, or drive around the park loop in the early morning or late afternoon, you may find a rabbit, deer, or feral hog feeding just around the next corner. We caught a pretty little doe feeding in the median around the parking area near the pool, and had a quick sighting of a rabbit as it darted back into the brush.

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Don’t think I don’t hear you back there…

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Fishing – Canoeing – Kayaking

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Beautiful old Florida.

The park has canoe and kayak rentals at the park store, or a small launch area for those who bring their own.

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Public kayak launch area.

The supply is limited if you do want to rent canoes or kayaks, so earlier is better to be sure to get a ride. There seemed to be more kayaks available than canoes. They actually ran out of canoes while we were on the water, and when we returned with ours someone else was in line waiting to take it. The canoe’s are just a little “tippy” at first, but we got used to it and stayed upright the entire ride with only one close call. I have seen many couples canoeing or kayaking together over the years, and for some it seems to truly test the relationship. Luckily, Michelle and I are great boat companions and seem to stay pretty well in sync when on the water. So far we have come out of our aqua adventures largely unscathed mentally and physically!

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Really smooth float.

The ride down was calm and slow. We mostly drifted with the current for the two miles you can travel with park equipment. We threw a couple of lures around along the way but didn’t have any luck. Obviously the trip back against the current is more challenging, but it wasn’t that bad. The store employees told us that we couldn’t paddle north from the launch because it gets too shallow, and the rapids, which are said to be Florida’s only Class 2 rapids, are protected.

The river offers a number of freshwater fish species for those who enjoy fishing. Large-mouth bass, catfish, pan fish, gars, and the ever aggressive Shoepick, a.k.a. Bowfin, a.k.a. Mudfish. We caught a Shoepick of about 3 or 4 lbs in a small shallow stretch of backwater right behind our camper. If you aren’t looking to eat everything you catch, they’re a great fight. If you’re a Cajun you just might have a family recipe for them! Michelle and I saw a fish chasing bait along the opposite bank from us at the public kayak launch in the late afternoon. I threw a floating frog lure about six inches off of that bank, and in the blink of an eye a fish absolutely crushed the lure! The fish was so large that when I attempted to set the hook, I cracked my rod in half and the plastic frog came flying back at me! I’m guessing it was a fairly large gar.

Hunting

No hunting allowed.

Foraging

Hillsborough State Park is not open to foraging. You are free to explore and identify, but items can’t be removed from the park. There were numerous mushrooms and other forage foods to look for and identify around the area. I found several types of mushrooms in the campground alone, some of which are edible or medicinal, but as stated couldn’t take them. Below are some the the more visually appealing mushrooms we came across.

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These looked a little like oysters but not convinced they were.
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Gymnopolis sp. Toxic.
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Clamshell Polypore
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Favolis brasiliensis.
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Favolis brasiliensis. top view.
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Schizophyllum commune.
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Neolentinus lepideus a.k.a. Train Wrecker – edible if you are somewhere where you can keep them. Never eat wild foraged foods without the advice of a local expert.

Pool

The campground has a large pool that serves 261 guests. The pool increases gradually in depth from the outside toward the center from about six inches deep to five feet deep in the center. The pool does require a separate fee of $4 per person per day. There are additional fees for lawn chairs, and no outside food or drink is allowed in. There is a small dining area and kitchen in the store at the pool that serves basic sandwiches and sides. Lunch would probably average about $10 or $12 per person. Park admission is $6 per vehicle.

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History

Many of the original facilities built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the group who built this and other state parks as part of the “New Deal” works in Florida, remain on the property today. I love the idea that since the day the park opened, everyone who has gone through the gates at Hillsborough River State Park has seen largely the same sights, just as the designers intended them to be seen. There is a replica of Fort Foster on park grounds that is open to the public. The fort was used during the second Seminole war and is said to have protected an area of the river frequently used for crossings. Paid tours are available on weekends or by reservation.

Location and Links:

Hillsborough River State Park – 15402 U.S. 301 North Thonosassa, Florida 33592

Contact Info

813-987-6771 or 813-326-5867 Open 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year
Fort Info
https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/fort-foster-state-historic-site

Pool Information

Information on pool operations and closures is available at the National State Park Concession office: 813-986-6772. Park entrance fees are not refunded for patrons unable to enter pool once capacity has been reached.

Trail Map Link – FloridaHikes.com

Hillsborough River State Park trail map

Osceola National Forest – Camping and Recreation

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Osceola National Forest covers nearly 200,000 acres of land and is located northeast of Lake City, Florida and is bisected by Interstate 10.  Osceola is a “Flat-woods” forest composed of low pine ridges with Cypress and Bay Swamps riddling the area. The forest was named after, and in honor of the well-known Seminole Indian warrior, Osceola and became a national forest in 1931 by Herbert Hoover’s Presidential proclamation. The area helps to protect Pinhook Swamp, the Southern end of the Okefenokee Swamp.

Camping

There are camping sites on the area to suit most tastes. Ocean Pond Campground, Cobb Camp and Hog Pen Landing are the three main camping sites, but there are other designated hunt camps. All three of these camping areas are located just south of I-10, or about an hour west of Jacksonville, Florida. This trip was planned on short notice and ocean Pond camp was full, so we stayed at Cobb camp this time around.

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Cobb camp has quite a few sites, and I don’t recall ever seeing the campground full. There is a Civil War re-enactment event that happens at the nearby Olustee Battlefield in February every year, and the campground is in more demand during that week. Things pick up again during the early weeks of deer hunting season, and again in the Spring for turkey hunting season, which happens to coincide with Spring Break season. We camped during this busy period and were still able to get the camping sites we wanted at Cobb. The Cobb Camp sites range from sitting beside the main forest road, to sites further back into the trees. During hunting seasons, camping anywhere other than  marked sites is prohibited. During non-hunting seasons you can camp anywhere in the forest that is not closed to public access.

Two of the campgrounds sit directly on the shores of Ocean Pond, a 1760 acre natural lake. The largest is the main “Ocean Pond Campground” that offers 67 campsites, with 19 offering electric hook-ups and some sites sitting waterfront. The Ocean Pond camp also offers shower and toilet facilities. A dump station is provided near the entrance, but the sites themselves do not have sewer hookups. Ocean Pond camp sites range from $8 to $18 per night. The other is “Hog Pen Landing”. This campground does not offer hook-ups or amenities, and spaces are quite limited.

Fishing and boating are allowed in the lake. I fished ocean Pond once before and didn’t do very well, but I’m not going to pass judgement based on one day of poor fishing, so I say have at it! The campground and lake offer great scenery, to include large old cypress trees with their Spanish moss dangling like jewelry above the water.

Trails

Approximately twenty-three miles of the National Scenic Trail meanders through Osceola National Forest, so if nature watching is your game, this might be a great place to go! There are miles and miles of 4 x 4 trails that can be used by licensed and unlicensed vehicles alike. There are some rules for off-road vehicles, such as no late night trail riding, and you must remain on numbered roads but otherwise you are free to explore. The forest service offers trail maps, but I’ve tried to save you the goose chase. You can find Osceola trail maps in the “Links” section below.

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Cross-roads.

The basic WMA map will not provide you all of the info you need to navigate the four wheeling trails, so if you have a poor sense of direction or just like to have an insurance policy, take the trail maps along for the ride. Also be aware that there are some deep mud/water holes along the way, and trees do sometimes fall across the trails. There is also a very real chance you will encounter other riders coming in the opposite direction. On this trip I came head on with a side by side on a blind curve and had to take it into the palmettos to miss them. Caution is encouraged even on familiar trails!

Many of the deeper holes seem to be where swampy areas surrounded by pine and palmetto flats cross the Osceola Forest trails. During wet seasons the water in some of these spots can be several feet deep, without considering the depth of the mud at the bottom. It is not uncommon to see a second trail bypassing some of these deeper holes. In other cases, you either go through, or go back. Your choice! I’ve seen an Exterra 4 x 4 club and a Jeep 4 x 4 club out riding the trails more than once, most of them sporting snorkel kits on their trucks. If you are going to make a serious run at the trails in a vehicle and don’t intend to backtrack, I would say the snorkels are a good addition to your equipment. During some times of the year the area is bone dry, so just pay attention to what the weather, be prepared, and go have fun!

Wildlife

The area offers a wide array of wildlife for your viewing pleasure. Alligators are an ever-present possibility in any Florida body of water, so be smart and be aware. Never feed wildlife! Black bear populations are on the increase in Florida. Years ago I never saw bears in Osceola, but over the last three years I have seen bears on three occasions.

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Bear talk.

The most recent sighting was a mother with two cubs, and is featured in one of our previous blogs. Check it out! The “no feeding” rule goes double for bears. Feeding a bear is likely to eventually end in the bear’s death when it becomes a “nuisance bear.” Florida held a bear hunt a few years ago as an effort at population control, but activists were successful in their efforts to have the next planned hunt cancelled before it occurred. No matter your position on hunting, the growing bear population and the likelihood of more human/bear interactions will mean the issue will have to be addressed at some point. Your guess is as good as mine on how the issue will ultimately be addressed. Personally, I suspect that the bear hunt will return in some form.

Keep an eye out for trees with white-painted rings around them. These are known nesting sites for the Red Cockaded Woodpecker. I see these large woodpeckers frequently in Osceola, and if you don’t see them, you are likely to hear the rather loud sound created by their pecking on trees. Once you know the sound of that and their call, you’ll always know when Red Cokaded woodpeckers are around. You may also be able to catch sight of endangered Gopher Tortoises, Eastern Indigo Snakes, or Florida Panthers. You can see a baby Gopher Turtle in one of our other blogs. Check it out if you have time. Don’t touch these animals if you do see them. They are protected for a reason. The forest is also home to more common animals such as skunks, coyotes, foxes, opossums, wild turkey and squirrels. Bobcat tracks were in abundance during this trip. Watch for snakes! I have personally seen some very large Timber Rattlers, Copper Heads and Water Moccasins in the area, along with an assortment of non-venomous species.

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Bobcats on the prowl!

Feral hogs are becoming more common in Osceola Forest. Prior to about 3 years ago, I had only seen hog sign in one area. Now I see it in most areas I frequent, and each year the sign becomes more abundant and obvious. The amount of damage a few feral hogs can do is amazing and sad at the same time.

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Feral Hog Damage in another North Florida Wildlife Management Area.

Fishing-Boating-Kayaking

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Ocean Pond boat ramp.

There is of course Ocean Pond. The pond holds many species of fresh water fish, to include Large Mouth Bass, catfish, and several popular pan fish. The Ocean Pond campground offers a boat ramp for campers, as does Hog Pen Landing. This camp does not have amenities. Cobb Camp has a couple of small ponds nestled in among the campsites which hold a few fish. I saw a few bass along the edges of the pond as I explored the area. I’ll be taking a rod and reel with me next time I go!

Hunting

As stated earlier, the area hosts  hunts from September through March. During these times camping is allowed only at designated campgrounds. Throughout the remainder of the year camping is allowed anywhere in the National Forest open to public access. When camping during hunting periods, be cautious, and personally I advise that if you are going to be using the trails even as a non-hunter, I would wear brightly colored clothing. Blaze orange would be ideal.

Foraging

Unlike most state parks, foraging in a National Park is allowed, but only for personal use. Please don’t ruin it for others by trying to forage for products to sell. There have been issues in Florida with people collecting Saw Palmetto berries by the truckload to sell to vitamin makers and the like. Taking wild forage on this scale creates a hardship on animals such as deer and bears that rely heavily on these foods for their basic survival.

As previously stated the forest area is expansive, and offers a number of different habitat types to explore. There are hardwoods scattered here and there, often along the edges of the more swampy areas, as well as cypress bogs, pine woods, and a few large planted food plots.

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A strip of flooded mixed woods amongst the pine.

As with almost anywhere, there are both mushrooms and greens to forage. The most recent trip was a bit mushroom deprived. We found a few both nothing highly prized.

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Clam Shell Mushroom

Greens such as Bull Thistle, Smilax, False Hawksbeard and Japonica were plentiful. I introduced several family members to Bull Thistle stalk, sautéed with salt and pepper, and they loved it! I gathered up a nice serving of Smilax for my own consumption and gave it a quick steam on the grill with some salt, pepper and butter. Again, they were very tasty!

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Bull Thistle. Wear heavy leather gloves and use a long blade!
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Peeling the stalk. It’s a lot like celery,
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Grilling it up! It can be eaten raw though.
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Smilax. I love this stuff. As good or better than asparagus in my book.

Biking/Hiking/Horseback

While the trails in the forest do not appear to have been designed with biking in mind, there is nothing preventing a person from using the forest roads to bike. The main forest roads are “improved” with limestone gravel. The unimproved roads would be a tough bike ride during wet periods given that there is more flooded road than dry during those times. The Ocean Pond campground has paved roads perfectly suitable for more leisurely family type rides around the immediate camping area and entry road.

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Ride the loop.
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The other side.

You could hike the 4×4 off-road trails, but bring tall waterproof snake boots and wear long pants in case you have to bust brush to get around deep spots. Throughout much of the year you are likely to need them.The Western portion of the forest offers approximately 50 miles of equestrian trails.

Osceola offers a wide array of activities for outdoors enthusiasts, is in easy reach of historical sites and the city of Jacksonville. Go out and give it a try!

Links:

Osceola National Forest Camping Reservations: https://floridastateforests.reserveamerica.com/

https://.myfwc.com/hunting/wma-brochures/

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd573704.pdf

Off-Road Vehicle Guide Book: https://www.freshfromflorida.com/content/download/31616/769009/Florida_OHV_Guidebook_2017.pdf

Where to Ride Guidebook: https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Recreation/Off-Highway-Vehicles-OHV/Where-to-Ride#nationalf

Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park – Camping With the Family

Hanna Map

Hanna Park is a 400 + acre city park in Duval County on Florida’s northeast coast. The park lies just South of Mayport Naval Station in Atlantic Beach, Florida. Atlantic Beach is part of the incorporated city of Jacksonville. Hanna Park is a rare treasure. A piece of mature, accessible oceanfront coastal hammock that has a little something for just about anyone who loves the outdoors.

Camping

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Hanna Park offers a beautiful campground that showcases great old Live Oaks, Sweet Gums, Palm trees, and many other coastal species. The campground has full camping hook-ups for tents and RV’s and other smaller campers. Some spots are more desirable than others. Checking the park map before you go helps, and while you camp for the first time be sure to look around for spots you might like to try in the future. The kids love meeting new friends around camp.

There are showers and restrooms but user be warned, they are kind of gross. They were probably fantastic in 1562 when installed by a small group of French Huguenots, but since then they have gone way downhill. Ok, I may be exaggerating on their age a little. Some of the trees and palmettos inside Hanna Park may have been around since the French landed in the area we now call Jacksonville, but pretty sure the French weren’t calling it Hanna park and the third tree on the left was the restroom. So bottom line, if you’ll need to use the facilities, bring shower shoes and some sanitizer! They do at least hose the restrooms down. Seriously… they hose them down. The campground has a small store where you can pick up a few basics and rent equipment.

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You’ll see lots of beautiful mature oaks, palms and other majestic trees.

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Mature trees in the campground itself.
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Hammock views are the best!

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One of many beautiful old oaks in the park.

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The sea fog looked cool wafting through the campground lights.

The campground provides easy access to all of the following activities.

Biking

Bring your own or rent one in the camp store. If you are going to ride the trails, a mountain bike is recommended. The technical trails are challenging, and you will need a bike that is up to the challenge.

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Hanna Park has biking opportunities for all skill levels. Whether you enjoy a leisurely ride down the hard-pack sand on the beach at low tide, riding the paved roads throughout the park, or the more technical mountain bike trails, there is something at Hanna Park for you. The mountain bike trails are marked with skill level and the direction of travel. With people riding the courses at speed, you definitely don’t want to be traveling in the wrong direction. Helmets are required for youth and advised for all.

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Nice spot to stop and smell the roses.
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Headed up the road to the lake and the next trailhead.
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Plenty of paved roads if trails aren’t your thing.
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Another cool old oak tree.
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Can you find this “Hanna” sign carved into a tree on one of the bike trails? Let us know if you do!
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The red trail is technical!

Hiking

Hannah Park offers great hiking trails that are intertwined with the bike trails, but separate from them. Unless someone is riding where they shouldn’t be, you are unlikely to run up against bikers when using the hiking trails. The hike around the Wellness Trail is approximately 6 miles.

This time of year is great because the mosquitoes are minimal, and the temperatures are relatively mild. This year has been an exception with mid to upper 70’s on NewYear’s Eve and New Year’s Day. If you’re going to be in the woods or campground, take precautions to protect yourself from ticks and be sure to check yourself occasionally, especially before bedding down for the day. Michelle and I both found one each on our legs. Hers was from camp, and I believe mine was from the trails.

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Fishing

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Hanna Park has several fresh water lakes, as well as the beach itself. You can catch an array of fresh and salt water species. Personally I wouldn’t recommend eating the fish from the lake. You can fish either salt or fresh water, but be sure that you obtain a Florida Fishing license if you are a non-resident, or if you are a resident who will be fishing from a boat, kayak, etc. If you’re lucky you might catch a glimpse or two of the otter I saw this weekend!

 

 

 

 

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Kayaking and Canoeing

Rentals are available or you can bring your own. No motors allowed! The lakes hold a few alligators, but as far as I know of there have never been any issues involving the gators at Hanna and humans. Just keep your distance and don’t feed them if you do see them.

Wildlife

You’re not likely to see large mammals such as deer or pigs here, but there are a lot of raccoons and squirrels. A raccoon walked directly into our seating area as we sat by the fire on New Year’s Eve. There has been a recent increase in coyote sightings around the beaches and Hanna Park. As with many other areas facing an increase in coyote populations, vigilance is required to ensure people and pets remain safe. Be smart and don’t feed wildlife. The park provides food and shelter for birds of many kinds. We saw a big group of birds roosting on the small island in the middle of the lake.

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Birds roosting on island in the sea fog.

Invasive Species

Be aware of the dangers of spreading invasive species. The park asks that you not move firewood from areas outside the region, or that has been elsewhere. Firewood is available for purchase on-site if you want to purchase it there. There is information available in the campground about specific pests of concern and tips on helping prevent the spread of invasive species.

Fungal Finds

We’ve had a few wet weeks, and the first couple of days of the trip brought heavy sea fog, so there were of course plenty of fungi to be found in the campground and along the trails.

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Oyster mushrooms on Magnolia cone.

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Lycoperdon – Puffball Mushrooms
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Pisolithus tintorius – aka “Dog Turd” fungus, aka “Dye Maker’s Puffball”
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Dog turd… I wonder why they call it that?
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Clathrus columnatus Stinkhorn in egg form.
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You can see the columns developing inside the “egg.”
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Beautiful edible Pleurotus mushrooms.
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Oysters from the underside.
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Oysters growing in a rosette.
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May be a hygrocybe of some kind. Honestly not sure.
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Mushroom, possibly Tramates lactinea, exuding water droplets.
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Nice shot of Pleurotus – aka oyster mushroom and mycelium on wood.
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Spongipellis pachyodon – considered inedible. New mushroom hunters often think this is Lion’s Mane or some other edible toothed mushroom. This mushroom actually has a pore surface that quickly break down to look like teeth.

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Pachyodon being attacked by slime mold. Slime mold for the win.

Play Areas and Public use Facilities

The kids will enjoy playing in the small campground parks or taking a cool splash at the water park during summer months! There are water cannons, jets that shoot up from the ground, and several other cool things for the kids to play with when the weather is warm.

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The water park is all shut down this time of the year. Looks like it has truly gone to the birds! Can you see the large vulture in this picture?
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Now can you see it?
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Main campground park.
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Indoor gathering area. May need permit. Call park for details on this and other sheltered areas.
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Lots of outdoor picnic areas and open space around lake.

The Beach

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Heavy sea fog rolled in all day.
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Shells were plentiful Sunday up above this tide line.

The beach  at Hanna Park is beautiful. The sand is clean, and on days when the wind and waves work together to uncover them, Hanna’s beaches provide some of the best shelling around. Sharks teeth are plentiful, with large specimens being found on occasion. Are you one of those people who says they can’t find shark’s teeth? Believe me; you can! They are there by the thousands. If you believe you will find them, you will. If you believe it is impossible, then I’ll come behind and find them for you!

Surfing

Hanna Park holds one of North Florida’s premier surf spots, know as the “Poles”. Thanks to the way our St. John’s River jetties build the sand up around the inlet, the Poles provide what most locals describe as the best break in our area. The jetties offer great wind protection on good days, making the form of the waves that much better. If you are a surfer, bring your board and join me at the Poles!

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Surf Gators!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this review of Hanna Park. Let us know how your experience goes there!

Resources

Hanna Park Trail Map – http://www.coj.net/departments/parks-and-recreation/recreation-and-community-programming/docs/preservation-(1)/kathryn-abbey-hanna-park-trails-maps.aspx

Florida Invasive Species Lists – https://www.fleppc.org/list/list.htm

Freshwater Fishing Regulations  http://www.eregulations.com/florida/fishing/freshwater/

Florida Freshwater Fishing Regulations http://www.eregulations.com/florida/fishing/saltwater/

Mayport Poles Surf Report & Forecast – Surfline
https://www.surfline.com/surf-report/mayport-poles/5842041f4e65fad

Park Information – http://www.coj.net/departments/parks,-recreation-and-community-services/recreation-and-community-programming/kathryn-abbey-hanna-park.aspx

Park Information – http://www.coj.net/getattachment/Departments/Parks-and-Recreation/Recreation-and-Community-Programming/Oceanfront-Parks/Kathryn-Abbey-Hanna-Park/Hanna-Park-Brochure-2-Apr-2018.pdf.aspx?lang=en-U

Cary State Forest and Campground

Recently Jake and I spent a weekend at Cary State Forest and Wildlife Management Area. We’ve been to Cary before, but hadn’t really been all that impressed. At first glance, you might feel the same. Driving through the main roads, which are mostly sand, you’re likely to think the place is just young pine flat woods and scrub. This year, we found out that is not the case. One just needs to know where to look to find some beautiful woods. While it is true that the area is mostly pine and cypress bottoms, it is the transition zones between the mature pine and swampy areas that we really enjoyed. The cypress bottoms here are not as thick as I have seen in other swamps, and can be walked when dry. This was the case on the weekend we recently spent there. Find some of those transition areas between the two types of woods and you won’t be sorry. I found that once I knew what to look for we were able to find great spots that were open and provided great views.  These woods were different from any we normally spend time in, and we really enjoyed the novelty. As with most places off the beaten path, protect yourself from biting insects such as ticks and mosquitos and watch for venomous snakes.

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During rainy periods this would be a swamp bottom. 8 inches short on rain, and you can walk it.
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More of the bottoms.
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View of transition area. The pines got larger a little further in.
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View of transition area. We really loved this spot. You could have walked quite a distance through the pines. There were game trails crossing in all directions here.

There is always a possibility that you will see wildlife when you visit a forest. There is a healthy population of feral hogs at Cary, as well as deer, turkey, gopher turtles, etc. Watch for sows with piglets, as they can be very aggressive. The area hosts management hunts through the fall and spring but remains open to other uses. If you are hiking or spending time in the woods during hunt periods, it would be wise to wear some hunter orange. You can find some cool plants on your walk, like the Sundew carnivorous plants I there.

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Little piggies running the road.
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Fox tracks in the mud.
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Beautiful Sundew specimen. One of Florida’s carnivorous plants.

Although we weren’t camping, Jake and I did check out the campground facilities, and everything appeared to be brand new. There are full shower and restroom facilities, along with powered and primitive campsites. Although I don’t recall reading anywhere that walk-up sites are available at the Cary campground, there was signage on some of the sites stating that they were walk-up sites available. All the camp sites were spacious relative to other camps I have seen and were well spaced offering a good deal of separation from the few fellow campers inhabiting the seven available spots. That weekend it looked like only two or three were taken. There is also a dump station on site. Campsite Welcome SignFee Area Sign

Primative Campsite
Primitive camp site.
Hook-up campsite
Site with full hook-up. Brand new concrete pads.

Michelle found a page on the web that talked about a little girl who haunts the forest and hangs out at the camp. Jake and I had to go check that out! Jake found her sitting on the bench in front of the restrooms. IMG_20181103_191522614She seemed nice. Pretty sure all that stuff about her killing people is nonsense. Or is it…

 

Tavernier, Florida, and the Upper Keys

 

When my wife and I met, neither of us was in a position that provided us a great deal of disposable income. When we became engaged, we knew that coming up with the money to get married would be challenging. As I’m sure many of you may know, there is really no such thing as getting married inexpensively once you decide to hold the ceremony somewhere other than a courthouse lobby.
My opinion from day one was that we should go to the Keys to get married, as we really didn’t have the money to get married at home and still afford to have a honeymoon. In my opinion combining the two in some fashion was the way to go and I felt I could afford to make it happen. Initially Michelle felt differently and wanted to marry close to home where she believed as many people could make it as possible, so we agreed that we could take a serious look at having the wedding near home. We looked at many venues, and all were well outside what we had available to spend if we also wanted to have a honeymoon trip. Decisions, decisions…
We decided to explore having our ceremony at Michelle’s grandparents’ home that had the space and a nice view, as well as the emotional bonus for the simple fact that it was her grandparents’ home. Over the first few weeks of planning my wife cried nearly every day (I have come to understand since then that this is common) as she tried to satisfy the opinions and suggestions of her fellow wedding planners. I became frustrated at seeing my wife crying so frequently and again pressed for a destination wedding. My thought was that this would reduce the size of the wedding somewhat, lower the overall expense, and still allow us to have a great wedding and amazing honeymoon. There will always be some people who can’t attend a wedding no matter where it is, and if you are unsure how many times you will be able to take such a trip I say that as a couple you do what is best for you during this special time in your life, and hope that everyone understands. After a few difficult discussions about what we could and could not afford and discussing whether the people who absolutely had to be there could be there we agreed to change direction and start looking more seriously at getting married in the Florida Keys.
To prevent a blog from becoming a novel, we settled on renting an amazing home in Tavernier, Florida on the bay side that was able to house us, our parents and the wedding party. The home was on a canal with access to the bay, had the space we needed for the wedding ceremony and had a great feel to it. We managed to have an amazing wedding thanks to help from Michelle’s parents and a couple of their best friends, along with an amazing vacation for about the same amount of money that the wedding alone would have cost us at home. Those memories will live on with us for the rest of our lives. Winner, winner chicken dinner!
Now with the back story complete, on to the reason we are writing this blog entry. We want to kick off our vacation destination and restaurant reviews now as we await our next camping trip in December. I hope you’ll find some reviews of the amazing restaurants we visited in Tavernier and the Keys useful, or maybe they will just remind you of the amazing times you spent there yourselves. If so, please feel free to comment! You may notice that we tend to be appetizer people. Both of us really like to have a variety of flavors available, and this allows us to satisfy our tastes. Coconut shrimp was a thing for us in the Keys, so if you like those, we may have a few places for you!

Anglers Cafe & Live Bait Islamorada – 90515 Old Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070

Anglers Cafe Storefront

First, let’s talk about a little place called Anglers Café & Live Bait. Islamorada. Unless you fish, you would probably never see it despite driving right past it on your way through Tavernier. It’s a small place with a limited menu. The building is divided in half between the bait and tackle shop and diner. Customers can pass freely between the two when inside, and don’t let the idea of it being a bait shop throw you off. There are no foul odors or anything gross. All the bait is handled outside. There are just a few small tables to sit at on the diner side of the building. Since we were visiting early in the day we had the BLT’s. If you like mimosa’s, rumor has it that those are pretty good as well! The bread was fresh and crusty, and the lettuce and tomatoes were cool and crisp. We went back a few times for breakfast throughout that week before taking our boat out on the bay. The owners/operators were friendly and provided great service and a little free local fishing advice. We’ll certainly stop again if we go back to Tavernier.

Our Food Selection:

BLT – $6.99

MEAT Eatery & Tap Room – 88005 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

MEAT storefront

 

MEAT, what can we say about this place? Want to know what they’re known for? MEAT! Yes, if you are a fan of some delicious, juicy, meaty goodness, this is the place for you! What’s that you say? You also enjoy fried food? Then oh my gosh, a day that involved a meal at MEAT would be a lucky day for you! Now to be honest I have never been a big fan of pimento cheese and burgers are not a food I crave very often, but this Inside-Out Juicy Lucy burger was A-Mazing! The cheese is stuffed inside the burger and the burger was cooked perfectly to order. The cheese mixing with the juicy burger was delicious! Being a fan of onion rings and bacon, they were in my opinion the perfect topper for this burger. You could add more, but why? Some things are great just the way they are, and outside of a dip in some ketchup I didn’t add anything else to mine. But you do you! The fries were crisp and tasty. I hate a soggy fry, and these were not at all soggy. We both enjoyed the flavor that little sprinkle of parmesan cheese provided.
The establishment has a selection of adult beverages, and of course sodas and tea. If you spend any time in Tavernier, this is a great choice for the meat loving crew! This is another one that we visited more than once. We ate in and picked up carry-out for the house on one occasion.

Our Food Selections:

Inside-Out Juicy Lucy Burger with fries on the side  – pimento cheese and bacon stuffed Angus burger topped with American cheese, lettuce and tomato served with house fries – $12.00
Truffled Bistro Fries with parmesan and rosemary a la carte – $7.50
Fried Onion Strings with beer cheese dipping sauce $4.50

Marker 88 – 88000 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33070Marker 88 Bouy

 

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Marker 88 was a beautiful place to have a meal. The bayfront tables were fantastic, and we loved the food. As with several of the other places we visited, we earned at least a couple of frequent flier miles with this place. The coconut shrimp was amazing. If you’re a fan of Bloodline on Netflix, you’ll recognize the scenery and tables at Marker 88. Michelle and I saw the exact table we sat at in one episode. We stopped here on the way back from Key West and picked up a carry out order to take out on the boat to eat as we watched the sunset carry us into one of our last nights in the keys. That night we were also treated to an amazing lightening show from a thunderstorm that was out over the Gulf Stream. It was such a great way to close out our week.

Our Food Selections:

Crab Cakes – $17.00
Hot Blue Crab dip – $16.00
Coconut Shrimp – $16.00

Hogfish Grill – 6810 Front St, Stock Island, FL 33040Cool Hogfish signsHogfish front

You’ll wonder where you’re going as you’re following your GPS to this hidden treasure. Luckily, they have signage to help you out! This isn’t in the upper keys, but we took a day trip to Key West and I imagine most people do the same so I’m sharing a place or two from the day trip that we really enjoyed. Hogfish is well off the beaten path in what I would describe as a keys fishing village. You’ll see lots of work trucks and some residential areas with flavor, but when you get to Hogfish, you’ll know it. The building is eclectic and seems perfectly suited to its location. Parking is slim, but we lucked out and found a spot right in front of the building as soon as we pulled up. Upon entry, it seemed as if there were more locals than we tourists, which is a good thing. We just had one appetizer at Hogfish. The fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa. The shrimp was crispy, and the sauce was sweet and spicy. The food was great, and it was worth the trip off the main drag to get there.
On our way out, we stopped at their t-shirt stand and bought a few things, including a t-shirt for each of us. Michelle absolutely loved her Hogfish t-shirt, but unfortunately soon after returning home she accidentally splashed a small spot with bleach, and of course it was in the front where it was highly visible. I hated seeing her upset over her shirt so I checked the Hogfish website in hopes they would have an on-line store, and unfortunately, they did not. Unwilling to give up I called Hogfish a couple of times over the next few days until I was able to catch a manager there and asked if I could purchase a new shirt over the phone and have it mailed to our home. He agreed to help me out, sent me pictures of the shirts they had available (not the same ones they had when we were there previously), and accepted my payment over the phone. He even went out on his own time to mail the package to me. I am so appreciative of these guys. If you find yourself in the middle or lower Florida Keys, go check them out.

Our Food selection:

Fried Dragon Shrimp with special Dragon sauce and pineapple salsa – $13.95

What’s the Fish? Rolls and More – 90775 Old Hwy Unit 6, Tavernier

What's the Fish logo

This was a small location that was easy to miss if you weren’t looking. Don’t let the small size fool you. The flavor is anything but small. We split a blackened fish sandwich. While it was not blackened New Orleans style in a white-hot cast iron skillet, the blackening seasoning was flavorful, and the fish was cooked perfectly. We enjoyed a cold soda and our sandwich outside in the tiki area. It was a nice light lunch and the service was great which is as much the reason for our positive review as the tasty fresh food. Give them a shot if you are in town, and tell them we sent you. They won’t know us, but I’m sure they’ll appreciate it anyway!

Our Food Selection:

Fresh Catch Sandwich with coleslaw and fries – $17.00

Islamorada Fish Company – 81532 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada, FL 33036

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Nurse Sharks and tarpon

It was cool to watch the tarpon and Nurse sharks being fed right off the deck where the tables are located! The little spit of land that sticks out and is lit up at night is beautiful, and offers up some great photo opportunities.

Our Selections:

Neither of us really remembers what we had there. The fish tacos and crab cakes look familiar, but that’s about all we can say about the menu, except that we know we didn’t have a bad food experience and the view alone is a good reason to stop so we don’t mind sharing.

We could offer a few other suggestions of cool things to see, but exploring is half the fun so maybe it’s best we don’t. Food isn’t cheap down there, so at least we can point you in the direction of a few places that it just may be worth it. Enjoy!

1991 Coleman Newport Pop-up Camper Leak Repair

Repairs and MaintenanceColeman camper.jpgIt’s inevitable. If you own camping equipment, particularly the kind you sleep in, you’re going to eventually deal with a leak of some kind. Metal skins flex, sealants dry, and accidents happen. In our case, the camper is a 1991 Coleman Newport that I picked up to use as my home away from home on school weekends in Gainesville a few years ago. I picked the camper up for about $1700 and I paid $15 a night to camp. It was worth every penny! Had I stayed in hotels every weekend that I needed to be in Gainesville for class, the expense over two years would have totaled more than $8000. Not a bad savings! Now we use the camper for our family camping trips, and I am so happy that I bought this little Coleman camper!

That being said, the camper has had a couple of minor issues. Over the last year or two I have noticed little piles of wood dust around the corners just under the top where it rests when closed. A quick examination told me that whatever sealant they used under the corner caps was no longer working as designed, and is allowing water intrusion at the corners which is in turn slowly deteriorating the wooden structure inside. Given that this was previously owned by people who may or may not have done their own repair attempts, I was unsure what I would find when the caps were removed. The material appeared hard and dry, and upon removal of caps, it appeared that someone had used something along the lines of construction adhesive as a stop gap solution.

So before I even started I knew I needed sealant. I searched blogs, and saw various recommendations from caulk to glues. Eventually I ran across the CORRECT method, which is to use what is called “putty tape”. The tape is a sticky, putty material separated by layers of paper. It comes in various lengths and widths, depending on the need. I purchased tape that was 1 inch wide and it was perfect for this job.

The repair process was as follows:

  • Remove screws from corner cap and place in spot where they will not be lost.
  • Use flat scraper to slowly work between corner cap and camper topper surface. In my case it is aluminum sheeting. Be careful here. The plastic may be brittle, and you don’t want to have to replace something that isn’t already broken.
  • Remove corner cap slowly.
  • Clean surfaces of inside of corner cap, and the newly exposed metal surface that will likely be covered with old dried out putty tape, and who knows what else. Keep the corner cap surface you are working on pressed against a flat hard surface so as to support the possibly brittle plastic as you scrape it. Be careful!
  • Use a stripper of your choice to get as much of the remaining old tape, caulk, etc. off of the surfaces as you can, then wipe clean with denatured alcohol if available. Use mineral spirits or thinner if not, but do clean the surface before placing new tape.
  • Place new tape. Watch spots where pieces over-lap to ensure you don’t leave gaps, especially near the top where water would run down into gaps, and subsequently into the area you are trying to protect.
  • Place small ink marks of some kind on camper just outside of screw holes where edge of corner caps will meet camper surface. This will help when you need to align the screw holes in the corner cap with the screw holes in the camper which are now covered over by the new take, and therefore can’t be seen through the screw holes in the cap. I didn’t do this, and it was more of a pain than it needed to be as a result.
  • Press the newly cleaned corner cap into place, being careful to line up the screw holes in the corner cap with the marks you made on the camper top shell. Test a screw to make sure it will start. If the holes are aligned then screw in snugly, but do not over tighten. The aluminum is soft, and the cap could crack.
  • Use a latex/rubber gloved hand, dip your finger in water and smooth out the area where the caps and roof material meet to improve the cosmetic appearance and ensure that all small holes are filled with material.
  • You’re done! Now repeat three more times.

If you have ever had to remove old caulk from a surface after it has cured, you will understand why caulk is not the material of choice for this job. It is horrible to remove if you need to do additional repairs down the road, doesn’t play well with paint (which the camper also needs badly) at all, and is also a bit messy, especially when compared to this putty tape. If you own a camper, you need this product! I paid about $15 for the role I have. It may or may not finish all four corners. A must have for anyone with a camper.

Update: Camper after all four corners repaired and whole camper painted.IMG_20190522_195455197