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Weekend Camping Getaways

Natural Times, April/May/June 2014

By Crystal Wakoa

If you want to make memories and instill a love of the outdoors in your kids, take them camping. No kids? Take your sweetheart, or a group of friends. A weekend is all the time you need to fall in love with north Florida all over again in one of the many fine State Park campgrounds near Tallahassee. Here are four of my favorites.

St. George Island State Park, just 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee, offers miles of unspoiled beach and all the fun that goes with it: swimming, sea kayaking, beachcombing, sunbathing, bird watching, boating and sand castle making. Drive past the rental houses to the east end of the island to access the State Park with its 60 full-hookup campsites for both tents and trailers. Throw your bikes on the back of the car to ride the roads or the paved trail from the State Park entrance to the commercial district for an ice cream or restaurant outing.

A stone’s throw further west (40 miles) from St. George Island is T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park, ideally situated at the end of Cape San Blas, south of the town of Port St. Joe. This Park’s sugar sand beaches and barrier dunes offer similar amenities as at St. George, but with a 1900 acre wilderness preserve, the feel of the Park is wilder and more remote. The 119 camping sites are connected to the award-winning beach by a short boardwalk trail across the dunes. For beach lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this.

You prefer fresh water to salt water? Head south on Highway 319 past Sopchoppy, to Ochlockonee River State Park, a gem of a park with an intimate feel and quiet ambience, at the confluence of the Ochlockonee and Dead Rivers. Opportunity abounds for swimming, fishing, boating and kayaking. Thirty campsites with electric and water hookups are nestled amid a shady forest. Wildlife perk: the Park is a good viewing site for the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.

Torreya State Park, named for a rare species of tree found only along the high bluffs of the Apalachicola River, is a biodiversity hotspot just an hour’s drive west of Tallahassee. Camping and fabulous hiking in the lush hardwood forest are the main activities. The 16-mile trail system descends into steep ravines and rises to 150-foot high bluffs—the terrain, flora and fauna more similar to the Appalachian Mountains than our usual experience of Florida. If you’re looking for a secluded place to pitch your tent off the beaten track, Torreya offers three primitive camping areas that must be hiked into. Thirty full hookup campsites are also available.

After swimming and beachcombing, hiking and kayaking, settle in with your loved ones around the campfire with some marshmallows and songs. Look up at the night sky and thank your lucky stars that you live in beautiful north Florida with its stellar State Parks system. Be a happy camper.

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