Florida Blog - Winter 2006

By John Kobak

Tue - Jan 3, 2006
Drove 700 miles to Peggy's sister Bobbie in Atlanta

Sun - Jan 8, 2006
After visiting with Bobbie we headed to Jekyll Island, GA. We stayed for 3 days, biking all three days. Once we biked around the entire island, a 16 mi bike ride. 

Wed - Jan 11, 2006
We then headed to the Okefenokee Swamp, took a 9 mile bike loop at the East entrance and then headed to the South entrance to camp for 4 days, canoeing & hiking. The weather turned cold & windy but by morning the prediction was for temps to warm to the low 60's.

Sun - Jan 15, 2006
The Okefenokee is the source of the Suwannee River. We drove to the highway crossing, where I left Peggy and the canoe. I took the motorhome to the first takeout 15 miles downstream. I biked back and we carried the bike in the canoe. It turned out to be a 19 mi paddle on the Suwannee River in not very fast current. It took us almost 5 hours so we just camped for the night at the takeout which is in Florida. The new motorhome is working well and we are getting just over 10 mpg.

Mon - Jan 16, 2006
We then headed to Ocean Pond campground in Osceola Nat'l Forest. We spent 2 days, bike riding, once entirely around the lake a 16 mi bike ride.

Wed - Jan 18, 2006
After a stop in Lake City for propane and stop at their library to get my e-mails. We went to White Springs, FL which is on the Suwannee River. Stephen Foster Park & Museum was built to celebrate all the songs he wrote. It turns out that he was from Pittsburgh and never saw the Suwannee River but they love him anyway. 

We rode our bikes from the camp to a new state park called Big Shoals where the largest rapid in FL lurks. The water level was fairly high and it really was a class 3 rapid at this level. I tried a short single track bike ride to a rapid called Little Shoals. It was washed out and I got lost coming back, so the 1 mile ride that I expected turned out to be 5 miles. Peggy was just starting to worry.

Fri - Jan 20, 2006
Our next stop was further downstream at Suwannee River State Park. It is at the confluence of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers. On Saturday we paddled the last 11 miles of the Withlacoochee River from Blue Springs to our State Park on the Suwannee. I did a 15 mile bike shuttle. The river was much prettier than the Suwannee and had lots of birds and turtles, but no alligators.

Sun - Jan 22, 2006
We left early for our favorite Spring Run, the Ichetucknee River. It's a short 4 mi run so we put in at the takeout and paddle upstream to the head of the Spring, have lunch and then have a leisurely float back to the RV. Peggy, caught up on her antique shopping at High Springs. The next two nights we stayed at the nearby O'Leno State Park which has the disappearing Santa Fe River. It totally disappears into the ground and comes up 5 miles later. We took a short bike ride and hike. I saw a big flock of Sandhill Cranes which are huge birds that stand about 4' high. They looked bigger than our WV turkeys.

The weather has been great. Sunny & mostly in the high 60's which is good for biking & canoeing. On two nights we got some spotty showers, two nights it got down to freezing at night but got warm later. We will stay mostly in Northern FL as long as the weather remains so warm. Campgrounds are easy to get into, no crowds. Everyone else goes South to the beaches. 

The last few days it's been close to 80o. That's getting a little warm, but it is suppose to cool into the 60's for a few days before warming again.

Tue - Jan 24, 2006
We left for the big city of Gainesville. We have been traveling for 3 weeks and are only 70 miles South of the Georgia line. We finally caught up on washing the clothes. Our VCR quit working so we stopped at Sam's club and bought a DVD/VCR combo, then headed to Home Depot to buy something to mount it with.

We are now at Paynes Prairie State Park which is just South of Gainesville. Park has lots of bike trails and is supposed to have a herd of Buffalo, but we have never seen them. We biked into the little town of Micanopy, it had 10 antique shops plus an antique mall. Very picturesque town, luckily Peggy didn't see anything that caught her fancy. Nice temperatures today, 65o, sunny but windy.

Thur - Jan 26, 2006
We tried out the paved Rails to Trails bike trail that goes between Gainesville & Hawthorne. We started at its mid point and headed to the end near Gainesville a 14 mi round trip. It runs along the East side of Paynes Prairie with views back toward the park. Still no Buffalo here either. Near the end the trail, it became more hilly & curvy than I thought it should be, so this section could not have been a rail line. We then drove to Ocala National Forest.

We decided to try out Salt Springs campground, since it was supposed to have full hookups. It was crowded with Winter campers from all over the USA. I'm not sure what the attraction is here, other than the fishing. Most of the other places we stayed were much nicer. We paddled from the spring up & down the 4 mile long river which goes to Lake George the second biggest Lake in FL. It was Sunny & cool (67o) but windy. On Saturday we bicycled for 12 mi around the area.

Sun - Jan 29, 2006
we left early to paddle the Silver River. We paddle this 5 mile river from its end right up into Silver Springs Park. The river is large and the current is fairly swift so that you have to stay in the eddies to make it upstream. It's fun paddling around the glass bottom boats and then back downstream with lots on wildlife including monkeys, alligators, birds and giant Gar & Catfish. One site was almost unbelievable, we saw over a thousand Egrets flying over the river and foraging in the reeds. They sure made lots of noise.

It takes almost 2 hours to make it upstream and less than an hour to float back to the put-in. I'll have to remember not to paddle here on a weekend next time. Lots of power boats and kayaks were doing the same thing. However the good thing was that we got on the water early and up to the Spring way before anyone else so it was only the people heading upstream that we saw while floating back.

We camped the next 4 days starting at Juniper Springs in Ocala National Forest. I remember spending New Year's Eve here with our kids over 25 years ago. The forest has had a lot of damage from two hurricanes that passed through here in 2004. They are rebuilding the nature trail and have put in nice new shower facilities.

We paddled the 7 mi Spring fed river which is usually crystal clear. A new spring popped up on the night that we arrived and washed out a stone bridge that was probably built by the CCC in 1936. This made the water a little cloudy. I biked the shuttle which was 9 miles along two busy roads but luckily they had a nice bike lane. We saw lots of turtles and a few gators. Peggy liked that paddle so much that we decided to do it again on Wed. This day was even better. The water was clear again. We saw lots of deer along the way and two very large gators. One 15' long gator blocked the entire river as he dove across to hide from us under the river bank.

Thur - Feb 2, 2006
We drove through Ocala to near the West coast and stayed in a campground in the Withlacoochee State forest. This is not the same river that we paddled last week. The other Withlacoochee River starts in GA and ends at the Suwannee River, this one starts near Disney World and runs Northwest to the Gulf. We had planned to paddle to the gulf on the Chassahowitzka River, which starts in a large spring but becomes a tidal river. Don't ya just love these names? However we got rained out when a string of storms blew through the area on Friday morning. Well it didn't just rain, it poured. It was the third wettest day ever in Tampa. They got 12" of rain and lots of flooding. We got 2" on Fri and another 3" early Saturday morning. 

We awoke on Sunday to sunny skies but the temps were only going to get to about 60o. We decided to paddle the Chassahowitzka River. The water temperature is about 72o, so the air felt warmer especially with the bright blue skies. We paddled up into a lot of little tributaries that begin as springs. There were lots of birds, we spotted one bald eagle and the coolest part was seeing a family of Manatee, Momma, Poppa and baby. They like to swim up into these freshwater springs in the Winter to keep warm. Later on we watched the Superbowl and cheered for Pittsburgh's win.

Mon - Feb 6, 2006
Also nearby is the Withlacoochee State Trail, it is a nice 12' wide paved bike trail that goes for 47 miles near the River. So on Monday we broke camp and peddled 18 miles of the trail from Floral City to Inverness and back. We saw lots of bikers, this is a very popular trail. We headed South to just East of Tampa to Hillsborough River State Park.

We awoke Tue morning to bright, sunny blue skies, so we figured that it was a good day to paddle. We had hoped we could make it about 8 mi downstream to a river access near the main highway but we were warned that it was probably impassable. It seems like they really don't want you to paddle this river. Their rental canoes just paddle downstream a few miles and return. We didn't shuttle but we threw the bike into the canoe in case we made it all the way. I could then bike back and get the RV. The river is really quite pretty and a wild river with nothing but palms and cypress tress alongside. We saw lots of big birds, even a hawk grab a small animal at one point. There were lots of big turtles plopping into the river as you floated by. There really isn't any current in the river so the only thing slowing or helping you was the wind.

After an hour, about 3 mi, we got to Dead River County Park and saw three very large gators nearby. Signs here said it was 6 more miles, but it would take 5 more hours. Well we pushed on but after about a mile the river narrowed and became totally impassable. I suppose this is what we would have to look forward to if we continued. When we saw a large sign proclaim "Forsake all hope all ye who enter here" I figured that it was probably a sign from God so after only 1-1/4 hrs we turned around. We stopped at a picnic table at Dead River Park and had a snack, then paddled back to our camp. The skies got heavily overcast and by the time we had packed up the paddling gear a light drizzle began. There goes our bike ride. 

Wed - Feb 8, 2006
We drove further South to Lithia Springs on the Alafia River very near Tampa. It's a very nice campground with campsites along the river. After we got our campsite we immediately drove to the put-in about 10 mi upstream. The bike shuttle was only 7 mi on good road. Seven years ago we came here but found the river too low because of a drought and couldn't paddle. The rain we had last weekend brought the river way up to 6' so it was a fast run back to camp. We really enjoyed the river. Lots of wildlife and little rapids here and there.

I wasn't sure that we would recognize our campsite so I hung a towel on a tree. As we paddled by 3 hours later, I never saw the towel so we paddled all the way down to the spring where we realized that we had passed our campsite. It took us 20 min, fighting the strong current, to get back upstream to our takeout. It was a sunny but cool day with temps in the 60's. 

Fri - Feb 10, 2006
We stayed for one more night at Lithia Springs but should have stayed for the whole weekend. We left early on Friday morning and hoped to snag a campsite at Myakka State Park. But when we got there we found the place full with no promise of a campsite in the near future. We called other state parks in the area and found the same there also. I guess we finally got to the popular part of Florida. Anywhere south of Tampa seems to be full up. 

We decided, we're here so that we may as well paddle the lower Myakka river. It is mostly lakes or slow moving water so that you paddle downstream until you have used up half your allotted time and then paddle back. It's an alligator extravaganza. I've not seen bigger nor more alligators than anywhere else. We started counting as we paddled and were at about 25 when we paddled into a lake called deep hole. It must be a popular vacation spot for gators. At least 50, without exaggerating, were sunning themselves on the beach. We're glad that they didn't all decide to eat us at once or we would have never had a chance. We paddled 3-1/2 hrs in all and Peggy was tired and cranky, especially when she knew that we had no place to camp for the night. We drove around the area looking for a nice hidden river access spot but finally ended up in the North park entrance parking lot. We got a good night's sleep and left early in hopes to get a site on the Okeechobee waterway. Well if we hadn't stopped at a Wal-Mart and to get gas we may have got their last campsite. We ended up in a trailer park in Punta Gorda for the night. It was a nice warm day close to 80o, but a cold front is blowing in and the forecast is for highs only in the 50's for a few days.

Sun - Feb 12, 2006
We had better campground luck on Sunday, a call back to Okeechobee found that a campsite was available so we quickly packed and drove back for the next three days. The site is right on the waterway next to a lock on the Caloosahatchee River. However the weather turned so cold & windy that we stayed in most of the day catching up on our phone calls. It is supposed to be cold for the next few days before returning to normal. Of course it could be worse, we could be in the Northeast for the worse snowstorm of the century.

On Monday, we enjoyed the bright sunny but cool weather (52oF) and rode our bikes 16 miles through the fancy neighborhoods of million dollar homes. We saw a 1/2 acre vacant lot on the Caloosahatchee River that was for sale for over $600K. I guess our campground has Million dollar views. Monday night we had a frost, which was unusual for this far South in Florida. On Tuesday we decided to paddle our canoe down the waterway and up the little Telegraph Creek. It was a very scenic, 3 hour paddle (7 mi round trip total). We saw llamas, donkeys, sheep, horses and cows, on a small farm in Telegraph Estates. But then we saw real wildlife. A big owl flew right over us and we saw a Florida Panther laying on a overhanging tree. When he saw us, he backed down the tree and ran away. There are less than 100 of these big cats left in FL. We saw lots of birds but no alligators. It was bright and sunny all day and when we got back the temperatures had warmed to the high 60's.

Wed - Feb 15, 2006
We left early and drove over to meet up with our friends Lou & Dessey Corpas in Cape Coral and we all drove to Joe & Sue Sivo's condo in Naples. We had a nice boat ride with all of our ClevoXX friends along the inland waterway, then had a meeting and went out for dinner. It was a fun time seeing all of our friends. We spent the night in our RV at Corpas's daughter's house and left early the next morning. A three day holiday weekend was coming up so we decided to head back to Lithia Springs near Tampa since they were predicting a week of warm weather with temperatures in the high 70's, and it wasn't crowded when we were here last week. 

Thur - Feb 16, 2006
When checking in I asked if they found a set of keys in our campsite that I lost last week. They found them and were holding them for us. We took it easy on Thursday and decided to paddle the Alafia River on Friday, since we enjoyed it last week. The water had dropped to 4.3'. It was hot & sunny, 78o. We passed a couple of canoes near the beginning but didn't see anyone else the whole day. Lots or turtles & birds but no gators. It took us about 3 hours with a half hour lunch break. There are lots of little riffles at this level which were all washed out at the higher level. Best part was that we didn't miss the takeout this time.

On Saturday and Sunday we decided not to paddle because there were a lot of other paddlers on this President's Holiday weekend. We found that there was a housing development within a few miles from our camp that had lots of bike trails. We biked 12 miles on Saturday and 16 miles on Sunday covering most of the area of Fishhawk Ranch. They plan to build 5000 homes here, and it is a very distant suburb to Tampa. I'll bet this is a future traffic jam waiting to happen.

Mon - Feb 20, 2006
On Monday we decided to paddle the 6 1/2 mi section of the Alafia River downstream from our campsite. We awoke to very foggy conditions but by the time I shuttled the RV to the takeout and did a 9 mi bike ride back to camp the fog had lifted. The first 3 1/2 mi were scenic with a few riffles at 4.1' water level. However, once the river channel deepened, there were lots of houses and boat docks and the river was very dirty. After our 1 1/2 hr paddle we headed to our next campground in the Withlacoochee State Forest called Silver Lake, which is a wide spot on the Withlacoochee River South.

Tue - Feb 21, 2006
we did a really long bike ride, a total of 29 miles. We went from our campground to Floral City and back on the paved Withlacoochee State Bike Trail. Peggy was pretty tired but she made it without too much complaining. I told her what ever doesn't kill her makes her stronger. She didn't smile.

Wednesday, another canoe day. Peggy pulled herself out of bed, still tired from her lttle bike ride so I cooked her a pancake & sausage breakfast. That got her going. We decided to do a up and back paddle on the Withlacoochee. It took us 3 hours to do the 7 mile paddle. Saw no gators but lots of turtles and hawks. We rested the remainder of the day and packed to get an early start heading further North. 

Thur - Feb 23, 2006
I checked all the state parks that we liked and found that all the reserveable sites were taken. Since the weekend was approaching we felt that the couple of first come sites would be taken also. So we figured we may as well head to Ocean Pond National Forest Campground just East of Lake City, FL. They do not take any reservations. It is only 25 mi South of the GA line so we will stay here until Sunday. After our three hour ride we found the campground almost empty.

The weather here is still warm, highs here are 72oF, but we got into some light rain driving North and got heavier showers in the afternoon as a cool front blew in. A good rest day, so I decided to wash and wax the RV between rain showers.

Fri - Feb 24, 2006
We awoke to sunny skies and cool temperatures. It warmed up quickly so that by 9:30 AM we were ready for our bike tour. We went to Olustee Civil War Battlefield and then to an old restored train station museum. We biked on a few very soft roads that were short cuts but really bogged Peggy down. Our trip was only 14 mi but felt much further with 4 miles of soft sandy roads.

If you want to read a Summary of RV'ing in Florida, Click this link.

Return to trip report page