Since my last blog post I've moved to the Florida panhandle, and so far I have nothing but love for this state! I was Googling things to do for fun in the area and noticed there's a plethora of state parks here. For Labor Day I asked the kids if they wanted to go hiking or go to the beach, and thankfully it was a unanimous "hiking, mommy!" (There's still plenty of tourists here and they all want the sunny beaches.) We chose Blackwater River State Park simply because it looked small on the map and it wasn't right on the coast, so we hoped there wouldn't be tons of tourists there.
Park entry only costs $4 per vehicle. Pretty cheap for a whole day of fun, if you ask me. There were kayak, tube, and canoe rentals available. We saw lots of campers and people fishing although I was surprised we didn't run into a single hiker on any of the trails. Blackwater has over 600 acres of land and lots of signs warning to not touch or attempt to feed alligators. I'll admit to being a little disappointed we didn't see any. There was a lot of beautiful trees and foliage, so I was surprised I saw almost no birds, bugs, or animals. Especially since everything was relatively undisturbed.
Being a Midwesterner I found it so strange to be walking through the woods surrounded by trees yet walking on a sandy path. The woods I've been in previously have all had dirt floors. It was a sure sign that I was in a southern state park! That and the palm trees. It was a pretty awesome first time experience for me. I found it so undisturbingly beautiful and calm in a way I had never experienced before.
^My sweet Salem doing her best bear impression. The kids were hoping to see a black bear too, which [thankfully] we did not haha.
So Blackwater River State park opened in 1968 with 360 acres and in 1981 the Florida Forest services gave it an additional 230 acres of land. Something I found interesting was that the park brochure boasted of hosting 20 caches for geocaching within the park. I did that back in the day and thought geocaching was a thing of the past! I think it's pretty cool that a state park would incorporate an activity like that- just one more thing to try and get more people outdoors and off their couches.
The one slightly disappointing part of the day was that the longest trail was inaccessible due to flooding. Parts of it was completely swamped and I just wasn't brave enough to attempt wading through it, especially with the alligator signs everywhere. But with that being said, we still did the shorter trails and spent a solid four hours hiking (at a leisurely pace, taking time to stop, eat lunch, and let the kids enjoy the playground). I'm guessing this isn't the norm though, keeping in mind that it's early hurricane season and the panhandle had just gotten a lot of rain.
"Rocks and waters, etc., are words of God, and so are men. We all flow from one fountain Soul. All are expressions of one Love." - John Muir, the father of our national parks system
There was a fun little park near one of the camping areas. It wasn't too spectacular but enough for the kids to burn off some energy and take a break from hiking. There were bathrooms and a couple picnic tables; it was quiet and empty, really the perfect setting for a picnic lunch with our little family. I was so surprised there weren't swarms of people at this gem of a place.
Something that surprised me was the lack of bugs. I came armed with bug spray, fully prepared to engage in war with mosquitos. But, there were none on the hike. I have no idea where all the bugs were. They certainly weren't in the woods. I don't know if it's a seasonal thing or perhaps the area in particular, but we just didn't get bit up. (Not a complaint though!)
The river was the one part of the park that was packed; it was filled with tubers and kayakers both in the water and along the shore. We didn't explore much of that area, mainly because the kids wanted to hike. I'll be honest, because I live so close to the actual ocean I don't really understand the fascination with river water activities. Also, I'm a little bit afraid of alligators (haha). I know most likely they would be hiding in the many acres of swamp and woods within the park that are restricted from public access, but still the thought frightened me. So tubing just wasn't my vibe.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day. Blackwater River State Park is an impressive little place. It offers a good variety of activities for the family or individuals, it's exceptionally well cared for, and it offers a place of quiet and tranquility away from all the tourists. I highly highly recommend it.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." - John Muir