Woodpecker Trail

I can always count on John to find new trails to hike or ride. Last week he suggested we ride the Woodpecker Trail in White Springs. That meant setting the alarm clock for 6:00 (during the first week of school), but we had a two hour drive ahead of us and didn’t want to ride in the heat of the day.

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Since Woodpecker Trail is only seven miles round trip, we decided to not only ride, but to also hike to Big Shoals, Florida’s largest whitewater rapids.

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It’s an easy mile to the shoals, but since we were the first on the trail, we had the pleasure of breaking through all of the spider webs. I looked like a crazy Ninja chopping my way down the path trying to avoid having webs across my face. And after a short while, John took the lead and handled the webs and spiders blocking the way.

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The overlook provided a good view of the Class III whitewater. But of course, we had to climb down the rocks to get a closer view. image

The first time we were on this part of the Suwannee River was in the early 1980s…in a canoe. We watched two canoes attempt to manuever through the rapids unsuccessfully, but that didn’t prevent us from making our own attempt. I’m pleased to say we paddled through without any difficulty and plucked the items from the overturned canoes out of the river tossing them on the bank so they could be retrieved by their owners once they were back on the water.

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When we completed the hike and returned to our car, we unloaded the bikes and started down the paved trail.

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Within the first couple hundred feet, we found the trail blocked by a tree upended in a recent storm, but John wouldn’t let me use that as an excuse to call it a day.

 

The 3.4 mile Woodpecker Trail connects the Big Shoals and the Little Shoals through a mostly wooded path with bridges crossing tributaries of the Suwannee.

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Big Shoals State Park offers over 28 miles of wooded trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding and birding, and for those interested in water, there’s a canoe launch and plenty of opportunities for fishing.

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However, be aware that those who own the property adjacent to the park don’t take lightly to trespassers.

It’s a VanFleet Kind of Day

It’s been hard to get motivated to go for a bike ride in the heat of the summer, but when we decided it was time for a twenty mile ride, I knew immediately I wanted to ride the Van Fleet Trail in Mable. It’s a trail I described as flat, straight and shady after riding it the first time a couple of years ago, and those qualities make it possible to not only survive, but to enjoy a summer ride.

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We didn’t start as early as we should to avoid the heat, but we were riding by 8:45 on a beautiful sunny morning.

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During our drive to Mable, we heard a story on NPR about the efforts of Rangers at our National Parks trying to insure that park visitors are able to enjoy the natural sounds as well as the beauty of the landscape and wildlife. Despite the location of the trailhead only a couple hundred yards off SR 50, the sounds of nature were quite evident on the Van Fleet trail. The chirping of insects, singing of birds and bellowing of alligators were just a few of the sounds piercing the otherwise silence of the ride.

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And what a contrast of wildlife – a Pygmy Rattler and a Magnolia bloom.

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As a bonus, I burned 600 calories in less than two hours. It really was a Van Fleet kind of day.

Azalea Trail

Since we would be meeting our daughter in Palatka on Monday to return her dog after a weekend of dog sitting, we decided to spend some time at Ravine Gardens State Park. It seemed like a good opportunity to take a hike in the garden known for its azaleas.

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Unlike most Florida parks, the trails at Ravine Gardens include stairs to accommodate the step drops along the ravine as well as a couple of suspension bridges. The trail also commemorates William Bartram’s eighteenth century travels in Florida.

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We decided on the Azalea Trail instead of the Spring Trail in hopes of being immersed in flowers. We certainly saw our share of blooming plants along the trail, but we obviously missed the peak season.

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On March 4-6, the park held its annual Azalea Days festival, the 70th year of this event. From what we saw, the festival was timed perfectly for the maximum color from their more than 100,000 flowering plants.

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Even on the Azalea Trail, we passed the spring, a stream and pond.

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And how does a tree grow like this? Looking for a short, two mile trail that’s in a beautiful and unusual setting? Then Ravine Gardens Park may be the place for you.

 

 

Spring Break is Spring Time: 9 Springs You Need to Visit

For the first time in more than fifty years the words Spring Break don’t have the same meaning. Since 1964, I’ve either been a student or a teacher looking forward to the days away from school, not only a well deserved and needed break from the routine of academic activities, but also as a time to enjoy doing something outdoors.

I don’t remember being disappointed during Spring Break as a student. In middle school anything outside and with friends seemed absolutely perfect. In high school, living less than two miles from Pompano Beach guaranteed a good time and returning to South Florida with friends during college was the definition of Spring Break.

However while the time off was appreciated, as a teacher the week rarely lived up to the anticipation. This may be because we frequently planned camping trips in the Panhandle or farther north only to be faced with cool or cold or rainy weather and not enough time in the sunshine outside. Even when we vowed to only head south we were frequently disappointed with rainy and windy and sometimes cold weather after spending too much on high priced accomodations in popular south Florida locales.

Now that any week can serve as Spring Break, the answer to the Spring Break getaway seems simple. Relax. Don’t over plan. Don’t spend a lot of money. Living in Florida, the options are numerous. Spring Break is the perfect time for day trips especially to our state’s springs.

Florida’s Best Springs for Spring Break :

DeLeon Springs State Park

Make and eat pancakes at Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Gridlehouse and then take a swim in the spring or drive a few miles down the road to Orange Springs and visit Blue Springs State Park and look for manatee.

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Eat pancakes at DeLeon Springs State Park
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Look for manatee from the boardwalk at Blue Springs

Weeki Wache Springs State Park

Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle down the river at Weeki Wachee Springs or if mermaids are more your style, go in the park and watch the mermaid show.

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Rent a canoe or kayak at Weeki Wache

Silver Springs State Park

Ride the glass bottom boat at Silver Springs or this is another place you can go for a short canoe trip. This is also a great place for a picnic lunch followed by ice cream at Paradise Treats.

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Glass bottom boat tours are $11 for adult and $10 for seniors and children

Alexander Springs Recreation Area

Snorkle in Alexander Springs, part of the Ocala National Forest. Since it’s a spring, the water temperature is 72° year round so it’s nearly perfect. This is also a great place for a cookout either before or after you get in the water.

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Swim, snorkel and cookout at Alexander Springs

Gemini Springs and Green Springs

Bike from Gemini Springs to Green Springs and enjoy the parks. Swimming is not permitted in either spring but they’re both beautiful bodies of water and there are trails to walk and a picnic area at Gemini Springs. The length of the Spring to Spring Trail is 17 miles, but the section that connects these two parks is less than 5 miles one way.

Rainbow Springs State Park

Visit the spring head and then go tubing down the Rainbow River. Tubers are not permitted to enter the headsprings, but canoes and kayaks can be rented in the park and swimming is allowed in the spring as well. Tube rentals are available at K.P Hole. Click here for more information on tubing the Rainbow River.

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Juniper Springs

Located in the Ocala National Forest, the 7.3 mile run at Juniper Springs is not recommended for beginners, but it is not a difficult paddle since you’re moving with the current. The most difficult part of the trip is navigating around low lying trees and brush. Pick up is included with the cost of a canoe rental. Make sure to bring plenty of water and snacks since the trip may take up to 4 hours.

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Homosassa  Springs Wildlife State Park

Manatee are the stars at Homosassa Springs since they swim around the people in the park’s fish bowl underwater observatory or should that be people bowl? There are three manatee shows daily and the park’s home to a number of Florida species, and don’t forget to take a ride on the boat tour…it’s included in the price of admission. There’s even an egg hunt on Saturday, March 26th at 8:00.

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Spring Break is spring time in Florida.