I guess you could say that we’ve entered the second stage of our Florida journey. We traded in the white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters of the panhandle for a pretty cool jungle-like environment smack in the middle of the state at Highlands Hammock State Park. Originally we were supposed to be at Manatee Springs State Park this week, but without giving you all the nitty gritty details, I’ll just say that the cell service was pretty sucky there, so after a long day of driving we ended up here. Since we’re not far from my grandmother’s house where we’ll have our Christmas gathering, it was the most convenient place to go after Manatee Springs didn’t work out (but sadly, there are no manatees here).
While we like our particular site at Highlands Hammock, I would give the campground an overall rating of a B, maybe even a B-. The layout is kind of strange, with little or no separation between the sites. We have one of the few sites with some foliage on either side (the pull-thrus are the best). The sites in the middle of the campground are basically a big mishmash of picnic tables and fire pits. In some cases it’s impossible to tell where one site ends and where the next one begins. A lot of the sites are also too small for even our small trailer to fit into.
Highlands Hammock is one of the original Florida State Parks. It was established in the early 1930s and built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). I suspect the fact that it was constructed in an era before 45′ motorhomes with a trillion slide outs is a contributing factor to the small sites. In some respects, I like that it’s an older campground. You can still see the original buildings built by the CCC, and there’s even a CCC museum that we plan to visit this weekend. Also, judging by how built up the surrounding area is, I doubt this place would even be here had it not been preserved as a park so many years ago. Which would be such a shame, because while the campground leaves a bit to be desired, the rest of the park is amazing.
The “Hammock” referred to in the name of the park is not the kind that you laze around in under the shade of a tree while sipping a daiquiri, but instead a type of ecosystem. There are quite a few of them in Florida, particularly in the Everglades and the Keys. In the most basic terms, a Hammock is a stand of trees surrounded by some type of contrasting ecosystem. Here we have a forest of mixed broadleaf trees surrounded by pinelands and marshes. You could also say that we have a forest surrounded by housing developments and chain stores, but I don’t think that really fits the true definition.
We’ve been getting out and exploring the hammock every afternoon. Biking along the main road and hiking the many trails with names like the Ancient Hammock Trail, the Fern Garden Trail, the Wild Orange Grove Trail, and our very favorite, the Cypress Swamp Trail. This half mile loop travels along a wooden boardwalk through a swamp filled with Bald Cypress trees.
The other trails are pretty special too. There’s the Fern Garden trail…
The Hickory trail with its slanted single railing boardwalk…
And the Wild Orange Grove trail where we spotted bright oranges and giant yellow grapefruit tucked among the palm trees.
The only thing we haven’t seen here at the park is wildlife (except for lots of deer & squirrels, neither of which I consider wildlife). We’re not too disappointed through because tomorrow we have an exciting outing planned where we are sure to spot lots of wildlife. More about that on Monday.
Besides those sugar sand beaches, THIS scenery is why I would enjoy some time in FL. What fab plant life! I can’t wait to see what wildlife you encounter!
This is a side of Florida that I have never seen before. It’s a pretty special place.
Wow, would have loved to see Manatee Springs Park, I spent many weekends there as a kid, but haven’t been back since. Always want to take the kids, but always find something else to do. This park looks very nice, though. Great shots and blog.
It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. Guess we’ll have to try again some other time.
We’ve been to both parks and concur with what you’ve said although with our booster we were able to be on line and use our phones at Manatee. We loved the springs there but also loved Highlands and its trails. We’ll be there again later this winter. Your great pictures remind me why I love to go back.
Our booster is not working at all these days, so we couldn’t get enough signal to even make a phone call. I am happy that we got extra time here though, because the trails and swamps are pretty special.
Myakka state park has a new campground with full hookups and large mostly private sites, but only if you stay in the new camps, the old sites are… not full hookups and not very private.. just in case you are near Sarasota, cell service there should be good also. And it you consider gators wildlife – you will see wild life, lots to do and near a beach…just saying.
I’ve heard of that campground. Don’t think we’ll make it over that way this time around, but one to put on the list for our next FL visit. And yes, I do consider gators to be wildlife!
Stunning! Love the lush vegetation. Did you notice the CCC work on the sides of the road in Bandelier.
After spending so much time in the southwest, I must admit that we are enjoying all the green. I don’t remember the CCC work in Bandelier, but we have seen evidence of their hard work all over the country.
Those trails are beautiful! We stayed at Manatee Springs a couple of times last winter (beautiful springs and we enjoyed kayaking into the Suwannee River) but from your photos, I think you did better staying at Highlands Hammock. Looks like a place we would enjoy.
From what we saw of Manatee Springs, it’s definitely prettier here, but I really wanted to see those manatees :)
Looks like a wonderful swamp!
Florida has certainly given us a whole new appreciation of swamps!