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.