“Marching” Thru The Panhandle – Friday, Feb 28 to Friday, April 4, 2014

In March, we continued to explore the Panhandle of Florida.  We continued west along the Gulf Coast toward Fort Pickens near Pensacola before making the turn north and back east toward Fernandina Beach.  Unfortunately, the weather this winter did not present the Panhandle to us in a favorable light;o((  Can you say COLD (for Florida), WINDY and WET!!!  Of course, compared to the rest of the country, we had it made:o))  But for Florida, it was a long winter!!
March Travel Map

A –Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Santa Rosa, Florida
B – Fort Pickens NP Campground, Gulf Breeze, Florida
C – Blackwater River State Park, Holt, Florida
D – Torreya State Park, Bristol, Florida
E – Suwannee River State Park, Live Oak, Florida
F – Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach, Florida

(A)  Friday, Feb 28 to Wed, Mar, 5 – Topsail Hill Preserve SP, Santa Rosa, FL

00a - Topsail Beach SP - Site 123 backs up to woods
Topsail Hill SP was just a 10 mile drive down the road from Grayton Beach SP!! 

Topsail Hill SP was once a private RV resort and they are still maintaining that atmosphere.  All the sites are paved, 50amp FHU.  There is a pool, laundry and camp store. 
We had a nice site, #123, in the back corner of the campground. 
While this campground is lovely,  we probably will not come back. 
It is just too much trouble to get to the beach:o(
01 - Route to the beach
It is a one mile walk to the beach from the tram stop and about 1/2 mile from our site to the tram stop. 
You can ride bikes, but NO cars allowed. In order to get our chairs and fishing stuff to the beach, we had to drive to the tram stop, wait for the tram which only runs once an hour and when we got to the beach, it was another quarter mile walk to the beach.  Then you reverse the process to get back;o((
The park did have good bike riding and hiking trails. 
However, we liked Grayton Beach and St. George State Parks much better. They both have much better beach access and a more “State Park” feel:o))
We had rain three out of the five days we were here ;-((
One of the rainy days, we decided to finally go to Crestview, Florida to see where we live;o)
Passport America – My RV Mail04 - My RV Mail Crestview, FL
5715 – #1217 – Home Sweet Home !!
04b - 5715 our building  04c - The mailroom  04d - 1217 Home Sweet Home
When it wasn’t raining, we did get the chance to enjoy the beach and do a little fishing!!
  02b - Topsail Hill SP Beach  02 - Fishing  03 - Dolphin on Beach
Still waiting to do a little “Catching” ;o))
(B)  Wed, Mar, 5  to Wed, Mar 19 – Fort Pickens NP , Gulf Breeze, FL00a - Fort Pickens Site 47

Fort Pickens is a beautiful place, but we were here at the wrong time and in the wrong campground.  We reserved 2 weeks as we figured this would be one of our favorite campgrounds.
Spring Break
Unfortunately, the weather was just too cold and rainy to enjoy the beautiful beaches or go fishing;o((  Also, we were in loop C of the larger campground which was very tight with very small sites.   

If we come back, we would only come if we could get a site in Loop A, the smaller campground. 

One other note… do not come during Spring Break!!
Now having said all the bad stuff, let me share a few photos of this beautiful place. 
Click on any photo to enlarge or hover your mouse on any photo for a description.
Sand along Road to Fort PickensBeautiful Beach and GulfSand DunesSunset
Fort Pickens is fun to walk through and walk the wall around it!!
Fort Pickens MapFort Pickens - Touring the FortFort Pickens - Wall Walking
Nature was EVERYWHERE!!
Nature - Pelican on Fishing PierNature - OspreyKilldeerNature - Fluffy Great Blue HeronNature - Great Blue Heron NestNature - Great Blue Heron RookeryNature - ArmadilloNature - Redwing Blackbird
Lots to see along Pensacola Bay!!
Dive Platform moving through the harborEgyptian Training Ship entering the harborFort Pickens Fishing PierLarge Telecommunication Rig
We’ll be back when we can enjoy being outside…
it is BEAUTIFUL!!!

(C)  Wed, Mar 19 to Sun, Mar 23 – Blackwater River SP, Holt, FL

This is a little gem of a campground in the State Park System.  It has recently been remodeled and has all new FHU sites and a beautiful new bath house!!  They are in the process of remodeling the day use area as well.  Make note, there are two loops in the campground.  We were on site 18 in the loop without a playground… much quieter;o))

00- Site 18 - Blackwater River State Park

Unfortunately, all the rain we had at Fort Pickens came through here as well and swelled the banks of the Blackwater River to overflowing.  We drove through about a foot of water to get to the campground which sits up on a ridge above the river fortunately:-) 
00b - We were greet by the Blackwater River!!!

All of our northern stops across the Panhandle are just for 4 nights each.  We wanted to check out different things at different parks.  Our reason for coming here was to kayak the Blackwater River and ride the Blackwater Heritage Bike Trail.  Unfortunately, there would be no kayaking the river while we were here;o((  But we did get to ride the bike trail.
Blackwater Heritage Bike Trail Visitor CenterBlackwater Heritage Bike Trail HistoryBike Trail Ends at the Naval Air StationBlackwater Heritage Bike Trail - 16 miles round trip
The Florida Trail passes quite close to the campground and we spent a day hiking there.
Florida Trail Hike 2 Florida Trail Hike 3 Florida Trail Hike 4
This is a lovely state park and campground…
we hope to return and kayak the Blackwater River!

(D)  Sun, Mar 23 to Thurs, Mar 27 – Torreya SP, Bristol, FL

We chose Torreya SP because of the hiking.   The hikes at Torreya are described as Appalachian style hikes… Yep, they were…lots of Ups and Downs!! You did not think you were in Florida!!

Torreya State Park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s.  The campground is small and more rustic than others.  Big Rigs need to be selective about their site selection.  We were in Site 16 and just fit even though the site is 60 feet long.  Much of the site is just not useable.  If we returned, we would probably choose sites 25-29.  They are much more level, wide and 50amp:o))

00c - Torreya State Park Map

There are two trails as long as 7 miles (the orange trails) and some short spur trails (the blue trails) as well. You do not feel like you are in Florida, but rather in the Appalachian Mountains. There are deep ravines, streams, red sandstone cliffs and bluffs that overlook the Apalachicola river, Florida’s largest river. The park is named for the extremely rare species of Torreya tree that only grows on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River.

Click on any photo to enlarge or hover your mouse on any photo for a description.
01 - Torreya Tree Sign  01b - Torreya Tree

Bill and I hiked the lower half of the trail that circles the campground the first day! We left from the campground, walked to the Picnic Area and using blue trails hiked to Stone Bridge.  There we picked up the Orange Trail and followed it clockwise to MM1.5 where we picked up the Blue Trail back to the campground.  It was a total of 6.5 miles.  Day Two, we hike the other half of the Orange Trail from MM1.5 to Stone Bridge and back to the campground. That hike was 5.5 miles.
00d - Torreya State Park Map

Both hikes were quite strenuous and really reminded us of hiking in Acadia NP!!!  It was so hard to believe we were in Florida with all the ups, downs and changing environments.
Hiking - Passing the State Park EntranceHiking - Stone BridgeHiking - along  Rock WallHiking - Which Way To GOHiking - down the hillHiking - Heading back upHiking - The Apalachicola RiverHiking - Through the narrows
Torreya SP was built by the CCC and one of the projects they completed was moving
The Gregory House from its spot along the Apalachicola River
to this bluff in the state park above the river.
02 - The Gregory House
Click Here to read about the History of The Gregory House which is open daily for tours.
We really enjoyed Torreya State Park
will return to hike again!!

(E)   Thurs, Mar 27 to Mon, Mar 31 – Suwannee River SP, Live Oak, FL

This was our first trip to Suwannee River SP.  Our reason for coming was to kayak the Suwannee River.  Well… again, because of all the rain, that was not going to happen;o)) The Boat Launch is closed;o((

00a - Suwannee RiverBoat Launch Area is closed
I took the photo on the left and pulled the photo on the right from the State Park web site!!Boat Launch under waterBoat Launch Area picture from State Park Web Site

Normally, the Suwannee River is a slow moving, lazy river… but right now, it is over it banks and running at about 8 mph.  No way you could paddle against that current!!

Never having been here before, we lucked out and got a very nice site:o)
    00 -  Suwannee River State Park Campground 00 - Site 28 - Suwannee River State Park
It is a small campground with some tight sites, but it does have 50amp FHU sites!! 
We spent our time hiking and biking.  There are several hikes within the park and the Florida Trail is just outside the park and connected to the state park by a hike over the old railroad bridge across the river.  Our first full day, we headed to the Florida Trail first.
00a - Hiking - Followed Blue Trail to the Florida Trail00b - Hiking - Old Railroad Bridge00c - Hiking - Across the Suwannee River00d - Hiking - Crossed the Railroad Tracks on the Florida Trail00e - Hiking - Train passed right after we crossed the tracks00f - Hiking - follow trail a couples miles to old cemetery
At the end of our hike, as we were crossing the railroad bridge back to the state park,
we were treated to a visit from this Swallow-tailed Kite soaring over the river!!
00g - Hiking - Swallow Tailed Kite00h - Hiking - Swallow Tailed Kite 
Before heading back to the campground for lunch,
we made a short detour to find a geocache on the Sandhill Trail;o)
01a - Sandhill Trail - Geocaching 01b - Sandhill Trail - Found the cache
There are two more hikes within the state park: The River Trail and The Lime Sink Trail.
After lunch, we headed down The River Trail.
02a - Hiking - Start of the River Trail02b - Hiking - Pretty Hike along the Suwannee River02c - Hiking - Beautiful River Views02d - Hiking - River Trail ends at Balance Rock
The trail ends at Balance Rock and we planned to return by way of The Lime Sink Trail.
However, The Lime Sink Trail was under water, so we retrace our hike along The River Trail.
Day 2, we were rained out;o((
00- Rain, Rain, Go Away!!!
Our third and final day at Suwannee River SP, we drove about 35 miles to Branford, Florida to bike The Suwannee River Greenway Bike Trail.  The trailhead is located at Ivey Memorial Park, the city park.
01a - bike - Ivey Memorial Park Trailhead01b - bike - first couples miles through the trees01c - bike - most of trail is along the highway;o((01d - bike - Looked like a desert in places!!01d - bike - You just can't take Bill ANYWHERE!!01e - bike - Beautiful lunch spot at end of trail
We were glad to get some exercise, but the trail is not one we would come back to ride.
Suwannee River SP was OK. 
If we come back to kayak the Suwannee River,
we will probably go to
Stephen Foster Cultural Center SP instead.

(F)  Mon, Mar 31  to Fri, Apr 4– Fort Clinch SP, Fernandina Beach, FL
Our last stop for the winter is at Fort Clinch State Park which is located in the northeastern most point of Florida.  It is directly across Cumberland Sound from Cumberland Island, Georgia.  Other than our 3 beautiful days at Disney World back in early February, our 4 days here were the best weather we had this winter.  It couldn’t have happened at a better time!!!

Fort Clinch State Park is WONDERFUL!! 
Great Location… Pretty Town… Half Mile Long Fishing Pier… Hiking Trails…
Miles of Biking… Two Nice Campgrounds… Excellent Beach Access...
Nature Everywhere!!! 
We liked it so much that we have already booked 3 weeks in November!!!
I’ll just let the photos do the talking….
Click on any photo to enlarge or hover your mouse on any photo for a description.
00a - Fort Clinch SP - driving through Fernandina Beach to park entrance   00a - Fort Clinch SP - 3.5 miles Live Oak Canopy Drive to the Fort and Campgrounds
00c - Fort Clinch SP - boardwalk from beach to Beach Campground  00d - Fort Clinch SP -  Beach Campground 
00e - Fort Clinch SP -  Fort Clinch between the two campgrounds
00f - Fort Clinch SP - Site 60 - River Campground  00g - Fort Clinch SP - Site 60 - River Campground
00j - Fort Clinch SP - Willow Pond Hiking Trail  00k - Fort Clinch SP - Biking throught the state park
00i - Fort Clinch SP - Fishing from the .5 mile fishing pier  00h - Fort Clinch SP - Sunset across Cumberland Sound
Nature, Nature, Nature:o))
01a- Nature - Royal Terns01a2- Nature - Black Skimmers01a3- Nature - Green Heron01a4- Nature - Kingfisher01a5- Nature - Snowy Egret01a6- Nature - Pelican01c - Nature - Momma Gator and Babies01c2 - Nature - Baby Gators hitching a ride
Oh Yea…  We’ll Be Back!!!
Currently we are at Huntington Beach SP in Murrells Inlet, SC and we’ll be here catching up with family and friends!!  We have a few short trips planned… one is to the Spring RV-Dreams Rally in Tennessee:o))  Otherwise, we will be in this area until June 25th when we run away from the beach for the summer;o))