Drive down the road under a canopy of trees stopping for Gopher Tortoises at the crossing on the way to O’Leno State Park located at 410 SE O’Leno Park Road in High Springs. The site originally a town named Leno established in the mid-1860s. The town prospered until the railroad went around the town. By the 1890s, it became a ghost town.
Library and Museum
Step inside the museum and read about the early years of the men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The location originally purchased as a forestry training camp. In the early 1930s, the camp became a state park one of the original nine parks built by the CCC.
A small nature center that houses the King and Red Snakes, both non-venomous and the Loggerhead Musk Turtle. Two Gopher Tortoises eyeing each other in the turtle pen. A Mounted Florida Bobcat, Barred Owl and an Armadillo. The Florida Bobcat remains elusive, the Barred Owl found during twilight hours. While hiking in the woods you might come across an Armadillo.
Relax along the river’s edge and admire the Magnolia and Cypress Trees. Walk along the boardwalk to the suspension bridge stopping in the middle of the bridge to take photos looking out at the Santa Fe River. The bridge built by the men of the CCC. Hike on one of the many trails through pine forests and hardwood hammocks.
Have a picnic or a barbecue. A playground for children and a designated swimming area. I recommend the park, a lot to see and do. Fees and hours of operation on the website.
Rent a canoe, kayak or a tube; swim in the springs on the Rainbow River in Rainbow Springs formerly a tourist attraction from the 1930s to the 1970s located at 19158 SW 81st Place in Dunnellon. Rainbow Springs designated a registered natural landmark exemplifying the natural history of the United States.
Walk along the path to the end of the boardwalk and admire the beauty of the river. Stand on a boardwalk and listen to the rippling sounds of the water in the creek below or sit on a bench and listen to the sounds of the waterfalls while enjoying the lush surroundings. The rock formation and the water recirculated to create Rainbow Falls came from the river.
Stop and read the interpretive exhibit about the creation of the gardens. Lilies, Azaleas, Camellias and other native plants make up the gardens. Native plants used to create the Butterfly Garden. Golden Rod a yellow flowering plant that provides nectar for 9 species of butterflies. Fire Bush a shrub that attracts the Zebra Longwing and Gulf Fritillary Butterflies. Sand Cordgrass grows 3 to 4 feet tall and considered drought tolerant.
Three trails to explore each under two miles in length. Have a picnic on one of the tables at the Visitor Center. I recommend the park, many activities to discover. Hours of operation and fees on the website.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park located at 4140 Suncoast Boulevard in Homosassa. Dr. Ray White, marine veterinarian instrumental in establishing the wildlife park for injured and rehab-ilitated Manatees.
Board the tram from the visitor center to the wildlife park or take a pontoon boat and cruise along the river watching an alligator bask in the sun and enjoying the scenery along the way. Inside the visitor center, a photography exhibit from the 1800s an early history of Homosassa Springs to the 2000s a new century begins.
Step down to the underwater observatory and view some of the twelve different species of fish that inhabit Homosassa River. Walk around the outside of the observatory and watch some of the birds that inhabit the park. From November through March, the Manatees arrive for the warmer waters. Stand at the river overlook and try to spot them.
Barred and Great Horned Owls, Crested Caracara a threatened species, and Large Wading Birds can be found throughout the Wildlife Walk. Educational programs and Wildlife Encounters. Walk the 1.2-mile Pepper Creek Trail. Entrance fees and hours of operation on the website.
Dade Battlefield Historic State Park designated a National Historic Landmark located at 7200 County Road 603 in Bushnell. An eighty-acre park surrounded by Sabal Palms, Southern Red Cedars, and Live Oak Trees. Enjoy a picnic under a pavilion or relax in a gazebo. A replica of a six-pounder cannon on display. A monument dedicated to J.C.B. Koonce who was instrumental in establishing the Dade Battlefield Memorial.
Stop by the visitor center and see a film about the Dade Battle that occurred on December 28, 1835. Major Dade, Captain Gardiner of the U.S. Army fought the Seminoles led by Chiefs Micanopy, Jumper and Alligator. Every year a reenactment of the battle occurs during the time of the battle. A historical timeline of events inside the visitor center about the Seminoles from 1800 to the Seminole War of 1835 and the aftermath.
Walk a section of the Fort King Military Trail stopping to read the plagues along the way or walk the Pine Flatwoods Trail. Display cabinets filled with Seminole crafts. Palmetto Palm Weaving, books, and t-shirts for sale. Admission and hours of operation on the website.
Wekiwa Springs State Park a 7,000-acre park located at 1800 Wekiwa Circle in Apopka. Have a picnic on one of the tables or rent a pavilion. Walk along the wooden boardwalk to the concession store where canoes and kayaks are for rent. Bring a bathing suit and swim in the springs or sunbathe on the shore.
Stop at the interpretive exhibit and read about The Red-Eared Slider a semiaquatic turtle, Hydrilla an aquatic plant and The Sailfin Catfish all alien invaders. Pollution a serious threat to the springs at another interpretive exhibit. A 3-legged tortoise lost his leg in a fight with a dog explained by a volunteer at the nature center. View the mounted Florida Black Bear, Barred Owl, Sherman Fox Squirrel and Great Blue Heron encased in glass. All of these animals reside throughout the park.
Bring a bicycle and ride the 7.75-mile trail. Pick up a trail map and walk the Sand Lake and East-West trails both under 2 miles. Bring along a hat and bug spray. Admission and hours of operation located on the website.
Dudley Farm Historic State Park located at 18730 W. Newberry Road in Newberry. Watch a film about 3 generations of the Dudley Family inside the Visitor Center. The cracker house formerly the home of the Hodge Family related to the Dudley family by marriage.
Photographs of the Dudley family, exhibits depicting early life on the farm, the second and third generations, reconstruction after the civil war and the next fifty years. Myrtle the youngest of the twelve children and the last remaining sibling donated twenty-four acres, family heirlooms and the eighteen buildings to the Park Service in 1983.
We started our self-guided tour walking along the pathway stopping to watch the cows grazing in the pasture. The kitchen a separate building roped off but you can look in. The farmhouse set up as if people still lived in the house. An ironing board set up ready for clothes to be ironed. Canning jars, dishes, cups and saucers and vases on the shelves and a table set up for family meals. A parlor with a fireplace and family photographs on the mantel. Lace curtains and doilies on a rocking chair.
A park staff employee drove up in a golf cart and offered to take us around the farm. She pointed out the general store that served as a post office. She gave us a detailed history of each building and told us that volunteers run the farm as a working farm. She pointed out the old Gainesville Road and the different fruit trees that include Fig, Peach, Orange, Walnut and Pecan. A sugar cane festival that demonstrates boiling and crushing of the cane held the first Saturday in December, Vendors invited to show their wares that include cooking and rope making.
The staff is very knowledgeable. I recommend visiting the Dudley Farm, go back in time and see how life was for the people on a 19th century farm. Admission and hours of operation on the website.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places located at 6400 N. Oceanshore Boulevard in Palm Coast. Sit underneath a huge oak and have a picnic or sit on a bench while watching your children play on the playground. Hike or ride a bicycle along .5-mile Mala Compra Trail or the 2.1 mile Bella Vista Trail System. Relax on a bench and watch the boaters on the Matanzas River that is part of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Enter the main garden through the wrought iron gates and walk the sandy path to the visitor center originally the home of the Young Family who bought the home as a winter retreat. Watch a film about early Florida. The exhibits illustrates the life of the Timucuans an early Indian tribe, the European Invaders to the Indian Raids and Life at Bella Vista.
Stroll along the sandy walkway to the Formal Gardens. Walk underneath a trestle and admire an abundance of Roses, Azaleas, Camellias and Pentas that attract butterflies. An abundance of butterflies in this garden more than any garden that I’ve visited. Walk across one of the wooden bridges, stop and admire the garden statue or relax in the gazebo.
Drive across the highway directly across from the park, walk on the boardwalk to the beach and take photographs of the many coquina rocks formations. Turtle tracks and nests observed from May through October. I recommend the park and formal gardens. The reflection ponds emptied for maintenance. Check the website for the latest updates.
Hontoon Island State Park located at 2309 River Ridge Road in Deland. Board the pontoon boat that ferries people to Hontoon Island. The last boat leaves one hour before sunset. Walk along the water’s edge, a good spot to take photographs. Have a picnic, relax and watch the boats and sometimes a yacht docking and leaving the pier.
The park encompasses 1,658 acres but only 700 to 800 acres are accessible. Pick up a trail map before hiking or bicycling the 7 miles of trails. Rent a canoe, kayak or bicycle.
A movie inside the visitor center narrates a story about the park. Inside the museum a timeline of events from the Paleoindians the original inhabitants from 12,000 to 9,000 years ago to Barbara Purdy an archaeologist who in the early 1980s excavated Hontoon sites. Dugout canoes a way of travel for the Native Americans. Some of the shells and stones used by the Timucuans on display. Various exhibits in the museum detailing Life in the Floodplain Forest to Water Resources – traveling the St. Johns River in the late 1820s.
Read about the Owl and Otter Totems found on the island belonging to the Timucuans. A replica of the Owl Totem found in the mid-1950s.
Hontoon Island State Park the only state park that doesn’t charge an entrance fee. Hours of operation are on the website.
Silver Springs State Park located in Ocala. Silver Run Museum & Environmental Education Center opened to the public on weekends owned by the Marion County School System. Articles placed inside the time capsule in 1991 next to the museum. The time capsule won’t be opened until 2091.
Swings and a jungle gym for children to play on. Bring a picnic lunch or barbecue in one of the pavilions. Whether you’re walking or hiking along a trail, biking the 4.5-mile trail, camping or driving Be Bear Aware.
Giant Short-Faced Bear
Many prehistoric animals from the Columbian Mam-moth, Giant Short-Faced Bear to the Archaeocete Whale, Pleistocene and Miocene Fossils.
Many exhibits throughout the museum and educational center. Steamboats a popular way of travel in the 19th century. People would take a journey on the Marion Sternwheel Riverboat on the Ocklawaha River from Palatka to Silver Springs. Henry A. Gray captain from 1871 until 1880. Tarzan movies and “Cross Creek” a movie about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings made on location.
Take a self-tour of a replica of a Cracker Homestead. Entrance fees and hours of operation found on the website.
Highlands Hammock State Park located at 5931 Hammock Road in Sebring. The tram tour sold out by the time we arrived. The park ranger told us that people were in line before the park opened at 8 a.m.
Surrounded by people having picnics and barbecues throughout the park. The laughter of children playing on the playground. Numerous trails within the park. Sign up for a nature walk with one of the trail guides.
Many different animals on display in the Exploration Station. The shell of a 10,000-year old Giant Tortoise, Green Tree Frog, different species of snakes and footprints of animals. Take a pamphlet on the Panther an animal near extinction. Books on mammals, birds, reptiles, waterbirds and amphibians for sale in the museum.
The museum dedicated to the men in the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) who were injured, disabled and died performing their duties. Artifacts that the men used donated by family members. Posters of the original 8 parks that became the Florida State Park System. A 15-minute video presentation of the development of the state parks in the 1930s. Some of the men slept in tents; some in barracks. A tent that the officer slept in is on display.
Sit on a picnic table and enjoy Music in the Park performed in the bandstand in March and April. Fees and hours of operation are on the website.