Well, this week’s #SundayFunday adventure was one for the record books.
Over the past few weeks, Adam and I have been scouting local parks for the best campground for our maiden voyage in the camper next week when our friends visit from Atlanta. We’ve scouted Hanna Park, Fort Clinch State Park, Little Talbot Island State Park, Anastasia State Park, Camp Blanding, and Gold Head Branch State Park. Our criteria is simple – we want a clean campground with sites that make you feel secluded. Anastasia and Gold Head have been our favorites so far.
While I was doing some research online for campgrounds in the surrounding area, I discovered Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida, which is about 100 miles south of Jacksonville. I sent Adam the link and after looking through some photos of the park online, we decided to book a campsite on a hope and prayer that the park was a nice in real life as it appeared in photos. Florida State Parks book up really quickly, especially during the summer, and we didn’t want to miss out. We planned to drive down to the park on Sunday to scout in person but worse case scenario, we were out $30 if we hated the park and couldn’t cancel our reservation.
Sunday morning we loaded up the truck and stopped for breakfast at our favorite spot before making the trip down to Orange City. We arrived to Blue Spring State Park around 1:00 only to find the park was at max capacity and temporarily closed. The Park Ranger told us to check back in about an hour. We tried to explain that we had reservations for the following weekend and just wanted to scout out the campground and amenities but he told us we would have to wait until the park reopened.
We drove down the street to a city park to wait. When we pulled up, I noticed a small group of early twenty-somethings gathered on the bleachers all staring intently at their phones. I knew there was only one thing they could be doing – battling Pokemon. (In case you’re unsure of what I’m referring to, educate yourself on Pokemon Go.) I pulled up the game on my own phone and sure enough, the park was home two three PokeStops and a PokeGym. So, after
I’d exhausted my own Pokemon resources we’d waited a while, we headed back to see if Blue Spring had reopened… and they hadn’t.
Since we had some time to kill, we decided to check out Hontoon Island State Park, which is a short drive from Blue Spring. Hontoon Island is a quiet retreat along the St. Johns River. The only way to access the island is by boat so we hopped aboard the park ferry. Hontoon Island is one of the few state parks that offers free entry. Activities and amenities on the island include fishing, primitive and cabin camping, a nature trail, and a large playground. Bike rentals are available at the Ranger station for a small fee. For $12 we had a pair of mountain bikes to explore the island for an hour so we hopped on the nature trail which ended at the Indian shell mound.
In case you haven’t heard the weather has been miserably hot down here in Florida with temps reaching 100°. Sunday was especially warm and muggy. As we’re riding our bikes along the nature trail, I start to feel exceptionally hot and physically exhausted. I’m not the most physically fit person in the world but Adam and I have a set of mountain bikes at home that we ride pretty regularly. This 1.7 mile ride should not have made me feel this worn out but I chalked it up to the heat as I stopped for the third time to catch my breath and chug down some water. Meanwhile, my husband is getting slightly annoyed as he’s thinking I’m being a bit of wimp.
About three-quarters of the way through the trail, we stopped to admire the river in a clearing… and I chugged down the rest of my water, feeling slightly panicky that my resources were gone. I snapped some photos and caught my breath before we picked up our bikes and finished the last bit of the trail. Somehow when Adam laid down his bike, his brake lines got tangled and he struggled to peddle. He ultimately had to disconnect the brake line so that we could finish the ride.
We finally made it to the Indian shell mound, a very anti-climactic way to end this difficult bike ride. You basically get to a bench that says END OF TRAIL before having to turn around and make the 1.7 mile ride back to the Ranger station. The Indian shell mound is… well, exactly what it sounds like. Basically the Indians dumped all of their trash in one specific spot that built up into a mound over the years. An Indian dump site. The trail dead ends into a swamp that Adam said reminded him of a horror movie.
We decided to hop off the trail and take the road back to the Ranger station since I was still struggling and we were out of water. I was peddling along the flat road still feeling like I was trying to sludge through thick mud. Thinking that I didn’t have the bike on the right gear, I asked Adam to take a look and he switched bikes with me. He quickly realized the reason I was struggling so much was that the back tire was almost flat. I knew I wasn’t that out of shape! And being the amazing husband that he is, Adam took one for the team and rode the flat tire bike the rest of the way back to the Ranger station.
It took us an hour and fifteen minutes to make the 3.8 mile trip. When you factor in the difficulties we faced, I guess that was pretty good timing. We finally made it back to the Ranger station, dripping with sweat and exhausted. Adam turned in the bikes letting the Rangers know about the disconnected brake line and flat tire. Thankfully they didn’t charge us for having the bikes longer than the hour we’d paid for.
We purchased a couple bottles of water from the park store and hopped on the ferry back over to the parking lot. We laughed at the entire situation as we put our stuff into the car, soaking wet from sweat, and cranked up the A/C. We headed back over to Blue Spring to see if we could finally check out the campground… and maybe take a dip in the cool spring.
We pulled up to the park entrance just as the Ranger was putting the closed sign out for being at max capacity. We’d literally just missed our chance to go into the park for a second time. There was no way we were going home without checking out the park since we’d driven over two hours to do so.
Adam called the Ranger station and explained our situation. Our main worry was that when we arrived next weekend with the camper that we would be turned away once the park reached max capacity. She assured us we would be granted access into the park and would be allowed into our campsite as soon as it was available, even if that was before our 3:00pm check in time. She also told us the park would be opening again in about 30 minutes and that she would allow us in. We ran up to a local convenient store to grab a snack and by the time we made it back to the park, it was reopened. Thank goodness!
Once you actually make it into Blue Spring State Park, it’s beautiful. The campsites are just what we wanted. Each site is surrounded by thick shrubbery so even though you’re technically right next to someone, you feel like you’re secluded. The bathhouses are well maintained and clean. The actual spring site is small, thus the park reaching max capacity so quickly, but I think it’s going to be really fun to swim around in next weekend. We chatted with a Ranger in the park who told us that during the summer, the park stays packed but once school starts up, they slow down a lot.
We checked out all of the amenities, got a feel for the park, and caught a few Pokemon. We’re excited to take our friends down next weekend. I think we’re going to have a really great time. I’m looking forward to taking a dip in the spring and hopefully getting some fun GoPro footage.
Overall we had an interesting day. I’m not sure I would call it “fun” but we definitely made a lot of memories. I kind of wish we would have skipped the trail ride at Hontoon Island and opted for a museum tour or sit in the shade along the river bank, but that wouldn’t have made for near as good of a story. If you’re looking for a park to enjoy a leisurely day with a picnic lunch and fishing along the river bank, I would definitely recommend you take a trip to Hontoon Island State Park.