Back in September, we took #GertrudetheGlamper out for her second voyage. When researching for campgrounds, we looked for a park that was secluded and offered numerous outdoor activities like hiking, biking, fishing, and swimming along. O’Leno State Park in High Springs seemed to fit the bill so we reserved campsite #32, our lucky number.
O’Leno State Park is one of Florida’s oldest state parks dating back to the 1930s and is situated along the Sante Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River. O’Leno State Park was originally opened as Camp O’Leno in 1938 as a Florida Forest Service training camp for state employees and youth groups interested in forestry. The training camp only ran for two summers before it was turned over to the Florida Park Service and opened as O’Leno State Park in 1940, one of the original nine state parks in the Florida Park Service.
We were one of the few people camping at the park that weekend and it almost felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Our site was in Dogwood loop, the first set of sites in the park. (Tip: If you’re looking to camp with children, secure a spot in the Magnolia loop which has a playground.) The campgrounds were very clean and well kept with each loop offering a centrally located bathhouse. During set up we had a minor electrical setback which was fixed thanks to the helpful camp hosts.
There are multiple hiking trails throughout the park depending on your desired length and difficulty. We hiked the River Trail, a 1.44 mile hike along the Sante Fe River. There’s also a suspension bridge that is pretty neat to cross.
One of the unique features of O’Leno State Park is the sinkhole where the Sante Fe River disappears underground to reemerge 3.5 miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park forming a natural land bridge. Here we witnessed a log full of turtles basking in the sun slowly revolving around the pond. The best (and least eloquent) way I can think to describe this natural phenomenon is like a giant slow moving toilet. Ha!
We were really surprised at how much Lima and Bean enjoyed hiking through the park. They’re normally not super “outdoorsy,” Bean especially, so it was fun to see them frolic through the trails. They even *gasp!* got their feet dirty on the muddy riverbank. Bean was the leader of the pack during our hikes and Lima stayed right by my side the whole time. Who says Chihuahuas aren’t outdoorsy?
The park is also full of wildlife. We witnessed multiple deer and a couple of gopher tortoises during our visit. There was also an abundance of banana spiders which were a little terrifying. We attempted to ride our bikes through one trail only to have Adam plow through a spider web and end up with a banana spider on his neck which resulted in dance moves I’d never seen before. The spider didn’t even land on me and I almost died! Needless to say, we quickly got off that trail and took the road.
I need to research some better “camping recipes” because I wasn’t impressed by the food options we brought. In hindsight, aluminum packet meals and instant mashed potatoes weren’t that great. Of course, it didn’t help that I was still in my first trimester and uninterested in most food.
Overall we had a really great time camping at O’Leno State Park. The only complaints we have are about the weather (it was so hot and muggy!) and the bugs (the mosquitos were vicious!) but no one can do anything about that. (Welcome to Florida!)
For more information on O’Leno State Park or to make camping reservations, visit floridastateparks.org.