I would venture to guess that Florida is often overlooked as a potential backpackers destination waiting to be rediscovered. Sure, we all know that Florida has Disney, beaches and alligators, though I think few people realize the extent of the biodiversity here. Now I agree that backpacking and camping in 90 degree weather with 60% humidity are not opulent conditions, though consider this:
You’re in Northwest Florida, St. Joseph Peninsula State Park to be exact with the bay to the East and the Gulf to the West. It’s winter and the temperature is 60ish during the day and 40ish at night. There are no tourist because they are in their cozy warm houses up North. You are in the state park and there are a few snow birds bicycling around and a random kayaker en route to the Bay. The sky is blue and the sun is shining. You’re just a few short miles from Cape San Blas which boasts a full time population of 36. St. Joseph Park is beyond Cape San Blas on the peninsula so you are essentially surrounded by wildlife residents and the park rangers. You don your backpack with enough essentials for a few days and start hiking toward the tip, through the wildlife preserve. It’s certainly not comparable to climbing Denali or Everest, though it’s perfect for those who enjoy a smaller scale challenge and appreciate the nature of this region.
The hike is about 5 miles to the tip, though camping isn’t allowed there, probably because of fragile nesting sites. So you choose a closer site, either on the beach side or bay side. The hike isn’t grueling, just a great calf builder as it’s all sand and you’re probably carrying a 30 lb pack (the sigther wants all to know, his pack was more like 60 lbs – rolling eyes).
Well, I’m losing interest writing in the third person. I’ll just get to the point. This is what E. and I did this week and I’ve declared this spot as my favorite in Florida with the natural springs a close second. I’ve visited a few natural springs though the best are the ones that are just discovered, like when you’re canoeing down a creek. A little trivia…the first Tarzan movie and scenes from the Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed at Wakulla Springs just south of Tallahassee.
Anyhow, it was quiet except for us. We were probably the noisiest creatures around. We decided to camp on the beach side in order to be lulled to sleep by the waves. We found a perfect campsite nestled in the dunes surrounded by scrub oaks and pines, 40-50 yards from the beach. Here’s E. making a little fire. He followed the park services directions for building a fire, as well as he could, given their contradicting ambiguousness.
Right away, we had two deer come investigate our site. That night, we didn’t sleep much as it got down right chilly, apparent by the dew that froze on the tent. The next morning we had coffee on the beach and did a little shell gazing. In all, we encountered 3 other humans, I saw one piping plover, 2 deer, some sort of sea monitor creature that I photographed with a bag of beef jerky and some sandballs(?).
The park is known for it’s migrating birds including the endangered peregrine falcon, broad winged hawk, kestrels, etc. It’s also known for it’s large sand dunes. Check out the size of these things. Note, E. is standing in the center at base of dunes for scale.
Pardon the photos as they were taken with a camera phone that I didn’t know how to operate. To see a few more photos, visit E’s blog.