Withlacoochee River Park is one of those places that has something for just about everyone. It’s 406 acres of real Florida nature. They have everything from hiking, biking, and kayaking to playgrounds and picnic areas.
We opted for primitive camping this trip. The primitive campgrounds have a grill, a picnic table, and a little firepit. If it’s been a bit wet lately (as it has) you need to bring in firewood, they don’t sell it on site. You need a reservation (it was only $10), and when you check in the ranger will tell you a close place to go purchase firewood if you need it. One big thing to note, there is a half-mile walk to the campgrounds from the parking lot so you may want to bring something to make it easier to carry in your ice chest/whatever if you go that route. We just carried in our food and brought it back to the van before bed so we didn’t tempt any critters to get into our stuff. I had regrets for saying we didn’t need to bring the folding wagon to bring our stuff in.
The people who work at this park are exceptionally nice. We originally reserved the site for the one day it positively poured all day, and though there are no refunds they allowed me to move my reservation. I had to leave a message and one of the rangers emailed me AND left a message on my phone letting me know we could change the date and giving me the phone number to do so.
We hiked in and set up our tents and hammocks, then took a walk around. There are a lot of trails by the campsites that are a great walk. There’s also an observation tower halfway in where you can walk up and get a pretty spectacular view. Since we brought our food back to the van after dinner we ended up walking the half-mile trek to the camping site in the dark a couple of times. It was fun. However, we heard something large near the trail a couple of times that my imagination had a hay day with. Probably just a deer but I watch way too many horror movies to be walking in the dark woods with just a flashlight! Nevertheless, trekking through the woods in the dark was on my to-do list since the parks are closed before dark if you aren’t camping.
Another thing on my camping to-do list was to finally try a hammock. I always see people using them at Vinoy Park in St Pete (and so many other places!). It seems to be a very Florida thing to do. We’ve owned a couple for ages but I’m usually more for walking around exploring instead of sitting still, so I’d never actually tried one. I am hooked. It is SO comfortable and relaxing just laying in a slightly swinging hammock looking up at the sky and birds through the trees. We’re building in a van to make exploring Florida in the summer a bit more comfortable (air conditioning any time!) and we are planning hammock hooks for a place to sleep. Yay!
After lots of hammocking, hiking, and grilling dinner we sat around a campfire and just enjoyed the company. We had a very loud creature rummage around the campsite a few times; I think it was an armadillo. The rule of animals in the woods is they always sound like a level above what they really are. Lizards sound like squirrels, armadillos sound the size of a boar, an actual boar at night would probably sound like a T-rex.
Once we went to bed it was amazingly quiet. No sounds but the wind through the top of the trees. According to the other people there (who apparently don’t sleep like rocks) a deer and some little creatures visited the campsite overnight, but the tents and our belongings went untouched. I was glad we didn’t leave food at the campsite!
First thing in the morning I started a new fire and took advantage of the hammocks again. Gotta while you can, right? The third thing on my to-do list was s’mors, and we didn’t make them the night before so I had them for breakfast. Camping rules are different from house rules, I’m certain. Just in case you wondered, I fall firmly on the if-the-marshmallow-wasn’t-on-fire-it-isn’t-ready side of the debate.
Check-out time is at 10 am. It was unseasonable cool for our trip so there was much sleeping in and we ended up still packing up at 10. After clearing out the campsite we made a stop near the front of the park, to walk along the river. There’s a dock very close to the parking lot where you can put in a kayak and fish if you have a license. The river is really low right now (end of May 2021) and there are trails where you can walk quite a ways to the right when you get to the river. There are a lot of cypress roots showing everywhere. It’s a landscape photographer’s dream at the moment. If you visit the park be sure to stop by the river! It sounds obvious since River is in the park’s name, but there is so much other stuff to do you can easily forget, especially since you don’t see it from the road.
In addition to primitive camping, Withlacoochee River Park has a field near the front of the part where you can hook up an RV and rent non-primitive camping spots. Just be sure to bring bug spray and sunscreen, the usual Florida must-haves.