We have been here twice, more recently we went to Rice Creek Conservation Area a few weeks ago on a day when it wasn’t raining in Palatka too bad. I could definitely tell that it had been though because we had to take off our shoes ( I did at least. He has hiking sandals lol he just doesn’t like to walk in water with shoes on…even in water shoes) to walk through a stretch of the field that leads to the trailhead and hiker sign -in sheet.
This is part of the FT ! I love getting to hike bits and pieces of it 🙂 and many places will have fun/challenging areas that my son sees more as fun than challenging and makes the hike even more enjoyable for him. This area has many boardwalks: short ones and long skinny ones, and an old railroad trestle !
The first time we went to the left when we got to the sign-in sheet, this time we went to the right.
I wanted to see the old railroad trestle this time and it’d didn’t take long before we found it. There were a ton of mosquitos out, all the standing rainwater isn’t going to help with that either, but we sprayed ourselves with bug spray and ignored them the best we could 🙂 We crossed 1 or 2 short boardwalks and then probably 1/3 mile down the trail lead us to the road. We’d never had to cross roads for trails before but I see FT signs marking their entrances all the time when I drive through Ocala National Forest so I got really excited. We crossed the road and then had to cross a longer slim boardwalk with a sign saying “Lindsay Dock” on it. An orange arrow then pointed to the left where we saw the railroad trestle and a huge body of water under it and surrounding the lower forest areas. When it rains it pours….that’s Florida.
We crossed it; my son wasn’t scared or anything haha he could have crossed it 6 times in the time it took me to cross it once :’) We didn’t up walking too much further after we got off the railroad trestle because it was a clear shot of flat land….and mosquitos. There is a small concrete area that can be used to park on the side of that road for direct access to the Lindsay Dock area instead of parking in the Rice Creek Conservation Area parking lot and walking a country mile to the trailhead. Just keep an eye out for the FT sign and it won’t be too far from there.
If you go right at the trailhead you’ll be taken towards a camp shelter (I really want to get to that one day), and a very long slender boardwalk that I also didn’t make it to the first time we went. Winter hours are hard to work with, I’m lovin’ these late nights !
We had the most blissful time at Lighthouse Point Park in Ponce Inlet. Wow ! So, the price to get in is steep, $10/car…however I have been craving to go back ever since and an annual pass is only $20. The lighthouse is not inside this park but it is nearby, so if you read TripAdvisor reviews they may be misleading because people are reviewing in the wrong place.
I have to mention gas prices there (this is how I know I’m an adult these days, some times it’s questionable) it’s $2.07 there and $2.28 here.
I check the weather using the accuweather app because it is extremely accurate. I just check in all my favorite cities to see what I might be able to plan for the day. It was raining here, and showing that it was cloudy there but not going to rain and since the water had been so nice the previous times we went to Ponce I went for it. So, i’m on the highway and it is pouring rain…continuously…I get anxiety driving (believe it or not) as it is so I’m talking myself into this… “No, this is going to be fine. The rain will be fine. If it’s raining oh well. Why is it raining…we are 15 minutes away?! It’s okay, we can swim in the rain.”
We get to the pay booth and it’s drizzling a good amount, my book bag got pretty wet (hindsight I could have used one of our dry bags that we take for paddle boarding). The guy was telling me if I want to turn around there’s a free spot where I can park on the beach and he feels bad I drove an hour and it’s raining. I told him it’s okay, I came specifically for this spot 🙂 So we pay and drive in, pass the nature trails, lots of side parking and boardwalk entrances before getting to the main parking lot.
We walked some of the boardwalk then turned off to exit and do the nature trail first. By the time we finished that and were back walking the boardwalk to the ocean it was just drizzling. The water was warm and a clear jade color. I made a video under water and you can see me perfectly. The rain was wonderful but slowly died down. We had so much fun and because it wasn’t cold/windy I wasn’t in any rush to leave at any point. When we got out of the water we walked along the jetty (still unsure why it’s called that) but, it was beautiful- I finally got to see the Inlet part of Ponce Inlet. The park is closing at 9 PM right now btw. We made it out with probably 3 minutes to spare (:
Things the park offers:
Absolutely ! There is a long winding boardwalk where it connects to all parking areas: pavilions, the trail, beach, and jetty. Even the trail isn’t too bad !
This was a spur of the moment plan, I had a doctor appointment in St. Augustine and checked Tripadvisor for places we could go that weren’t going to be too pricey and the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum turned out not to be a bad idea ! If you click that link it takes you to the lighthouse website coupon page 🙂 I did the code option and bought them online ahead of time.
There was a huge rain storm that kept us in the museum for a good half hour and my son didn’t want to go up the lighthouse so I was able to get a raincheck ticket thankfully, I’m going to try getting him to go up the next time.
There is a small, cute playground with a pirate ship theme. He liked that a lot of course. Next to the playground there is a picnic table- all of which are near the gift shop/entrance. There was even a cart that sold ice cold beer (and wine I think), sodas too haha. Across from the playground is the nature trail, he went around that many times and we got off the trail on accident because it’s not very obvious in some areas. The trail isn’t long but I do like that it’s there, my son is allllllllways looking for a trail which can be really funny sometimes when he is walking along bushes looking for one :’).
The museum was the highlight of our trip and I’m not one that’s typically into those things but it was really pretty inside. The first floor of the museum was mostly dedicated to some treasure hunt type of thing, there were tablets and trays on the table. I played around with it in between chasing my kiddo up and down the winding stair case but didn’t get to read about it.
The lower level was really, that’s where all of the pictures above were taken !
Overall, to enjoy the focal points of this location I would say it isn’t accessible for someone in a wheel chair. If they are needing assistance then the museum is an option: there are steps but not too many that it would be exhausting and there are handrails as well. The lighthouse has handrails so if you’re up for the challenge or just want to go midway, who’s to stop ya ? 😛
The only paved parts are the sidewalks leading to the steps and a boat area that doesn’t look totally finished being built yet.
We have gone to Ponce Inlet Preserve many many times because it has everything in one area. It is so unexpected and absolutely beautiful, also absolutely free 🙂
I didn’t get pictures of the beach this last time because I was in the water the whole time. Man that water ! It’s like a light jade green, the waves were smooth and as you can see there was an overcast but the water was really warm. Really beautiful afternoon…
There’s a parking lot for the beach area as well as a parking lot in the area where the trails and playground are located if the beach one is full. When we were done with the beach we walked across the road and onto the trails. I love how it’s such a different setting and it’s all set up so nice, if you have kids or even if you don’t this spot is a must see. But, as I was saying, we went down the trails and passed the watch tower so the kiddos could get to the playground ( I won’t even get started on how nice it is) then we walked down the boardwalk. The boardwalk is over a mile total and goes to the Halifax River, it’s always been gorgeous at sunset and the approaching storm clouds were equally as such. By then the kids were pretty worn out, my son is use to walking a lot but hers aren’t so they weren’t really into the boardwalk. The walking distance is something to consider if you park where the trails are and intend to go to the beach from there, we did that our first time because we didn’t know of the other parking lot. I can’t give an estimate on the length of trails because there are several that connect; there are plenty of posted maps around the trails though 😀 I think those were put in after Hurricane Mathew.
Things available at the preserve:
kayak launches (2)
bathroom (trail/playground parking lot)
The ramp to the beach and the boardwalk are both accessible but, most of trail is very hilly.
I believe it was the only major swimming spring we had not been to yet in Ocala National Forest, it’s the furthest away so I had held off. Kind of silly since it’s only like 12 minutes from Silver Glen Springs Recreation … who woulda thunk it ?!
It was my favorite kind of day to go visit a spring: a nice overcast with little to no wind and it drizzled off and on for a bit which was nice as well. The spring is very big so on those busy days it still can hold a lot of people. My luck seems to be sticking where springs are concerned, there was hardly anyone there, maybe 10 cars…we went on a Monday though. My son was practicing his swimming which he has been doing a lot lately ! I’m so proud of him, I think he’s picked up just by watching people and I know it won’t be long before he gets it down. I don’t know the first thing about teaching anyone how to swim 😦 you know the saying….”those who can’t do, teach?” Well, I can do and quite well so i’ll use that as my excuse haha. The deepest part is by the boils so after many attempts of trying to convince him to get in on that side of the spring I just put him in (while his life vest was on) and had him swim back to the steps with it on. Oh my goodness, watching the video of his little legs and arms under water is so adorable ! He did such a great job. I got him as comfortable on that side of the water as I could and then we made our way towards the boils; I just couldn’t leave without seeing them first.
Wow they are gorgeous and so many to look at and explore too. The rocks are very very slippery and he was nervous so I was holding him but I got a pretty good look around. I would love to go back one day and look around some more, it’s something I haven’t done yet. While we were there I kicked a blue crab when I was walking and it popped out of the sand, crabs scare me more than sharks I think so I got freaked out, I haven’t seen those in any of the other springs so that was really cool as well. I know that there is a nature trail there but we didn’t get around to seeing it and I have no idea where it’s located so hopefully next time 🙂
Things offered at Salt Springs:
showers and bathrooms
Bear Swamp Trail
kayaking and canoeing
Salt Springs Observation Tower Trail (located outside of the park, we started that when we left but only made it 1/4 of the loop)
scuba diving and snorkeling
The walk ways are all paved so they are accessible. The steps aren’t too bad as far as algae and them being slippery, I don’t recall them being slippery at all really and both entrances have handrails. Just depends on the person’s mobility but I consider it accessible especially with the spring not being very deep. I wish I could comment on the trail inside the park however I know the one outside of the park is not accessible.
Most everyone I spoke to had both been coming to Clearwater Lake for years and also said that it’s almost never busy. When we first arrived Memorial Day weekend just to use the day use on a Saturday I was curious and asked if they had any first come first serve sites available, the hosts told me there were still 6. I was really shocked as it was already 2:00 PM – that definitely makes me feel comfortable not having to reserve and tack on that extra $10.00. But, by the time Neill and Walter had gotten there they said they were all full which is why they shared Richard’s campsite. The ‘regulars’ said after Memorial Day weekend probably only 1-2 families will be there through the week and that it’s really quiet.
It wasn’t super crowded as far as those just there for day use either but everyone kept in the white sandy part of the lake which made it less roomy when more people came on Memorial Day. Not anxiety inducing, but there was noticeably more people for sure. We stayed until five and nothing ever got crazy like you’d think it might either.
This spot ended up being so much more than just sight-seeing or spending another day loving the outdoors. It’s hard to even put into words but at the end of Memorial Day weekend I went home thinking, “this is life, this is what it’s all about…The simple things.” The beauty of coincidences can’t be overlooked.
I’m going to share (most) of our personal experience as well as information on the area itself. So if you want to skip past the good stuff 😉 and get right to it you can…
Our experience – We went to Clearwater Lake Rec. originally just for the day to see what it was all about and scope out the campgrounds. We got there around 2:00 PM and my son took off for the lake before I got all of our stuff out of our car….by the time I got to the lake he was already in water playing. He’s a fast little guy. The water was gorgeous and so clear…just as the name suggests lol and it was also warm which as you can imagine is a switch up for us. I inflated my paddle board hoping he’d paddle the lake a bit with me but he was having way too much fun swimming. A baby boy was pointing at my board and I said he could sit on it if he wanted so him and his sister got on while their mom and I were talking for a bit, she told me that it was considered a busy weekend for the recreation area because normally there will only be a few people there. That was good news to me because it wasn’t busy at all, already from the few hours being there I knew I wanted to come back and camp eventually. I managed to get him out of the water long enough to hydrate and hike the trail then we were back in the water. Fast forward an hour or so, two guys came down making a huge deal about how clear and warm the water was… in hindsight they were probably already drunk lol. They were talking to this man and woman (later on I’d find out his name is Richard, I don’t know the woman’s name) as I was kind of paddling on my board but staying near my son because he still didn’t want to go paddling, Richard asked me about my board then went back to talking to the two guys ( Neill and Walter), they were talking about beer and I interrupted or maybe I interrupted to talk about beer……I’m not sure. But I remember saying “So, if we came back tomorrow to camp would you guys have more?” He said yes, so I told him it was a deal. I asked what kind they had and of course he said Bud Light…I told him my favorite was Heineken and Richard joked that I was being picky. I asked Neill if he wanted my number and his response was “you’re gorgeous I would love your number!” lol. It was around 7:30 PM so I was packing up, Neill and Walter offered to carry our stuff to our car and I told them we’d see them tomorrow. We got lucky on Sunday, Neill and Walter were staying at Richard’s campsite and he had a huge one that fit two cabin tents and two 3-person tents. We got to stay at his campsite for free since the guys already paid for their night’s stay (: My son was ready to get back to the water ASAP so I set up our tent with their help as fast as I could to avoid any tantrums lol I just wanted a laid back night and ultimately that’s definitely what we had. We got out to the water and Neill brought me a Heineken… that first sip of a cold one is heaven, lemme tell ya ! I whipped out my waterproof speaker and had some country going for a while, Sam Hunt is one of my son’s favorite artists; he’d come up and put the speaker to his ear and start spinning in circles in the water, just lovin’ life and totally enjoying himself. Around this time is when two boys came out with their mom who we later found out was ten days divorced and was also out at the lake camping with her kids. She was super chill and had an up for anything attitude. Her youngest one was just as rambunctious as mine and they played together. Her older one and I, who was probably 12-14 years old debated about country music and why he didn’t like it: he thinks most songs are about politics and people automatically label him a conservative or trump supporter because he is caucasian. I had to strongly disagree on all of the above. All the grown ups got out of the water and I switched up the music from country to reggae, we just stood around marveling at how gorgeous everything was: the sunset, the lake, bonding with strangers, the kids out there playing on my paddle board. At one point there were canoes left on the shore that someone had rented but not put away and after some number of beers Walter, her, and her boys high jacked it for a quick paddle. I couldn’t stop laughing; she tried to get me to go along but there was no way that canoe was meant to hold 5-6 people. She said “Come on! What other time are you going to be able to canoe with total strangers during a beautiful sunset like this ?!” She had a point, but I still didn’t get in lol.
The guys had been making chicken and other stuff for dinner but I hadn’t been hungry all day- when I finally did get hungry I grabbed a sandwich from my cooler but was also so exhausted from saturday (and Saturday night I only got 1-2 hrs of sleep) that I woke up at 4:40 AM Monday to realize I fell asleep on top of a sandwich with only the edges eaten off. I eat a lot of things like that… the edges first, idk lol.. I do weird things. So I grabbed a clean shirt, strawberries because I was still hungry, changed into something that didn’t smell like spicy mustard, then walked to the lake and ate my strawberries. It was still pitch black out but the quiet was nice and so were those juicy strawberries… I was proud of myself for bringing them. The guys left before we woke up but Richard was still there, he’s a really kind man: He got us donuts and me some coffee, told me we could stay as long as we wanted the rest of Monday. We left close to 5:00 PM and I left him a note thanking him for his hospitality.