Photo extracted from blogs.cfr.org.
After countless years of attending parties and watching the ball drop on TV on New Year’s Eve, it was time to celebrate differently for the end of 2012. This year I wanted to spend New Year’s Eve out in the woods! So, I got together with my boyfriend and another couple and we planned a camping/hiking adventure. We wanted to take advantage of the last long weekend of the year so the game plan was to travel to the east coast (of Florida) near the Orlando and Daytona areas.
There were 3 Florida State Forests in the same vicinity that contained trails that are part of the Florida Trailwalker Program, that we hadn’t hiked yet. The Saturday before New Year’s we loaded up the truck with as much stuff as 4 people could possibly need for 3 nights out in the wild. We didn’t make it to our destination until late afternoon so we went straight to our first campground at Wekiva Falls KOA.
By the time we picked our campsite and started unloading the sun was already setting. We set up the tent and then focused on dinner. There was no time to gather wood for a fire so we turned to our little Coleman camp stove to boil some water for tea and heat up a pot of soup. Once we had warm food in our bellies there was nothing left to do but hit the sack.
We woke up to a pretty frigid morning but after a long night of sleep, we all felt refreshed. We decided to pack everything up and make a pit stop for breakfast on the way to our first forest. At about noon we made it to Little Big Econ State Forest to hike the 4.7 mile Kolokee trail.
The Trailhead sign
The beautiful Econlockhatchee River
Crossing one of the many bridges on the trail
It was a linear trail primarily following the Econlockhatchee River. The weather was good and the views were excellent. We trekked through your typical Florida terrain and crossed several wooden bridges along the way. We stopped in a few different spots to take pictures and observe the scenery. Once we got back to the trailhead we had to move on to our next destination: Tiger Bay State Forest.
The happy campers
Once we got there we had to get a permit to stay at the primitive campsite within the forest. At only $10 per night for all 4 of us, we were excited to camp in a
Florida State Forest for the first time. We took care of the usual setting up and getting a fire started and then started to prepare some food. On the menu that night was hot chocolate to start, then beef stew and hotdogs, and followed by s’mores for dessert. After eating some tasty foods we just sat around the crackling fire for a while, talking and laughing. It had been a very satisfying (and tiring) day and with our last full day left upon us we decided to put out the fire and head for some shut-eye. The next day (New Years’s Eve) we would have to complete 2 more trails and then make it back to camp that night to celebrate.
Our morning started out with a complete breakfast of eggs, sausage, pancakes, and hot tea. It’s was so much fun cooking food in an iron skillet over a fire! After eating a good meal we were ready to hike! First we would drive a little ways to the west to the nearby Lake George State Forest. Waiting for us there was the one mile Blufton Interpretive Trail loop, which is right next to the St. John’s River. It was a nice leisurely stroll which only took about 45 minutes to complete. From there we drove back to Tiger Bay State Forest and hiked the Buncombe Hill Trail.
View of the St.John’s River from the Blufton Interpretive Trailhead
We managed to get back to the campsite with just enough time to collect some wood and start a nice fire. Now there was nothing left to do now but eat, drink, hang out, and celebrate the ending of 2012 in the company of good friends. We even lit off some sparklers as it approached midnight. One of the highlights, though, was watching a family of deer grazing in the woods nearby.
Cooking dinner and staying warm.
All in all, I couldn’t think of a better way to end out the year and spend my holiday weekend. My friends and I have come to the conclusion that we might have to make this a yearly tradition. What a wonderful plan to look forward to all year long!
Our campsite at Tiger Bay State Forest