Friday, January 27, 2006

St. Joseph Peninsula State Park

This was a one-night camping trip to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. I had never been to this park before. Since it has many sites and this is off-season, and it was mid-week, I did not make reservations. When I got there, the kindly ranger told me to drive around and select a few sites and he would put me in any one I chose that wasn't reserved.

I chose Shady Pines campground over Gulf Breeze, which I had read was more RV-oriented. Shady Pines is beautiful! Nearly all the sites were wonderfully private with a lot of greenery around them. I settled on #116. It was very close to the bath house and yet the trees and shrubs were so thick around it that I could not see the structure, nor did its minimal lights come into the site. But it was conveniently a few steps away. I set up camp.

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I later walked around the campground with my handy-dandy PDA and made notes on other sites; if you are going tent camping in this park and would like some info on a few sites, send me an email.

It was too windy to take the kayak out so I set off on a hike along the nature trail that leaves from the Bayview Picnic area. This is a sandy trail that winds alongside St. Joseph’s Bay. There were many deer and raccoon tracks on the trail. When you get to the end, you have the option of turning around and following it back to the picnic area or looping back using the paved road that leads to the cabins and goes by some residences. I chose the road, as there was a lot of wooded area to the right—perhaps I would spot a deer or two.

And I did! Two deer were grazing on low branches as I approached slowly. Since this is a somewhat public area of the park (several people walk and bike on this road), the deer are not overly skittish.

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I finished my hike and returned to the campsite to prepare and eat dinner, as I planned to be out on the Gulf beach to see the sunset.

I had time while there to take a few pictures, including this one of the beach.

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It was a beautiful sunset.

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This park is very quiet at night. I could hear the wind blowing in the treetops from the cozy comfort of my tent, as well as the waves breaking on the Gulf side of the peninsula.

The next morning I had breakfast (took the second cup of coffee back to the beach to enjoy the morning view) and took down the tent and checked out of the campsite so that I could enjoy the rest of the day without worrying about that 1:00 checkout time. And then I went for another hike. I had intended to head out toward the point, leaving from the end of the road near the cabins. It’s a 7-mile hike; I was not going to do the whole thing, just a portion. However, after going a little way in, I decided that I wasn’t in the mood to hike on deep and loose sand (great exercise, though) so I opted instead to take a trail that was labeled “Gulf access.” It started out paved and then became a wooden boardwalk, and then became hilly sand.

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The payoff at the top of that hill was well worth it. Nice view. The sand here—as in most panhandle beaches—is snow white and very fine.

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I followed that path and took another picture of the dunes as I approached the Gulf.

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When I got back from this walk I checked the water to see if the tide had come far enough in to paddle in the bay. It had, and so I spent the rest of my time in the park out paddling around. Visit Paddle Tales for the paddling report and several photos.

This is an excellent park, and another one that requires more than one day. With so much to do, there isn’t enough time in one day to paddle and hike and have time to take a chair out to the beach and enjoy some simple relaxation.

The website for this park can be found at http://www.floridastateparks.org/stjoseph/default.cfm

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