We continued our trek to north Florida after a short overnight stay at O’Leno State Park. You can read about that stop in our previous blog post. We avoided the interstate highways and chose instead to travel the more scenic country roads. Though it takes a little longer, we do this when we can because the driving is less stressful and sometimes we discover some lovely small towns along the way. Grammi and I, having both spent our preteen years growing up in small towns, have a special fondness for such places.
Our daughter and her husband bought a new Keystone Bullet travel trailer this past fall. Actually, I have three daughters that bought campers last year. Grammi and I are thrilled our girls like to go camping. They were raised on a good dose of it when they were growing up and now they’ve convinced their husbands it’s a great way to get away. Shortly after buying their Keystone camper, Jessica made plans for us to join them on a camping trip to Torreya (rhymes with Gloria) State Park.
Another one of Florida’s original state parks developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, Torreya State Park is located on the Apalachicola River in the northern part of the state. The bluffs and ravines along the river bank create a unique landscape with scenic views not seen anywhere else in Florida.
The park provides a protective habitat for one of the world’s rarest trees. The Torreya tree, from where the park gets it name, only grows along the Apalachicola River in three counties. It was placed on the endangered species list in 1984 and it’s estimated that only around 200 trees survive today.
Setting high atop a bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River, is an antebellum plantation house built by Jason Gregory in 1849. This southern mansion was abandoned during the Civil War and fell into disrepair. In 1935, the Neil Lumber Company donated it to Torreya State Park, and the CCC moved the house piece by piece across the river and reassembled it at its present location. Daily tours are available during non-COVID times, but we learned the tours would be temporally closed during our visit.
Additionally, there is a historical significance to the park that includes time as a Confederate artillery battery during the Civil War. Confederate troops guarded the Apalachicola River against the Union Army using it as a route to advance toward Columbia, Georgia. Dug into the bluffs, the remains of these fortified gun emplacements can be seen along one of the many hiking trails inside the park.
As we drove nearer to the park, it became increasingly apparent we were entering an area of past hurricane damage. Looking across the landscape, one can see hundreds of trees lying on the ground. I wrote about the destruction we saw in this area in a blog post dated May 27, 2019. I commented then on how shocking it was to see so much damage to the trees. Torreya State Park laid straight in the path of Hurricane Michael. The damage caused by that category 5 storm will take years to recover from.
When we arrived we saw there was not an attendant at the entrance like at most state parks, just a dropbox for the $3.00 daily fee. A sign was posted instructing campers to proceed to their campsite. A loop road on top of a bluff is where the small campground is located. Sites 1 – 16 are very, very close together; sites 17 – 29 have more space and better views. There is no privacy between sites. The lack of tall canopy trees stood out. Dozens of stumps seen around the campground was evidence this was once a more shaded place. Water and electric hook ups and a nearby dump station are provided. There is a bathhouse, but we didn’t go inside. The building in the center of the loop road, once the barracks for the CCC boys, is where we checked in. No one was there, but lying on a table among others was our reservation paper work. We had site #13 and our daughter was next door in site #12.
As I previously stated, the sites were very close to each other. I don’t feel Grammi and I are antisocial. We do enjoy talking to other campers and learning about their experience. But when you have to worry about tripping over the neighbor’s electric cord, or you can’t sleep at night because of the snoring sounds coming from the camper next door…then you might be a little too close. We utilized the space behind our campers to set up our outdoor area. We moved the fire ring and placed our chairs around it. We moved the picnic tables. We set up our Blackstone Griddle. There was even enough room to set up the bean bag toss game. Having two sites side by side made the experience more bearable.
We stayed four nights. It was ideal camping weather. The days were mild and sunny; the nights were cool enough to seek warmth from a cozy fire. A beautiful full moon hung overhead as we sat around the fire each evening roasting marshmallows and telling stories. Is there anything better?
On our first full day, we drove to Panama City Beach. The kids have not been there before, so it was on their bucket list of things to do. We stopped at St. Andrews State Park and went out on the pier.
We walked the beach and drove through the campground. Grammi and I camped there last year. You can read about that by following the link here. Not much has changed from last year. Part of the campground remains closed from damage received from Hurricane Michael. One thing that has changed is the WWII gun turret base unearthed by the hurricane has since been reburied during beach reclamation.
When we left St. Andrews State Park, we drove along Front Beach Road. The many hotels, restaurants and condominiums block the view of the water, making us thankful for places like the state park. We stopped at Pier Park and had lunch at Hook’d Pier Bar & Grill located on the beach. The drinks were expensive and the food was mediocre, but the service was good and the view was awesome.
The next day we had two more state parks to check out. Grammi and I made reservations at both of these parks for next January and wanted to see where we would be staying. The first one was Falling Water State Park. We hiked the Sink Hole Trail through a forest of trees. It’s amazing how a few miles from Hurricane Michael’s path makes such a huge difference in tree damage. Along the trail we found a geocache and stealthily signed the log. We followed a boardwalk to an overlook of Florida’s highest waterfall. A stream drops off into a sinkhole pit for seventy-three feet before disappearing underground.
The second park we saw was Three Rivers State Park. Another Florida State Park devastated by Hurricane Michael, it’s located on Lake Seminole. Known for its excellent bass fishing, Lake Seminole is fed by the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. The Apalachicola River flows away from the lake to the Gulf of Mexico. We had lunch at the picnic area overlooking the lake. Nearby was another geocache that we hunted down and signed the log.
On our final full day we stayed where we were camped. We’ve been here for three days and haven’t seen anything other than the campground. We took an early morning hike on Weeping Ridge Trail. It’s only a one-mile round-trip hike, but the trail is somewhat strenuous. It meanders through fallen trees and steep terrain to a 25-foot waterfall.
Afterward, we cooked a hearty breakfast on the Blackstone. That little griddle is working out great. I think we cooked every meal on it. Other than breakfast, we cooked burgers, pizza, bratwursts, peppers and onions, and potatoes. The griddle is easy to set up, and clean up is easy, too. If you don’t have one yet, I highly recommend you get one.
To work off our breakfast, we decided to do some more exploring. We went to the Gregory House. Although it was closed for tours, we walked around the outside and looked though the window. The view from the front porch across the river is to die for. It was here we saw some young Torreya trees planted near the mansion.
Near the Gregory House we found the trail to the Confederate gun emplacements. It was another short hike, but be aware it is a lot of ups and downs across the ravine. The shrubs and undergrowth cover the pits that once housed the cannons. One would have to use their imagination to visualize what this may have looked like. Signs and story boards along the trail help to explain the layout.
It was a wonderful few days. During our drive home, Grammi and I reflected on the experience. With all the activities we did, spending time at the campsite was our favorite. Riding bicycles, playing games, watching the sunset and sitting around a warm fire with our daughter and son-in-law are our best memories. It was good to get away for a few days. It rejuvenated our desire to get going again. Just a few more weeks and we’ll be on the road.
So until next time…happy days and safe travels.