Florida Keys

Florida Keys
Florida Keys September 2014

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Biking the Nature Coast State Trail


Date: 11/3/2013

Location: Fanning Springs, Fl

It was a beautiful Sunday morning with the temperatures in the low to mid-sixties. Perfect fall weather in Florida!! Julie and I decided to bike the one section of the Nature Coast State Trail that we’ve not yet done. In the past we did the Trenton to Fanning Springs section as well as the Fanning Springs to Cross City section, but today was the Fanning Springs to Chiefland spur which is about a 20 mile round trip ride.

The Nature Coast State Trail is built upon old abandoned rail lines. So, for the most part they are fairly straight with very little elevation change and this was especially true of today’s ride. The trail from Fanning Springs to Chiefland is straight as an arrow (see gps track below) and very flat. I can’t think of any section of today’s ride that seemed like it was peddling up or down hill. And since we don’t bike ride a lot, that’s very much appreciated!!

Three of the four trail heads on the Nature Coast trail are built at the location of the old rail stations. So, they all still have the depot buildings that have been restored. Fanning Springs is the only one that does not have a rail station, but the picture below is of the Chiefland train station (also used as the Chamber of Commerce facility). This was the end of the line for us today and was where we turned around and headed back.




The Fanning Springs to Chiefland section of the Nature Coast trail is well shaded for the most part but there are some sections that are in full sun. Even though today was cool, we still appreciated riding under the tree cover which made it very comfortable. I can’t say that this trail is overly scenic as it travels between US-19 and CR-207 and you do hear a bit of traffic noise from the highway, but it’s still a nice ride. The trail is well maintained and very wide and there’s not many other bikers to worry about. We did pass by some horse farms and large pastures. This ride also gives you a good look into life in rural Florida which is much different than many of the more populated sections of the state.

This is pretty much the look of the trail, but with some areas being more shaded.



The Fanning Springs trail head is very near the State Park. We didn’t ride into the park, but we did head towards the US-19 overpass as it crosses the Suwannee River. We found an interesting road side park on the south side of US-19 that is right on the river. They had a walkway down to the river where you could take in the beauty of the Suwannee.



Here’s a section of the original bridge that was built to span the Suwannee River

100_0237   100_0238

And on the north side of US-19 we found another park that we had never noticed. This one was also directly on the river but didn’t have any direct access to the water.

100_0239   100_0240

Here’s the GPS track from our ride today on the Nature Coast Trail

Biking the Nature Coast State Trail at EveryTrail

And a short YouTube video of our ride.


Sunday, October 27, 2013

A weekend at Low Key Hideaway in Cedar Key


Location: Cedar Key, Fl

Date: 10/25/2013 – 10/27/2013

A few months ago we were looking for a weekend getaway location where we could camp with our RV and our daughters could stay in a little more comfort but still be close by. Last spring we camped in Cedar Key, but were not able to get into one of the Low Key Hideaway’s RV sites because they were full. So, we stayed next door at the Sunset Isle RV park. This time we did a better job of planning ahead and were able to get two motel rooms and an RV site at Low Key Hideaway.

Low Key Hideaway is in a beautiful location on one of the keys leading into the big town of Cedar Key. It’s right on the water where you can sit on one of their decks or venture out onto their dock to take in the beautiful scenery, One of their decks was about 15 feet behind our camper and we spent a lot of time hanging out there with our family. We all found it very relaxing. 

Although Julie and I didn’t stay in the motel room, we did check out our kids rooms (4 & 5) and found them very nice and comfortable. The owners of Low Key, Pat and Cindy, have a very “interesting” way of decorating and it works well. The room and surrounding gardens have an eclectic collection of “things” and there’s pieces to look at and take in everywhere, including the wall of super hero figurines. The rooms also have an amazing collection of photos from areas around Cedar Key and I believe they were all taken by Pat.

It’s also interesting to visit the on-site Tiki bar which is open most every day from later afternoon into the evening. The Tiki bar is a fun place to have a few drinks and intermingle with others staying at Low Key as well as many of the locals who stop by. The Friday night that we were there, one lady was cooking food on the grill and then bringing it in to share with everyone in the bar. The Tiki bar definitely has a good vibe.

One of the bonuses of staying in Cedar Key was the night sky. Julie and I like to take in the stars and “try” to identify planets, constellations, etc. Cedar Key, being far away from any city lights, had some amazing star gazing. The nights we were there had extremely clear skies and we hadn’t see anything like that in a long time. The milky way was very easy to see and we had a great time taking in the heavens above.

Just a note about Low Key Hideaway. It is an adult only motel and RV park. So, only those that are over 21 can stay here. But they do allow well behaved pets!  So, bringing Fido is ok.

Here’s the front of Low Key Hideaway and the pathway leading to the Tiki Bar.



Looking towards the RV sites from the dock.



The Tiki Bar and the dock out to the water.



Me and my two girls enjoying some beautiful weather and Cedar Key surroundings!



My daughter and a college friend posing for a picture on one of Low Key’s decks.



Here’s a picture of my wife and two of her sisters from Colorado enjoying a walk out onto the deck to enjoy the view.



We didn’t do much besides hanging around and enjoying our family time, but we did venture out to Cemetery Point Park to walk on the boardwalk leading through the marsh and wetlands.



The area behind the Low Key Hideaway was prime location for bird watching. This area is very shallow, with mud flats being exposed during low tide. So, this was an area that really attracted a large variety of birds. 



And of course being right on the water allowed us to view some beautiful sunsets.



On Sunday we checked out of our RV site and headed the 60 minute trip back home. We had loaded up our kayaks and brought them to Cedar Key, but it was a little too windy and we were too busy to do any paddling. So, since we got home and unpacked early in the afternoon, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and get the boats wet. We did our old stand by/go to paddle of the Santa Fe River to River Rise State Park. We usually don’t see any other boats on the water when we do this section of the river, but today we saw about 10 other people out there. I guess we weren’t the only ones who felt the need to get out and get a little exercise!


Here’s a short video of our time on the water today. Most of it shows Julie pulling away from me and leaving me in the dust. She had more paddling enthusiasm than I had today..

Monday, October 14, 2013

A weekend camping trip to Silver Springs State Park


Location: Silver Springs State Park, Ocala, Fl

Date: 10/12 – 10/14/2013

Well, after a five month break because of the hot and humid Florida summers, we finally had nice enough weather to get out and do some camping. With Monday being a holiday for some (Columbus Day) Julie and I decided to take a long weekend camping trip to Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. This is an easy hour drive from our home and we were able to get there, checked in and set up before it got dark on Friday.

This is a Florida State Park that we didn’t know existed until recently. We’ve lived in Gainesville for 30+ years, but had never heard of this park, which is too bad since it is a very nice campground and park. The sites are all very large, level and for the most part well spaced out. Although we don’t have a large RV, this campground is definitely big rig friendly with most of the sites being pull through.

Just in the past few week, Silver Springs State Park joined with the old and now closed Silver Springs Theme Park. So, with your entry fee you can get into both parks. Even though these two parks are adjacent to each other, there is currently no way to get from one park to the other (well unless you canoe or kayak). So, you have to exit one park and drive the few miles to the entrance to the other. The ranger we spoke with said there are plans to link the two parks with a trail or road sometime in the future.

One of the main draws for this park in the Silver River which is a clear spring fed river whose head spring is at the Silver Springs Theme park. The concessioner, who used to rent kayaks and canoes from the campground location has now moved to the theme park location. From here you can also pay $4 per canoe/kayak and launch you own boat. We wish we had brought our kayaks this time, but will definitely camp here again and make sure we bring them.

You can also launch your canoe or kayaks from the Silver River Campground. But be prepared to carry your boat a long way from the parking lot to the river as it is a .6 mile hike between the two.

A nice trip, if you have two vehicles, is to put in at the head spring or at the campground and float down to the Ray Wayside Park (SR 40 E of Silver Springs). This is an easy float down a very nice and scenic river. Julie and I did this trip a few years ago, putting in at the Way Side park, paddling upstream to the head spring and the floating back. The current is not too bad and paddling upstream is definitely doable.

Our camper at site #43 which was a large pull through site. Getting set up Friday evening was almost too easy with no backing into the site and no leveling required.


Silver Springs State Park has a lot of defined hiking trails that wind around this large area of land. Most of these trails a very nice and most do allow biking as well as hiking. We did some off road biking and enjoyed it, that is until we got to some sandy areas that were difficult to peddle through. There were also some areas (very few) that were torn up by wild hogs. It’s amazing how much destruction these animals can do to an area.

All of the trails a well marked and easy to follow. We find this is not always the case in some parks we visit.

DSC_4999  DSC_5004

This is the canoe launch on the Silver River. It’s a beautiful launch area, but it is long haul with your gear from the parking lot.


The campground also has a natural history museum (we didn’t check it out) as wells as an old Florida Cracker Village that you can walk around. During the weekends they have volunteers, dressed I period clothes, giving talks about the life in old Florida.

DSC_5021     DSC_5026

DSC_5032     DSC_5044

Here’s a short video of the campground and Silver River



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Barr Hammock Preserve Hike


Date: 10/6/2013

Location: Gainesville, Fl

We’ve hiked the 6+ mile loop trail at Barr Hammock Preserve several times. It was Sunday morning, we didn’t feel like loading up the kayaks for a paddle or going on any long road trip to a park, so we decided to do this hike once again. The weather had been teasing us with a few cooler morning recently, but unfortunately this morning was not one of those and it was a little warm for this walk. We decided to hike this loop going counter clockwise and get the sunny northern part of the trail out of the way first. The southern side is more wooded and shady and would be more comfortable as the day warmed even more.

Being a large wetland, there were many birds to be seen out on the preserve. We also came across several alligators soaking up the warmth of the sun. One large male (about 7+ feet long) caught us off guard as we didn’t see him near the edge of the water, but he saw us and made a mad dash and buried himself in the mud and brush. We also say several mom gators with their small babies and they also dove for cover as we approached.



The entire hike is on an old levee that surrounds the wetlands.




They have added several new covered benches along the trail. There’s now three for four locations where you can sit and take in the scenery.



With so much water around, I’d have thought that we would have seen more snakes, but this is the only one we came across. He (or she) wasn’t too concerned about us and just stayed in this sunny spot as we passed.



We’ve not had any cold weather to cause any color change in all the vegetation, but with all of the fall flowers that were blooming and some of the summer plants dying off, there was some nice colors around.


Here is the GPS track from our hike at Barr Hammock

Barr Hammock Preserve Hike at EveryTrail


And a short YouTube video taken a several spots on the trail



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Gold Head Branch State Park


Location: Keystone Heights, Fl

Date: 9/22/2013

We’re almost done with the hot and humid Florida summer weather, which means camping time is near. Gold Head Branch State Park is a place we visited probably 15+ years ago, but we’ve never camped here. So, we decided to do a day trip to check it out and see if this was a place we wanted to add to our list of camping locations. Plus, the Florida Scenic Trail runs through this park and Julie and I like to hike short sections of the trail whenever we get a chance.

Gold Head Branch is about an hours drive from our house. So, it would be a close location for weekend camping trips. They have three separate camping loops and each has a different look and feel. The Sand Hill camping loop looked the best to us and had many level sites with good spacing between each. We definitely could see ourselves camping here for a weekend.

The park has a lot of nice winding roads that would be good for biking. When we do come here to camp, we will definitely bring our bikes.

After checking out the campground loops and the cabin area, we parked at the main day use area parking lot and located the Florida Trail. We hiked the Florida trail for about three miles which took us back up to the park’s main gate. Instead of back tracking, we walked some of the park roads back into the park and picked up some of the other trails they have here. We did a total of about 6 miles, which was enough on this increasingly humid morning!

Here’s the parking area which was not very crowded on this Sunday morning.



Gold Head Branch State Park was developed back in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Their work can be found throughout the park and many of the buildings had these plaques.




The water levels in this area of Florida are way down. Partly from drought and also from increased development. So, all the lakes are much lower than their previous levels. Actually most of the lakes in this park are now ponds. They did have the swimming area closed for awhile, but the levels have come back up some, so the swimming beach has reopened. 


Here’s our GPS track of the hike we did today.

Gold Head Branch State Park at EveryTrail


This beetle was parading along our trail as we were hiking by. So, had to grab a short video.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Talkeetna Alaska and the Alaskan Lodge


Location: Talkeetna, Alaska

Dates: 8/31/2013 – 9/1/2013


After our two days in the backcountry of  Denali, we boarded the train for a four hour trip south to Talkeetna. We had reservations at the Alaskan Lodge for our last nights stay in Alaska. This was a very nice and modern complex just a few miles outside of the town limits. The lodge had a shuttle doing the downtown loop on an hourly schedule. So, getting around was very easy.

This was the front porch area of the lodge. If the weather was nice, you would be able to have a great view of Denali. Unfortunately, it was off and on rain while we were here, so no views of the mountain for us.



The lodge had a huge lobby area with this large stone fireplace in the middle. It was fairly cool/cold while we were here and they had a fire going the entire time.



On Sunday morning we were scheduled to do a flight to the Denali base camp and land on a glacier. This was with the Talkeetna Air Taxi company. That morning we woke up to drizzle and heavy cloud cover. We were hoping that the weather would clear for the trip, but it never happened. So, they cancelled our flight which was kind of a bummer. We were really looking forward to this adventure and landing on a glacier, but there’s really not much you can do about the weather.

So, instead we went to downtown Talkeenta and walked around. This is a very “interesting” and quirky town. It’s somewhat touristy, but not over the top. There’s still many locals hanging out and doing business in the downtown area, so it comes across as a true Alaskan town. From the few locals that we met, they are very accepting of the tourists. I’m sure they realize that tourism brings in a lot of money to the local area  But I’m also sure they are somewhat relived when the busy season winds down and they can get their town back to themselves.

2013_08_Alaska 1225

2013_08_Alaska 1224


We had to stop in at the Denali Brewing Company beer garden. We were there with a few other tourists and a few locals and one large (very friendly) dog! We tried a few of their home brewed beers and had to give them two thumbs up!

2013_08_Alaska 1210

2013_08_Alaska 1214

On Saturday night we ate dinner at the West Rib. The name of the restaurant comes from one of the approaches the climbers take when trying to get to the top of Mt Denali. It sounds like this is one of the more difficult routes to the summit.

Talkeetna is the closest town (with an airport) to Denali/Mt McKinley. So, it is the starting and ending point of for all the climbers attempting to climb this mountain. I believe all climbers must check in at the local ranger station in Talkeetna before they fly to the base camp.

So, the West Rib restaurant is a popular place for the climbers to visit. The walls are covered with pictures and climbing gear. Plus all the climbers sign their name on the walls. We had a great dinner here and it gave us a little taste of the local climbing culture.

2013_08_Alaska 1215

2013_08_Alaska 1216


Here’s just a few random pictures of the Talkeetna area.

2013_08_Alaska 1221

2013_08_Alaska 1228

And our last adventure of our Alaska trip was a raft ride down the Talkeetna River with the Denali View Raft Adventures. Our guide picked us up in the downtown area and drove about 5 miles upriver to our put in location. Of course, it was rainy, cold and grey out, but we really enjoyed our float downstream. Julie and I were the only ones signed up for a trip today (hmmm, what’s wrong with us??!). Our guide was a very nice young guy who obviously had a love for the out doors and the beauty of Alaska. He made the trip interesting.

Here’s Julie with her many layers on and the rain poncho supplied by the rafting company. They also gave us boots, so they wanted to keep us dry and warm. We didn’t experience any white water, but the water was flowing pretty fast from all the recent rains.



There were many locations where we would pull up to a sand bar and see bear prints. I guess the evening before our guide had seen some bears in this area, but we didn’t have any sightings.



We came across many beaver ponds on our float downstream. There’s many smaller rivers flowing into the Talkeetna river, which made for some great beaver habitats. 



Talkeetna Alaska - Rafting at EveryTrail


We headed back to the Alaskan lodge for lunch before we boarded the train back to Anchorage. From anchorage we would fly out at 10:00pm for a red eye back to Florida.

We decided to do one last hike since the Alaska lodge had some trails around their property. Below is the gps track of that hike. Of course it rained on us the entire time, so it was a fitting end to our time here.

Talkeetna Alaska - Alaska Lodge Hike at EveryTrail


All the pictures of the Alaskan Lodge and the town of Talkeetna can be found at this link.


This is the last blog post of our trip to Alaska. All the previous posts can be found here:


Alaska Trip Begins – Anchorage

Traveling around Alaska using the Alaska Railroad

Our stay at Fox Island and Resurrection Bay

Northwestern Fjords boat tour

Our time in Seward Alaska 

Denali National Park – Visitors Center Area

The 92 mile bus ride into and out of Denali

Denali Backcountry Lodge

Talkeetna Alaska

Finally got the YouTube videos edited and posted. So, here they are:

Anchorage Train

Alaska Train Anchorage to Seward

Seward Alaska


Fox Island


Kenai Fjords Tour

Kenai Fjords Tour 

Kenai Fjords Northwest Glacier

Denali Park Road 

Alaska Train Anchorage to Denali

Blueberry Hill Hike

Wickersham Dome Hike

Backcountry Lodge

Denali Road


Wonder Lake Bike Ride