We said goodbye to our lovely campsite in Tallahassee and headed near Gainesville, home to the University of Florida Gators. We drove straight to our campsite without stopping, and since I had been sneezing incessantly, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We made great time, scarfed down food before we got too hangry, and I was able to lie down for a nap to try and stop the sneeze-fest.
Compared to some of the other KOA’s we have stayed in, this one is a bit more run-down. Many of the pull throughs are cracked and heaved and so was our patio. The “nature trail” on the outside edge of the park was flooded and unusable during our stay. We had issues with our electrical hook-up as well; however, they did come out right away to tighten up the connections and it worked fine for the remainder of our stay. There is also a train traveling nearby that blares its horn every other hour throughout the night, making it difficult to sleep.
The on-site laundry machines haven’t been replaced since the 1980’s, according to one of the residents, and the dryers had burnt rubber melted in them and wouldn’t stay closed. I had to stay and monitor them, putting the clothes back in and restarting them every 5-10 minutes. I opted to do laundry down the street the second time around, which wasn’t much better, but at least the machines were reliable and clean.
I recall we had a difficult time finding a decent place near Gainesville, and a lot of the nicer ones were already booked up. If you are visiting the area, make sure you reserve your spot early…like 9-12 months in advance. This place was ok for a week, but I wouldn’t return here.
Loblolly Woods Trail & Cry Baby’s
The next morning was rainy and chilly, so we got out late in the day. After doing some trip planning and chores, we headed into town for a little walk through the Loblolly Woods on the Hogtown Greenway, which is a small natural preserve couched in between some major thoroughfares. You pass back and forth over the Possum and Hogtown Creeks, which are low running, sandy-bottomed waterways. There is also a 1/2 mile boardwalk that we used to circle back on a portion of our walk.
Afterward, we drove a few miles east of the university campus and found a bar and eatery called Cry Baby’s to grab a quick bite and enjoy a cocktail. We decided to try their yuca fries, which were served with curried aioli and they were scrumptious. Our tropical drinks were also delicious, but alas we had to get back to Starke and make dinner. If you’re looking for a great place to get cocktails that also serves delicious eats, come on by.
Devil’s Millhopper and San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park
Florida actually has quite a bit of public land compared to most states on the east coast, so we took advantage and went exploring. First up, we stopped at Devil’s Millhopper, a sinkhole and registered natural landmark whose namesake comes from its funnel-like shape. It is 120 feet deep and 500 feet across and has been the source of geological finds like fossilized shark teeth and marine shells. It has lush flora and the water in the bottom is quite clear.
After grabbing some lunch nearby, we headed over to the San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park to explore some of their trails. This place is popular with runners, having mostly wide, flat paths, but beware that there are wild boars in the park. We saw two groups of hogs during our time there. We also saw deer, some plants starting to bloom, and some picturesque swamps. It is not a challenging trail, but is a decent place to enjoy nature, as long as you keep your eyes peeled for boars and have something to fend them off if they get aggressive.
Biking the Hawthorne-Gainesville trail
Like Tallahassee, Gainesville has a series of bike/walk paths. We started south of Starke in a town called Hawthorne, where we parked and biked into Gainesville. This path was a little smoother than the Tallahassee trail, had more sights to see along the way, and even had some hilly sections. We stopped near Depot Park for some lunch, opting for Goldie’s. I tried their vegan chili cheese burger and Matt had their chicken tenders. I liked the textures of my burger, but it didn’t have a lot of flavor. After taking a pause to enjoy the midday sun, we headed back.
On the journey back, we stopped at a few overlooks to the Sweetwater marshy regions below and the Alachua Lake, both within the Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. At the second overlook, our view was framed by beautiful, large trees covered in Spanish moss, and we heard an amazing array of sounds coming from wildlife in the forest and marshlands surrounding us. We made one more stop at a boardwalk where a waterway fed by Newnans Lake is bordered by mangrove trees. It was a great day to be outdoors.
World of Beer (WOB)
Our final stop was World of Beer. They truly do have a wide selection of bottled beers from all over the world and a few dozen selections on draft. Though the google description said it was a gastropub, I wouldn’t exactly say that is accurate…it was a local college sports bar. That being said, I did enjoy my burger, which was juicy and just the right size for me. I did a “build your own burger” and chose arugula, cheddar and garlic aioli with sweet potato fries on the side. Though it may not be a gastropub atmosphere, you can get a decent brew and burger.
And now we are off again, headed to the southernmost place in our travels. I can’t wait to take advantage of the warmer weather in southern Florida, which hasn’t been impacted in quite the same way by the cold fronts moving through the rest of the east coast. Until then, stay warm and happy trails.