A day in Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Sometimes you want to be able to do a little bit of everything and that’s what you find at Jonathan Dickinson State Park.  It’s one of those local places that are often forgotten about because it’s so close. Too often we’re looking to go far when sometimes your own backyard is good for some fun.

In my experiences there, I’ve camped, hiked, biked, kayaked, and even volunteered. Volunteering at a park is a great way to get involved and learn activities you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

Ok, so now you want to go, here’s my take on how to spend the day.

First off, go all the way to the back of the park and head out on a kayak. Early morning, the river is peaceful and you can see Osprey nests in the trees and the occasional alligator in the river. At the docks the river is wide, but kayak back a bit and you get into the narrow winding section. You’ll find dark black water that reflects the canopy of large trees and foliage. Turtles and alligators are regular seen back here.

Once back on dry land, grab your bike and head out for a ride. If you have a mountain bike, you can bomb down the many trails that Club Scrub maintains. Sugar sand, hills, planks, and other obstacles make for challenging trails. If that’s not your thing, you can still have a very nice bike ride.

The main road is suitable for cycling and you can explore the entire park on bike. One of my favorites is the old road that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s not technical, but you’re off the beaten path and occasionally will see a hawk or turtle around. It has offshoots to connect to other areas of the park as well.

Now you’re probably hungry so head over to one of the many picnic areas and enjoy lunch near the river. The store also sells food and there’s nothing like an ice cold popsicle on a hot summer day.  While you’re in the store check out the times for the Trapper Nelson boat tour. It’s a motorized boat tour that will take you the historic Trapper Nelson homestead. You’ll learn a wealth of history of the park and its early caretakers. No paddling required, just relax and enjoy the ride. There is an extra fee for the boat tour so inquire before reserving.

After you’ve enjoyed lunch, visit the Kimbell education center and learn more about the park’s history, the variety of plant and wildlife, as well as the many programs offered. Kids welcome!  If you’re there in the summer, you’ll enjoy the air conditioning for sure.

For the rest of the day, it’s time to stretch your legs on the different hiking trails around. The Kitching Creek trail is a nice walk along the river. It connects with other trails so you can walk a nice loop by the river and return to the parking area. There are other trails near the Kimbell center and near the park entrance as well.

The finale of the day will be the walk up the observation tower to watch the sunset. The observation tower is a large platform with a 360 degree view. You can see the ocean Atlantic Ocean to the East and the expanse of the park to the West.

Well that was a full day; kayaking, cycling, boat tour, hiking, and sunset from the observation tower. With two large camping areas and cottages, you can spend the weekend and spread these amenities over a couple of days.

Next time you’re in the Jupiter, Florida area, be sure to spend a day at Jonathan Dickinson State park.

More info here:  http://www.floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson/

Myakka River State Park

Numerous friends had recommended that we visit Myakka River state park.  They said we’d love it because of the kayaking and all the wildlife. After all the recommendations, we had to check it out.

Located about 2 hours from the East coast of Florida, it is an easy drive through the center of the state. Along the way you’ll see the historic section of Florida; wide open prairies and cattle ranches.

We had reserved a cabin and sometimes those are a hit or miss depending on the amenities. This one was perfect; decent size kitchen, with a large great room that housed a fireplace, dining room table, and bed.  Out back was a small porch and a picnic table. Of course, it had the most important thing; air conditioning.

Once unpacked, we set off on our bikes to explore. I really enjoy biking around parks because I see so much more by going slow and I can explore trails along the way.  We peddled down the main grade past a bridge with an overlook into a canal. A perfect place to view alligators, but they were not to be found this time.

Continuing on, we saw vast grassed prairies that would be perfect for a giraffe or Rhino to roam. Further along, the road is enclosed by a canopy of trees with that beautiful hanging Spanish moss. Hanging like a sheer curtain, the moss gives the trees such character.

In the “middle” of the park is a large lake complete with a boat ramp and boat tours. A large concession stand and store are conveniently located there too.   A variety of foods were available, but on this hot summer day it was two words: ice cream!!!  Sitting upstairs, we had an unobstructed view of the lake and boat launch. Anhinga, a small gator, herons and the like were easily spotted.

Continuing on, we ventured further away from civilization and found a long boardwalk that had a panoramic view of the area. There wasn’t anyone else out there so it was perfect. Course, I’m sure in the winter when the weather is nicer, more people wil l be there.

The afternoon was winding down so it was time to head back to camp. Late afternoon is always a great time to see wildlife and this was no exception. Numerous hawks flew over and sat in the trees just above us.  A few deer trotted across the road and into the woods.

As we entered the cabin, sweaty and hot from the long ride, we were thankful for the air conditioning. We had heard about a drum circle and great restaurant at Siesta Key so we cleaned up and headed out for a more “civilized” evening.  About 30 minutes away was everything you could want in civilization. Great restaurants, pristine beaches, and more.

Arriving back at the cabin around 9pm, we still had a sense of adventure and knew that there would be wildlife out at night.  A blast of the bug repellent, a couple bottles of water, and a camera and off we went exploring.

I opened the moon roof for a view of the stars and gently drove around the park at a meagerly 10mph. Wow!!! The things we saw that night were unforgettable.  Frogs, snakes, and all kinds of crawly things were everywhere. We couldn’t drive more than 10 feet without seeing something interesting.  We stopped so much and saw so many things, I felt like I should be shooting one of those wildlife by night shows.

One of the most memorable scenes was a barred owl that flew down from the tree into the road, picked up a frog and flew up into the tree. To see that right in front of you is truly unforgettable. I had my camera, but there are times it’s just better to watch life unfold. Yeah, I miss a few shots, but I have some fond memories.

And this was just day one!  The next day we did even more exploring of the trails including a boardwalk that provided a 360 view above the tree canopy.

So my friends were right; Myakka River state park is a very fun place to visit. You can kayak, bike, experience nature first hand and civilization is not far if you need it. For more information, check out their website:

http://www.myakkariver.org/index.php