Continuing my November tour of Florida State Parks within driving distance of my home base of Gainesville, I stayed four nights at O’Leno State Park, about five miles north of High Springs, and maybe 15 minutes of I-75 and Alachua. If you want a stop on the way north or south, this is a pretty good park.
It does have one big drawback if you’re sensitive to noise: you can hear the I-75 traffic, night and day. As the crow flies it’s only a few miles from the interstate, so the trucks and cars provide a constant background drone. Even when hiking, I was reminded that I wasn’t that far away from “civilization” and its attendant noises.
The big attraction for me at O’Leno was two-fold. First, this suspension bridge is way cool. It moves a bit as you walk across it and it has good water views of the Santa Fe River flowing underneath it. Reminded me of playing on a kid’s size suspension bridge years ago in Monterey with my little friend, who delighted in making the bridge bounce up and down. I might have done a little bouncing on this one because Liam was right, it IS a fun thing to do!
The second big attraction at this park were the cabins and this beautiful outdoor space, both built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Every time I see these CCC creations, I wonder why we can’t do that type of program now, and give people meaningful work if they need it. Our parks, our open spaces, our cities, could use the help to provide more recreation spots for everyone (well, once this pandemic thing is done and dusted). If 2020 has taught us many lessons, one of them has to be that outdoor spaces are integral to our collective mental health. Let’s invest in making the outdoors more widely available and more accessible to everyone.
The park features several trails, and I walked the river trail (about 45 minutes) in both directions, seeking out water views (one is the cover photo) and wildlife. Didn’t see much of the latter, which I suppose is good, considering wildlife here in Florida always includes gators. The traffic noise from I-75 was a distraction, but I tried my best to tune it out.
I was surprised by the beauty of the light on this dying palm and couldn’t resist taking a picture of it.
And just because O’Leno seems to lend itself to portrait images (rather than the wide landscape ones), here’s one more, the underside of that suspension bridge reflected in the still waters of the Santa Fe.
O’LENO STATE PARK (FLORIDA STATE PARKS)
- Site 12 in the Magnolia loop (water/electric). You can’t really tell from the map, but 12 and 13 are almost “paired” sites they are so close together. For privacy, the best sites in the loop are 14, 15, and 16. Site 22 is the lone pull-through site, good for an overnight stay, but it is very close to both 21 and 23 so not much privacy at all.
- The campground loop and the dump station are both unpaved, sandy roads, so take them slowly. Reserve at Florida State Parks on ReserveAmerica.
- Services: electric/water with dump station. Bath house with showers and toilets. One trash station with aluminum can recycling (yay!)
- Decent ATT and Verizon signals, ATT slightly more reliable.
- Groceries: 10 minutes south to High Springs, where you’ll find a Winn-Dixie, a few gas stations, and the closest Post Office. 15 minutes to the Publix in Alachua, along with I-75 and fast food places.
I would rather be amongst forest animals and the sounds of nature, than amongst city traffic and the noise of man.
Anthony Douglas Williams