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A beautiful one night stand in Colt Creek State Park

I had just come back from a long business trip and was looking for a quick camping getaway, something short, a one night stand with the wilderness.

I remembered a conversation with a park ranger who mentioned Colt Creek State Park had two remote, primitive campsites, so I called the ranger station (863-815-6761) and booked a site for Saturday night.

Colt Creek State Park is one of Florida’s newest state parks, offering 12 miles of well-marked trails for hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Hikers have access to two remote campsites.

The park also has two campgrounds, one for RVs with full hookups (27 sites), and another without amenities for equestrians (10 sites with horse-trailer parking).

Important Note: Only the remote sites and equestrian campsites can be reserved through the ranger station. Reservations in the regular campground for tents and RVs must be made online. See information box below for more information.

Day visitors can enjoy kayaking and canoeing, freshwater fishing on three lakes, bike riding, hiking and geo-caching.

Colt Creek State Park is part of the massive Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve northeast of Tampa.

I arrived early afternoon. After checking in and paying $5.60 for the night, off I went. There is a convenient parking spot at the trail head. The trail was clearly marked and easy to navigate.  I had been told that the camp was a couple of miles along the trail, and I reached the site in about 40 minutes of slow walking. I used the term walking instead of hiking because the trail is flat and really more of a walk than a hike.

Campsite at Colt Creek State Park
Kyle’s remote campsite at Colt Creek State Park
Trail at Colt Creek State Park
The trail is level and easy to hike at Colt Creek State Park.

The campsite was in the back corner of a field with a picnic table and fire ring full of burnt garbage left by previous campers. I poked through charred tin cans and melted plastic water bottles and a wine bottle, all of which should have been packed out.

After removing the trash from the fire ring and bagging it for the return trip, I set up camp and head off to gather firewood, returning with an armful of dead branches, leftover logs from a recent brush fire and a handful of dried grasses and twigs for kindling, I stack the combustibles in order of use to start the fire as it gets closer to sunset.

After finding two suitable trees to support my hammock, I strung it up, avoiding blisters of pine sap creeping out between cracks in the bark. My sleeping pad had recently split a seam, so I took a chance by using a cheap pool mattress from Wal-Mart. It actually seems similar to the sleeping pad (except for the flaming pink color).

Usually, I set up a rain fly, but the sky is so clear, I thought the dampness from the morning dew would be a fair trade-off for a starry view. With the fire ready to go and the hammock bed made, I flipped the hammock over so the mosquito net is on the bottom and climb in with a book to pass the time waiting for sunset.

With the sunset imminent, I pull out the frozen (by now thawed) spicy Italian sausages and large chunk of Italian bread that, when drenched with chili sauce, will be the bulk of my dinner.  A handful of twigs on a bed of dried grass lights quickly, and the fire is well on its way, giving me a front row seat to watch nature’s television.

Dinner on the grill at Colt Creek State Park
Dinner on the grill at Colt Creek State Park

If someone could only invent lightweight beer, this would be perfect.

After dinner I settle in to watch the fire and make sure all the stars that are supposed to make their appearance do so, it dawns on me how quiet it is.

Colt Creek is in the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve but sounds totally different. I don’t hear any animals, at least not any large animals. In Green Swamp during dusk and into evening, you can always hear some animals wandering through the brush. Here, only the birds are keeping me company. It reminds me of camping in my backyard as a kid, fireflies help spark the memories.

The late sunrise keeps me in the sleeping bag until 8 a.m., and as I start to climb out of my hammock, I’m happy to see that the dew hasn’t soaked everything. I put on the water to boil and realize that I had forgotten to pack any tea or coffee, so I use the hot water for my instant mashed potatoes and hot-dog breakfast.

An hour passes before the sun starts to heat up, so I hang the sleeping bag and pool mattress (which worked great, by the way) to dry while I clean up camp.

By eleven, I am walking back down the trail, carrying the trash left by the previous guests, and thinking to myself what a beautiful one night stand that was.

Map of Colt Creek State Park
Map of Colt Creek State Park

Cold Creek State Park

Colt Creek State Park, 16000 State Road 471, Lakeland, FL. 33809. Ranger station: 863-815-6761

Trail and equestrian camping: Two primitive, pack in/pack out camps on the Flatwoods Trail. 10 sites in the Equestrian Campground. $5/adult, $1/child. Call the ranger station for reservations: 863-815-6761.

Campground with hookups: There are six tent sites and 27 RV sites with water and electric (30/50 amp). Dump station. $24/site plus $7 utility fee and $6.70 booking fee. Book online up to 11 months in advance.

Day-use:  $4/vehicle. $2/bicycle. Park hours: 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year.  Canoe/kayak rentals available. Pets OK.

Download the Colt Creek State Park brochure

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