I remembered a conversation I had with a park ranger when he mentioned that Colt Creek State Park had a few primitive camping spots, so I grabbed the number off the state parks website and left a message. A couple of hours later, a park ranger returned my call, and I had a reservation at one of the sites 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. Primitive camping is accessible to backpackers. Day visitors can enjoy kayaking and canoeing, freshwater fishing on three lakes and geo-caching.
Colt Creek is part of the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve and offers primitive camping, and there are no RV sites. A nice change. The park offers the usual activities like fishing, biking, canoeing and hiking, as well as horse trails for equestrians.
I arrived in the 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 had 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.
The campsite is in the back corner of a field with a picnic table and fire ring that unfortunately was full of burnt garbage left by some inconsiderate campers. As I poked through the charred tin cans and melted plastic water bottles, a glass blob that once started life as wine bottle appeared out of the ashes, suggesting that must have been one hell of a camp fire.
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 for my return to start the fire as it gets closer to sunset.
I pick two suitable trees to support my hammock and start to string it up, carefully avoiding the 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 floating pool mattress I got from Wal-Mart for $5.95. It actually seems similar to the sleeping pa, 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 sleeping arrangements made, I flip 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 it’s way, giving me a front row seat to watch nature’s television.
After dinner I settle in to watch the fire and make sure that all the stars that are supposed to make their appearance do, 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 the evening, you can always hear some animals wandering through the underbrush, but 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 out the sleeping bag and pool mattress (which worked great, by the way) to dry while I clean up the camp.
By eleven, I am walking back down the trail, carrying the trash generously left by the previous guests, and thinking to myself what a beautiful one night stand that was.
16000 State Road 471
Lakeland, FL. 33809
Park is open 8 a.m. until sunset, 365 days a year. Admission is $4 for vehicles, $2 for pedestrians and bicyclists. Canoe/kayak rentals available.
Camping: Two primitive camps are located at different locations along the Orange Trail, only accessible by foot, horseback or mountain bike. They are pack in/pack out tent camps and do not have water, electricity or restrooms. The nearest camp is three miles from the parking area where your vehicle will be left. Reservations must be made in advance by calling the ranger station, and primitive camping fees apply.
Pets: Pets are welcome in the park but not in camping areas.