The Beginning of our Next Road Trip: Destination Everglades National Park
After spending several months day-tripping and exploring some of Florida’s great state parks, we were ready to see what else the National Park System had to offer, and we really wanted to spend a week or so camping.
With that virus thing still in the air, we thought we’d try a park within the state of Florida in case one of us got sick and we had to come home. Mr. McGee had already gotten the bug earlier in the year, so he had immunity, but for some reason I never contracted it from him, and we wanted to be cautious on our first actual “vacation” in a year. So, the spot we chose was Everglades National Park. It was within a day’s drive and the weather was mild enough to visit without puddling into a humid heap of sweaty flesh.
But we didn’t go straight there. We took the opportunity to visit a few other spots as we drove south toward the “River of Grass”.
Here’s our itinerary
- 12/7 – 12/9/2020 – Jonathan Dickinson State Park, with a side trip to the Nathaniel P. Reed Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge.
- 12/9 – 12/12/2020 – Everglades National Park, with a stop at Blowing Rocks Preserve
- 12/12/2020 – Big Cypress National Preserve
- 12/13/2020 – Collier Seminole State Park
- 12/14/2020 – Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
Over the next few weeks, we’ll discuss what we found to do at each park and include a short video so you can see the highlights of each location and determine for yourself if it is a place you’d like to visit someday.
Day One: Our First Stop: Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Date Visited: 12/7/2020 – 12/9/2020
The first thing I have to say is that I didn’t know there was a mountain in Southeast Florida.
Okay, so maybe it is not as much mountain as it is ancient sand dune, but it is called Hobe Mountain. As Florida sand dunes go, it is rather impressive at 86′ above sea level. We climbed to the top of the dune via a boardwalk that takes you to the Hobe Mountain Tower, which rises another 27′ above the dune. From there we were able to look out over the park, the intercoastal waterway, and see out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Although the view was fantastic, Mr. McGee was more interested in learning about the history of Camp Murphy, a secret military base, from World War II.
Camp Murphy was a radar training school for the Southern Signal Corps from 1942 to 1944. The site supported around 1000 buildings and 6000 men. Training consisted of setting up and maintaining a radar, along with basic radio repair, first aid, and chemical warfare.
It was a self-contained operation having its own power plant, sewer system, post office, movie theater, bowling alley, church and other recreational faculties as well as the standard base operations.
Town folks knew little about the base and keeping it that way was a base priority.
It was hard to imagine the many buildings occupying this area, as very few remnants of the expansive site remain for park visitors to see. Most of the buildings were dismantled or sold off in 1947 and our research shows that extreme caution was also taken during the construction of the site to preserve the dunes from excessive damage.
Our major disappointment about visiting when we did was that everything was closed. The pontoon boat tour to Trapper Nelson’s Interpretive Site was closed. The river tour was closed, and the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center was closed. That didn’t leave much for us to do but walk the trails.
Now if hiking and biking are your thing, this is the place to come. Mountain bike enthusiast really seem to enjoy this park. We’ve been here twice and both times the bike staging area was packed. There are hard-paved and natural trails to ride, a practice area for homing in those skills, and a wash station for rinsing everything down when you’re done.
If you prefer feet over wheels this is also a great place to visit. We took in several trails that were multiuse trails and made a few of our own accidently when we took a wrong turn somewhere. If you prefer not to dodge bikes and horses, there are the Green Loop Trail (4.9 miles) and the White Trail (7.5 miles) that are maintained by the Florida Trail Association that are designated for foot traffic only. The 9.5 mile Ocean to Lake Trail (Orange trail) also runs through the park, but we couldn’t figure out how to access it.
If letting someone else do the walking for you is your saddle of choice, there is an equestrian staging area that appeared to be a very nice facility. We aren’t horsemen, so you’ll have to do your own research about that.
As far as camping goes, we had zero complaints.
There are two campgrounds; the River campground (where we stayed) which has unpaved aprons and smaller unleveled sites without sewer hookups, and the Pine Grove Campground with its paved aprons, sewer hookups and cleared spaces that make it easy for RVs of all sizes. The Pine Grove campground is a Florida favorite with many campers coming to stay from far and wide. Both campgrounds have shower and laundry facilities, as well as electric and water hookups on site. The dump station is located in the Pine Grove Campground.
We really enjoyed our stay. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we returned to this park in the future so we could take in some of the activities that were closed during the COVID LOCKDOWN.
If there were any words of caution to be given at all it would be these two things: 1.) Some of the trails go underwater during heavy rains and 2.) the campsites are usually pre-booked weeks in advance during the winter months when all campsites are premium due to the mild Florida weather.
If variety is your spice, there are canoe, kayak, bicycle, and motorboat rentals available. There is also a river tour, the tour of Trapper Nelson’s, picnic pavilions, and a playground.
The short video below highlights just a few points of interest in the park. Keep in mind the video was made as a modernish slideshow for family where we’d discuss the trip in our living room while watching the video. A more informative video will be posted in the future when we make a return trip to the park and finally make it out the Trapper Nelson’s site.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park 16450 SE Federal Hwy, Hobe Sound, FL 33455 (772) 546-2771 Website
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