Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fort Clinch State Park - Beach

Today we finished work and school by about noon and decided to head out to the beach.  We headed to the north end of Jacksonville's beaches, and after meandering for a while, decided to continue north to Fort Clinch State Park.

Florida's parks are all still in various stages of recovery from storm damage after Hurricane Irma, and this one is still dealing with a lack of internet connectivity at the fort's gift shop / ticket booth.  That means cash only for entrance to the fort right now.  

This beach has bathrooms for changing, etc. but it's halfway down the wooden walkway between the parking lot and the beach, so it's not obvious that there are any such facilities when you arrive at the lot.  Very often we've pulled up to a beach and found that we have a car full of people that all need to change into their swimsuits, but without a bathroom available.  For the last few trips, we've brought along a tool that handles this situation perfectly.  It's a pop up "shower tent" that essentially gives you an instant changing room.  There are no poles to insert or anything like that.  You just toss it out of the car and it springs out and sets itself up.  With a little practice, it doesn't take much longer than that to put it away again either.  

At one end of the beach there's a big jetty made of large boulders.  The kids enjoyed climbing on those and somehow they aren't even that slippery.

The beach here is full of shells, shark teeth, even bits of coral.  Places like that tend to have even more things washed up after storms and after Irma, it didn't disappoint.  The kids had a nice collection of conch shells before we left.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Head Spring - Ichetucknee Springs State Park

After our tubing was done at Ichetucknee, we headed back to the north entrance to go to Head Spring to swim.  This is a fairly small spring pool but deep enough to be interesting for snorkeling / free diving.

Tubing Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Park instructions

Getting into the park: There's a North and South entrance to the park, roughly 10 minutes apart. All tubers must park in the South lot no matter where you intend to start your floating journey.

Tubing Course: 
There are 3 launch points. 
From North to South:
● North (3 hr 30 min)
● Midpoint (1 hr 45 min)
● Dampier's Landing (45 min) 

We chose the midpoint since this was our first tubing experience and we were in a group that included several little ones. There was a significant walk to get to the Midpoint but you can elect to take the tram. 
Renting a Tube: 
You can rent a tube or bring your own. There are several vendors as you approach, but you can also rent tubes directly from the park.

We rented from Lowes Tubeland because they just happened to be the first place we came to but I do see now that they have a coupon code so that's a bonus. They were friendly, explained the process clearly and waited patiently for us to choose our tubes.
*We rented an extra, small raft to hold our cargo.

We picked up our tubes inside of the park even though we rented from an outside private vendor. I was worried we would have to fit them into an already loaded mini van so it was nice to find this convenient arrangement.
*There is a tube return area very shortly after you exit the river.
No hassle at all.

There's a shuttle and a tram.
The shuttle transports between the North and South entrance and the tram transports to and from the river, only at the South end.

Here's how they suggest you tube from the North end:
1. All of your party, except the driver, gets out at the North end
2. Driver takes the vehicle to the South lot and purchases wristbands for their entire party
3. Driver rides the shuttle back to the North entrance to rejoin your party and start your float down the river

*Important note. The driver will need to have a hand stamp to re-enter the park on the North end since your 'proof of purchase' receipt is still taped to the inside of your car windshield. The driver will need to buy wristbands while they're at the South end for everyone in your party if you intend to take the tram ride when you exit the river. The wristbands are only sold in the South lot so you will not have another opportunity.

Best case scenario this process takes 30 minutes, late afternoon on a busy day this could be more like an hour.

The girl working at the North entrance made this process sound SO confusing and intimidating that we almost left the park before we even got started.

Tram only - $5.35 grants you unlimited access to the tram for the day
Combo - $7.49 good for 1 shuttle to the North and unlimited tram for the day

We will buy combo wristbands for all the members of our party when we return to tube from the North end. I understand that it's a tiny bit cheaper to only pay for one member of your party to be shuttled to the North but it's not worth being separated for possibly an hour of our day.

I'm glad that we made the walk through the forest on the way to the river (and back) this trip but we'll take the tram on our next trip. It was a long, tiring walk for little ones (especially coming out of the river) with little reward.

*You're only allowed to travel down the river with reusable items.
Here's a list of the most useful things we packed:
◍ Water
◍ Rope - to tie our tubes together. It would have been easy to get separated from the kids had we not had a way to keep everyone together.
◍ Sandals - we walked the path to enter the river and the path exiting in the river. I've seen other people mention water shoes to avoid touching the grass along the bottom but flip flops worked just as well for us.
◍ Goggles/snorkels - The kids really enjoyed snorkeling through the hole in their tubes.
◍ Bug spray - especially if you're walking the trail to get to the river. I found a tick crawling on my hand about 30 seconds after settling into my tube.
◍ Waterproof bag, hats, & sunscreen.

The Float

Getting everyone into the tubes while managing to not lose anyone to the current was a little challenging but doable. The midpoint launch is just a pier on the side of the river. Dampier's Landing is more of a gradual beachy area and may have been an easier start point for a large group.

Tying our tubes together was the absolute best part of this trip. The kids were able to hop from tube to tube and the adults were able to kick back and relax without worrying that we would lose any of them.

The current isn't strong but it is constant and could easily exhaust someone that isn't a seasoned swimmer. There was also a surprising amount of debris along the river. You'll need to look out for logs and limbs along the way or you could manage to get yourself trapped.

Olivia (2) wore her life vest the entire trip but my older kids did not. I think it's probably a good idea for all of us to wear a vest when we float from the North end on our next trip.

3.5 hrs down any river seems PFD worthy to me. 

The shores are lined with cypress trees and little turtle families.

The water was fairly clear but I wouldn't quite describe it as "crystal clear" like their website claims. The bottom is mostly covered in eelgrass with occasional white sandy patches.

I was worried about alligators and snakes going into this trip but I'm happy to report there were no alligators and only one small brown water snake that was trying his best to get away from us.

Bream and bluegill are visible from the surface in the shallowest areas. You can find schools of mullet in the deeper areas if you're willing to dive down and explore a bit.

The exit is a large, clearly marked, roped off area, you can't miss it. It is a little rocky and slippery leading up the stairs but there was a park employee available to assist.

We thoroughly enjoyed our first tubing experience as a family and we'll definitely go back to do this one again. 👍


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

About Us

We're a family of 5 living in Jacksonville, FL. We live a pretty low maintenance life. We run an online business, we home-school our kids and try to keep our time as free as possible. We started this blog to share our adventure.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Alexander Springs Recreation Area

Today we went to Alexander Springs for the first time. Partially because the swimming area looked big with a nice variation of depth to suit all of us, and partially to try out our (cheap) new masks and snorkels. We've tried a few recently that were problematically uncomfortable or leaky and the ones we got this time finally worked out well. I was actually getting mine to replace a diving mask that I paid about $75 for, and as far as I'm concerned, this one is as nice for under $20 and comes with a basic snorkel as well.

There was a little damage from Hurricane Irma while we were there, but the swimming area was great. Adjacent to the swimming area, there is a large grassy and shaded area where many people had their picnic blankets and wagons parked.  The swimming area was both more crowded, and more spacious than I expected, so the number of people was never an issue.  This is the largest, and probably most family friendly spring I think we've been to so far.