When we were camping in Crystal River in January, we passed Colt Creek State Park on our way north. Curious, we went back to check it out while we were driving around one day.
In 2006 it was purchased from the Overstreet family to become Florida’s 160th State Park and covers over 5000 acres of pine flatwoods, cypress domes, and open pastures.
There are 17 miles of trails as well as the paved, main park road and three lakes for paddling.
The park even has kayaks and canoes available for rent if you don’t feel like bringing your own.
It looked good enough to book a two-night exploratory trip the last weekend in February. The family campsite is even newer than the park: it has only been open for three years and still has that “new camp smell.”
The clean, well-maintained sites are laid out with plenty of room to accommodate your rig, plus picnic table, grill, and fire ring. We remarked that the campground must have been designed by an actual camper as there is more than enough space between each site and the saw palmettos provide good privacy screens.
Although most of the shade is slash pine trees, there is enough room to maneuver your vehicle to avoid the hottest of the morning or afternoon sun.
The central bath building has separate his/her facilities each with two spacious shower stalls. There is also a stainless steel sink with hot & cold water for washing dishes,
And (wait for it) … vending machines with Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies!
The only weird thing is the firewood. At $5 a bundle it’s very reasonable and certainly beats lugging kiln-dried from home. But the logs are stored in a loose pile in a code-locked shed near the campground entrance. Unless you’ve brought along a wheelbarrow there is no easy way to get it from the shed to your campsite.
The drive up from Okeechobee was uneventful, although in hindsight driving through the traffic in Bartow and Lakeland on a Sunday afternoon was probably not ideal.
Even so, we arrived shortly after 3pm and were set up in our site (#30) in no time.
Andy took a nap while I hiked the nearby Flatwoods Trail. This trail is actually 10 miles long but the trailhead nearest the campgrounds is only about two miles and takes you through the woods to the southern end of the three lakes.
These lakes were part of the Overstreet’s rock mining operation in the 1990’s. The pits were deep enough to reach the aquifer layer and as a result, are now natural-looking lakes with numerous species of birds, aquatic plants, and animals.
On my way I spied a red-shouldered hawk, red-bellied woodpeckers,
A raccoon, and the unmistakable “who cooks for you?” hoot of a barred owl. I tried to locate him through the trees but was reluctant to venture too far into the woods.
Cormorants and pied-billed grebes were swimming in Little Lake.
There is a bathroom building (with flush toilet), picnic pavilion, and small parking area between the two lakes.
A grassy path takes you towards the third and largest, Mac Lake
which also has a fishing pier extending 75 feet out over the water.
A great white egret was just finishing his meal while vultures circled overhead.
I made it back to the campground shortly before dark. That night the sky started out clear and we set up to shoot some star shots.
Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in early but we were encouraged by the brilliance of the stars!
We spoke with a ranger later in our stay who told us that there are no lights at the fishing pier. It promises to be a great spot to set up on a clear, moonless night!
Monday March 1, we woke before dark and the light of my flashlight caught a little bunny as I opened the door to let Oscar and Maddie out. Andy exclaimed, “a March hare!”
We set out for a morning walk around 7:30am. No sooner had we hit the main, paved road when we saw a water moccasin crossing in front of us! We gave him plenty of time to slither into the brush before continuing on our way.
We took the same path on the Flatwoods Trail as I had taken the afternoon before, and I shuddered thinking about how far I had ventured on the leaf-covered forest floor!
As we rounded a turn on the path, I spied a barred owl on a shaded branch. Just as quickly he flew to a nearby tree, landing in the most perfect light we could hope for.
He sat long enough for us to take a few shots before disappearing into the forest. “Thank you!” I cried as he flew away.
There are three tributaries that run through the park including Gator Creek, Little Gator Creek, and the park’s namesake Colt Creek. An impossible shot, we spied a small group of ibis pecking in the creek that flows through the Flatwoods Trail.
On my walk the afternoon before, I had spied a brilliant blue bird with orange chest but he moved so quickly I was not able to snap a photo. As we headed towards the pavilion between the two lakes, we saw him again. I have since learned it was an Eastern bluebird. We ended up seeing several during our stay.
Although there are signs everywhere warning of alligators and “no swimming”
we spied only one small gator hiding in the lily pads in smallest of the three lakes.
We took the short-cut gravel road to the ranger station and paused to photograph a very cooperative Eastern phoebe.
On our walk back along the paved, main park road
we spied a beautiful male cardinal in the mid-morning sun,
We also saw common doves, a blue-gray gnatcatcher, and multiple palm warblers.
It was a long hike in the hot sunshine and by the time we got back to camp it was naptime in Terrapin’s cool A/C!
Because we booked this last minute, we had to move campsites for our second night. It was a bit of a hassle but we were settled into our new spot (site #12) by 1pm. We did, however, have to walk back to the ranger station to re-check in since we had no cell service.
It was a beautiful hike with another snake crossing our path (too quick to ID), a swallow-tailed kite soaring overhead,
A hunting little blue heron,
And tri-color heron on a kiosk rooftop.
On our way back to camp, we detoured through the short (1/4 mile) Mac Lake Nature Trail.
This trail is located close to the day parking area and has interpretative signs at various spots along the way.
We had not decided which way we would hike back to the campsite but the hoot of a barred owl pulled us once again in the direction of the Flatwoods Trail. We did not spy him but it was a nice walk back in the cool shade of the forest.
That night it was too cloudy to think about setting up for star shots. Instead, we just hung out at the campfire and called it an early night.
Tuesday morning it was time to go home. But first, one more hike to look for the barred owl. I heard two calling back and forth – a male and a female – but did not spy them. I did however spot a pair of sandhill cranes and a great blue heron overhead,
And two new-to-me TTB’s (tiny twitchy birds): A Carolina wren
And a black & white warbler.
Once I got to the lakes, I was delighted to see a red-winged blackbird pecking in the lily pads and at least 17 American robins having breakfast on the lawn.
On my way back, I passed a woman who said she had just been charged by an aggressive wild turkey! I kept an eye out but did not see him.
We have camped enough now that packing up Terrapin and pointing our way towards home takes no time. We were on the road by 10am and even with a stop for gas, pulled into our driveway around 12:45.
Colt Creek is a beautiful park and an easy drive from Okeechobee. And now during the winter months, the wildflowers are in full bloom!
You can be sure we’ll be going back.
In fact, we have already booked another long weekend around Andy’s birthday and five nights later this summer.