On Monday morning, we once again took our time getting ready for departure from Topsail Hill State Park since we only had a drive of little over an hour. Our destination today was Blackwater River State Park in Holt, FL. It was almost noon by the time we said goodbye to our neighbors and headed out.
Blackwater River SP is north of I-10 and not really on our intended path heading westward toward Alabama, but we wanted to check it out for future reference. We followed FL-30/US-98 west to FL-293N/FL-85N then hopped onto I-10W towards Pensacola. At I-10 exit 45 we connected with Hwy US-90/FL-10 heading west. The good thing about most of this route was the decent quality roads. The bad thing about this route is the expensive toll on the FL-293 causeway over Choctawatchee Bay. If we ever do this run again we might take FL-87 instead to avoid the toll, even though it will involve backtracking and a lot of stop and go along FL-30/US-98.
Regardless of the route taken, on the final leg the turn onto Deaton Bridge Road towards the State Park is a little hairy. It’s a hard right turn, immediately crossing really bumpy, raised railroad tracks, then another sharp right turn. While we were jostled about a bit, luckily we didn’t bottom out – it would not be fun if in the midst of this turn the railroad gates began to close! Further on down Deaton Bridge Road there were two narrow bridges with questionable looking weight capacity (one was wood planked) that made us a little nervous but turned out to be fine.
Once we checked in at the ranger station, we proceeded to the campground, stopping to unhitch along the side of the entry road. Configured into two loops, the campground has 30 pea gravel back-in sites all with water, 30/50 amp electric service and sewer. Three of the sites are concrete and enhanced for visitors with mobility challenges. A clean looking bath house is located in the middle between the two loops. Note that there are no laundry facilities here so plan accordingly. Cost is $20/night or half that price for Florida residents.
Our site (#26) had a 70′ long by 25′ wide parking pad composed of pea gravel and edged with wood ties – lots of room for the beast and toad and fairly easy to back into. There are only four sites here that fit in the “giant economy size” category, the rest are better suited for RV’s in the 20′-38′ range, so when making reservations (Reserve America) check the listed site length for compatibility with your rig.
Each site has a fire ring, a picnic table and a clothes line. We were pretty impressed with how well maintained the sites were. After each departure, the camp host rakes the gravel and bordering grassy areas and cleans out the fire pit. When we pulled in, our site was immaculate. Another amenity offered was on-site trash pick-up each day – just have your trash out by the site marker by 11 am and it would be picked up.
Blackwater River is a 56 mile long river that flows from southern Alabama to the Florida panhandle and eventually into Blackwater Bay which is an arm of Pensacola Bay. It gets its name from the tea or coffee colored, acidic water which is a result of vegetation decay leaching tannins in the water.
Blackwater River State Park offers several nature trails which we explored several times despite two days (during our four day stay) of rain. Canoeing and kayaking are also pretty popular here although you need to bring your own as the park does not offer rentals. The nature trail is accessed from one of the campground loops. Nice well marked trail through the woods along the river, passing by several sandy beach areas. Eventually the trail came to a pavilion but that was closed off – they are apparently renovating this area so we had to turn around and head back to the campground.
If you are looking for a place where there is a lot to do in the area, then Blackwater River SP probably isn’t for you. Blackwater is located out in the middle of nowhere. The only “grocery” store in town is the Harold Store about 5 miles away located on US-90/FL-10 across the street from the Deaton Bridge Road entrance. Otherwise you have to travel about 15 miles to the town of Milton where there is a Winn-Dixie, WalMart and lots of other retail. On the other hand this is a great place to escape and commune with nature, although it is likely weekends will be busy with family activities in warm weather.
Another potential interruption to the peace and quiet here is the nearby Heliport. We frequently saw (and heard) helicopters (usually in pairs) flying over the campground, sometimes well into the evening hours. I found some articles that mentioned that nearby airbases were using the forest as a fly-over training site but I’m not sure how accurate that is.
Despite the not so great weather, we had a pleasant stay at Blackwater. Overall it is a very nice, very clean, well maintained and quiet campground with full hookups at a great rate. However, it still didn’t quite make it to my favorite state park list, perhaps because of the isolation or the sometimes annoying helicopter traffic, but probably more so because of the limited hiking and biking options.