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Ocklockonee River State Park in the Big Bend

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

River Roamin’ in Florida’s Big Bend: Podcast here.

Summer is a great time to travel north in Florida. Throughout much of the top of the state, there are spring fed rivers and popular springheads that make it easy for families to cool off and explore the crystal-clear waterways. In the big bend area, we were surprised by how diverse the gulf waters of the Forgotten Coast proved to be. Of course, knowing that the distance was great from our home in the Treasure Coast area, we planned a full 9 days of travel to maximize the rivers we could accomplish.

Driving six hours our first day on the Turnpike and having to fix a blown-out trailer tire off Hwy 98 outside of Cross Town, we arrived at the Ocklockonee State Park with two hours to spare before nightfall. Though the roads needed repair, the drive to the popular boat ramp and campground was beautiful with lots of young deer and pine forests on either side. With the river behind our campsite, we enjoyed our first night with tiki torches and salads after setting up and getting a quick lay of the land. Using a nearby path, we led our dog, Seger to the swimming area and played fetch for a while; it was a strong current on the Ocklockonee but this cut was enjoyable and nice way to end a long day of travel.

Day two, Mom got to read while the boys slept, gotta love that quiet time! Seger and I enjoyed a long campground walk and breakfast was had once the boys finally awoke. The boat ramp was newer and provided a great location to access the deep water of the Ocklockonee River, along with easy access to the neighboring rivers; it was also packed by 9am on a Saturday. The weather was perfect and with our son fast asleep, we made it to the Dead River to access the Apalachee Bay to fish the saltwater and its bridges, however once out in the big open water it became really choppy, and we ended up turning around. From there the dark waters led us to the Sopchoppy River which seemed fitting after our river rodeo session. Near the campground again, we found an island and floated savoring the fact that rivers 64-66 were complete. Here we played with the dog and enjoyed egg salad sliders before getting our 16’ Suntracker Bass Buggy back on its trailer. Though the bugs had been bad leading up the evening hours, the afternoon rainstorm helped cool us all off and lessened the bugs while dad slow cooked country style ribs over the built-in grill of the firepit, gotta love campfire cooking!

Day three proved to be wet in the morning so after a quick walk and camp inspired brunch of Koegel’s Vienna hotdogs and tuna pasta salad, we went into the camper for a movie and nap as the large rainstorm raged. A few hours later, we emerged from the small slide-in camper and broke down our setup so we could drive thirty minutes west to the town of Carabelle. A seaside village, proud of its rich history with black baseball and full of small seafood restaurants, there were not many boaters out and using the city’s main boat ramp was easy with a $10 parking fee based on the honor system. Our river roamer had us on the Carabelle River handling its shallow waters with ease. Many houses and businesses lined the river on both sides before finally showing off it’s natural side with large cattails and rock lined walls entering the freshwater. By veering slightly to the left, we entered our 68th river, Franklin County’s New River, at the 68th mile marker. Here the homes had far more land and elaborate docks, the mullet jumped high, and the gray skies started to roll in again. We doubled back and shot across the bayou to access our 69th river, the Crooked River where we found a waterfront campsite at the top of a hillside. It was the first chance our dog got to really run all day and we all took advantage of the beautiful landscape this stop provided us. As we headed back to the boat ramp, the weather rid itself of the clouds and we were able to head for the Gulf of Mexico for a bit. We fished a bit, our son, Charlie caught a small grouper and some small sunfish which added some excitement to the journey. Headed back, we stopped off at Timber Island and searched the area for sea glass and captured some great pictures before going across the street to get some fresh milk, cheese and mayo from the local IGA. That night we grilled marinated chicken thighs, paired with some gourmet mac & cheese out of the box. In the nights we had, the weather did not permit having a fire, so we finally got to burn all our wood and recapped our afternoon of rivers 67-69. Next morning, we would be heading just about an hour east to the town of St. Mark's and the Shell Island Fish Camp.


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