In the panhandle of Florida, you can find Blackwater River State Park just outside of Milton. The park is tucked into the southern end of the Blackwater River State Forest, which has over 200,000 acres of unspoiled natural area. However, it is the water that gives this 600-acre park its name and reputation. The Blackwater River is one of very few shifting sand rivers that are still natural along almost all of its 57 miles.
It is the sandy bottom that gives the river the dark look that encouraged the Choctaw Indians to name it Okaloosa, which means black water. But the water is crystal clear and brings thousands of visitors to the park every year for boating, swimming, fishing, and paddling. Visitors enjoy the striking contrast of the dark water against the white sand beaches and sandbars along the river.
If you are planning a vacation during the winter months, don’t worry. There is still plenty to do at Blackwater River State Park because of its southern location. Try a Christmas whitewater rafting trip with the family. Since the park is in Florida, it won’t be too cold for that. If you would rather stay on dry land, why not try some hiking, biking, or geocaching? And if you want to stay more than one day, make sure you book your spot ahead of time because there are only 30 campsites available.
Nestled in the Blackwater River State Forest, this park is between the small towns of Holt to the east and Milton to the west. You can also reach Pensacola in just about a half an hour's drive since you are already in the panhandle of Florida. You should have no trouble finding the park since it is just off of US-90 and FL-87, which you can reach from I-10 to the south and I-65 to the north.
Although some of the smaller roads around Blackwater River State Park are a bit curvy, you’ll have no problems driving on them no matter what you are in. Just as long as you take it slow and easy, which you should be doing anyway so you can watch for those wild critters that may try to cross the road in front of you. Make sure your passengers have their cameras or phones ready to take some pictures because you are sure to see some beautiful countryside as well.
Some of the roads inside the park are very narrow and hard to maneuver in a big rig, so you will need to be on high alert when driving through to get to your destination. The swimming beach and boat launch are within walking distance. However, you’ll need to bike or drive if you want to reach other places further away inside the surrounding state forest. If you do not have a map, you can get one from the ranger’s station or online.
Just a short drive away in Milton, you can check out one of the state’s last wet prairies with the largest number of pitcher plants in Florida at Yellow River Marsh Preserve State Park. If you are into horticulture or just like strange carnivorous plants, you should not miss this opportunity to stop in and get some pictures of the pitchers.
Whether you are looking for a great summer vacation, or are a snowbird looking for somewhere to escape the northern winter winds, Milton, Florida is a great option. Embrace true Florida living with breathtaking nature sites to visit, easy access to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and tons of entertainment options. Milton / Gulf Pines KOA has pull-through sites for RVs up to 100 feet long to go along with solid amenities like Wi-Fi, cable TV, a pool, mini-golf, and many more ways to enhance your relaxing vacation to your preferences.
You and the family (including your four-legged family members) will love the campsites at Blackwater River State Park Campground. With 30 spacious and shaded sites to choose from located just a short walk from the river, you will have 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electric, water, and sewer hookups so you can feel right at home. If you don’t want to cook indoors, you can use the campfire grill provided by the park or bring your own campfire stove or portable grill.
No matter how you cook your food, you can all eat together at the large picnic table that seats eight. You won’t have to worry about balancing your food on your lap in a camp chair here. If you need to dump your black tank, there is an RV dump station nearby on the camp road. The maximum length of rigs they can accommodate is 50 feet, but a few are less than 30 feet so you will need to check that when you make your reservation, which can be made up to 11 months in advance. There is also a restroom with showers in the campground for everyone to use.
Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen in the motorhome before heading to Blackwater River State Park because their white sand swimming beach is awesome. Take a dip in the cool waters after a day on the trails or enjoy a picnic along the beach while the kids play in the water. Get out there and show them how to build a sandcastle like you did when you were a kid. The shimmering shallow water of the river makes it an excellent place to let the little ones get their feet wet. However, your furbaby will have to sit this one out because dogs are not allowed on the beach.
As part of the Florida Canoe Trail, this section of the Blackwater River is perfect for paddling and tubing. With the average depth of about three feet at peak season, you and the family will love the fast-moving waters. Start a couple of miles uphill in the Blackwater River State Forest and just float down on your raft, inner tube, kayak, or canoe. The current is not enough to be dangerous to most, but you should always wear a life jacket anyway. Some days the river gives you a nice and slow voyage while other times you will swear you are on the “River Wild.” It just depends on the depth of the water. If you are a beginner, be sure to check with the rangers on the water conditions before heading out.
There are three main hiking trails in the park so bring your hiking gear. The 1.8-mile Chain of Lakes Nature Trail begins and ends in the floodplain forest, taking you along a chain of oxbow lakes from the river’s earlier travels. It also takes you into the sandhill forest, which you won’t see anywhere else in Florida. The Juniper Creek Trail is almost seven miles and is for the more experienced and energetic hikers. You’ll hike from the campground and along the river to Red Rock Road. Only a short part of this trail is inside the park as it meanders into the Blackwater River State Forest until you reach Red Rock Road. You can have someone pick you up here or turn around and hike back after a nice break near Red Rock Bluffs or the Juniper Creek Trail Shelter.
If you don’t know what geocaching is yet, this is the perfect place to learn. This fun activity combines hiking, learning geography, and treasure hunting. Everyone loves finding a hidden treasure, right? All you need for this outdoor adventure is a GPS-enabled device like your cell phone. Since you are in Florida, you will also want to bring some water along, so you don’t get dehydrated in the southern heat.
Blackwater River State Park has several geocaches hidden in the park. A geocache is a hidden item, typically in a waterproof container, and has a logbook and trinkets inside. All you have to do is find them and sign the logbook. If you want to take a trinket, make sure you replace it with one of your own. You can find the coordinates for the Blackwater River State Park geocaches on the park’s website.
From otters to gators and bobcats to deer, you will see a wide variety of diverse species in the park. With so many different landscapes like wetlands, swamps, and sandhills, you can find all sorts of natural life including some of the most interesting flora in Florida. The turkey oaks keep the turkeys happy and the swamps keep the gators smiling while the longleaf pines and white cedars make excellent homes for some of the feathered fauna. In fact, you can see one of the largest Atlantic white cedars in the state along the river. It was named one of the state’s champion trees listed in the Forest National Registry of Big Trees.
Fishing is always fun in Florida whether you are tossing a line in the ocean or trying your luck at Blackwater River. Most of the common catches include largemouth bass and catfish but you will also find plenty of panfish like bluegill, crappie, and sunfish. For the bass and panfish, fly fishing seems to be the best way to nab them but the bottom feeders like catfish will need some coaxing with live bait on a weighted line. You can also try fishing in the oxbow lakes where the water is calm and there are no swimmers or paddlers. Be sure to have your Florida fishing license with you at all times while you are fishing.