As this year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect on the highlights of 2017. It was a year filled with outdoor adventure, connecting with like-minded people, paddling trips, Smoky Mountain explorations and trying new things. And no bears, yet again, despite all the mountain wilderness wanderings.
Here are the highlights of the year:
Paddling Out in Florida
We started 2017 and also ended it on Juniper Run, a 7-mile twisting waterway winding through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. Located in the Ocala National Forest, this is one of Florida’s most challenging paddle trails, filled with hairpin turns, low hanging trees, and rapids! The intermediate-level run suffered a lot of damage during from Hurricane Irma, but was cleared by a hardworking crew and is reopened for the enjoyment of all. Are you up to the challenge?
We teamed up with Mike Sage and Silver Springs Kayaking LLC to paddle the Silver River. This was our first guided trip. Mike gave us the official low-down of the area history and pointed out the plants and birds along the river. I’m pleased to say we can now see Limpkins, Anhingas, Cormorants and King Fishers because of him- instead of just ‘birds’. His helpful hints on how to paddle correctly neatly repaired my sloppy paddler problems. Thanks, Mike!
Florida Outdoor Writer’s Conference
I had the unique opportunity to meet fellow outdoor writers, fishing guides and other outdoor experts and enthusiasts at the annual Florida Outdoor Writer’s Conference. It took place at the Hilton Ocala this year, and I joined my Florida Hikes sister, Sandy and met some fascinating folks and fellow bloggers like Robin Draper of Authentic Florida, Diane Bedard of Nature Coaster, Debbie Hanson of She Fishes 2, and Jennifer Huber of Solo Traveler Girl.
There were so many others as well who shared the love of Florida outdoors, so it was great to connect with like-minded people- in person! Can’t wait for the next one!
Spring Hunting 2017
Our spring hunting exploits took us to High Springs on the Santa Fe River. This area is highly populated with freshwater springs, many of which are local swimming holes. We explored Gilchrist Blue Springs, Rum Island, and the many springs at Ginnie Springs Park.
Hunting for manatees and a little peace of mind took me on a solo trip to the Three Sisters’ Springs in Crystal River. I loved the area so much that I returned with kids in tow for some more in-depth explorations.
Later spring explorations took us to the Ichetucknee River- but that’s for future stories.
Geocaching with Kids
We tried our hand at geocaching, a cool worldwide treasure hunting game with secret stashes or caches everywhere- there might be one next to you right now! We searched for hidden caches everywhere we went- and it took us to some weird places, even a cave, and made us feel a bit like secret agents.
After hiking the gator-filled gauntlet of Gainesville’s La Chua Trail last Thanksgiving, we returned this year to check out the bird-abundant boardwalks over Sweetwater Wetlands Parks. We also repaid a visit to Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, home to Florida’s largest display of bamboo.
Exploring the Atlantic Coast
Our adventures north took us to the brick tunnels of Fort Clinch at Fort Clinch State Park and we clambered over the bleached trees and black lava-like rocks at the nearby Big Talbot Island State Park.
No Atlantic coast trip could be complete without a stop at the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine. Last year we went sailing, this time we stayed on dry land. Every time we cross that Bridge of Lions, wonders from St. Augustine’s colorful past await!
Summer in the Smoky Mountains
We love Tennessee. It’s a fantastic family-friendly destination. We were unsure of what we would find after last year’s fires but glad we went. The smoky mountain communities are rebuild and thriving- and eager for business.
We took our first rafting trip in the Smokies on the Pigeon River a not to be missed family favorite. Then we descended into the heart of the mountains in Tuckaleechee Caverns in Townsend, an unbelievable subterranean world that was more Tolkien than Tennessee.
We hunted for bears along the popular Cades Cove trail– a lush valley hidden high in the mountains. We hiked behind waterfalls and along mountain ridges, and played in creeks along the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail.
Hurricane Irma swept across the entire state like a giant broom- heck the 400-mile wide hurricane was as big as our state! It was harrowing, to say the least, and many are still reeling from its effects. Prepping for an oncoming storm was no joke, and we shared our house with others, hunkering down to the sounds of roaring wind and a pair of very loud frogs that sought shelter against one window. I confess I had hurricane music. Yes- don’t laugh. We had just watched Guardians of the Galaxy and that one song- Southern Nights, when Rocket blows up the bad guys seemed nice and calming during a storm. It worked- and I hummed away to myself, just like that little trash-panda from the movie, as we rode through the storm.
After the storm, many were out of electric for a long time- and school was canceled for a week! They are still picking up hurricane debris piles from the roadside apparently, but the high waters have subsided. Whew, what a storm!
Hunting for Smoked Mullet Dip
Okay, so we love our seafood, and as a family, we have a thing about fish dip. We have to try it everywhere we can. This year we’ve been to Crystal River, along Florida’s Space Coast, Daytona, and even Palatka in search of this tasty treat.
This year saw the opening of Florida’s Big Bend Shellfish Trail. It’s not a hiking trail, but a food trail—mmm, our favorite kind! So we headed over to Cedar Key, one of the stops along the trail to hunt for some good old-fashioned smoked mullet dip. Yum!
We also have a thing about beignets- and ran over to New Orleans to check them out, but that’s a whole other story (stay tuned!)
Fishing for Fun
We don’t just eat fish, we go sport fishing too- catch and release. This year I snagged a 10lb bass woohoo! I’ll be bragging about that one for years to come (or until I catch an 11 lb one!). I only wish I learned about the cool contests run by the Florida Game & Wildlife folks sooner. Catch fish & win prizes! It’s a win-win situation! That 10lb fish would have gotten me a Bass Pro Shop gift card at least. Needless to say, we are all registered for the Florida fishing programs now, and you should too!
So, as we bid adieu to 2017, what were your most memorable moments of the year?
Embracing the New Year
What comes next? More ways to connect with your kids, a look at beignet hunting in New Orleans (and some secrets to the city that no one really wants you to know); a ghostly encounter at a historic plantation manor; unexpected places to find springs; canyons, cannons, caverns and much more.
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