We took a quick two day camping trip to O’Leno state park the end of October to enjoy some Florida nature. This place has plenty of it.
The drive for us took nearly three hours. This part of Florida has hills, unlike the area where I live and I enjoyed the ride. The park is located in the northern part of Florida in High Springs – close to Ichetucknee (good to know). Rain came shortly after we had backed the RV into the site, but didn’t last long and we were out and about on our bikes.
We camped on the Magnolia Loop which is one of two camping loops in the park. The Dogwood Loop is near the entrance, but the Mag Loop is down near the Santa Fe River.
The photos here are typical of the sites to rent around the Mag Loop. Site #6 had a trail that led down into the woods behind the fence. Another site had 2 picnic tables. These sites can easily hold a camper, vehicle (two are allowed) and tent or screen house.
The loop road is very bumpy sand and each site is sand, but very level. We saw deer behind our camper in the morning. The woods are full of big old trees.
We camped during the week and left on a Friday. After the first night, both sites on either side of us were empty! Animals are allowed in this campground, and we did hear some dogs barking during the day.
The Santa Fe River
At the entrance of the O’Leno Campground follow the road back to the river area. A large parking area and picnic tables are provided along with a large roped off swimming area. The public can visit during the day.
One of the main draws to this place seems to be the suspension bridge over the river. It was closed at the time we visited, due to damage from a fallen tree (the website did announce this). This bridge is also part of the trail that leads to the River “sink” and usually makes a loop. With the bridge out, the loop can’t be completed but can still be walked.
Part of the river is roped off for swimming. Due to the abundance of cypress trees, the water is very dark. I do not go in Florida fresh water, unless it’s a spring (Salt Springs camping). For this reason, and the fact that there are so many wonderful trails, I would not camp here during the hot months.
Walking Trail to the River Sink
Another feature in this rural location is the Santa Fe River “sink” and “rise”. The sink is the area where the river water goes underground. The place it emerges again (the rise) is about three miles away.
I was looking forward to biking to see the river “rise” but the trails were too full of roots and soft sand to make biking manageable for me. As far as I know, you must walk or bike to see the rise.
From the trailhead by the swimming area, we followed the trail to the river sink (we biked part way, then had to walk). This is where the Santa Fe goes underground. An amazing 900 million gallons of water flow underground here each day! On the surface, nothing is moving and green stuff makes the water seem stagnant. There is an alligator warning sign. Gators can literally be anywhere but we didn’t see any.
We drove to the Limestone Trail and took a short walk up the left side of the trail to see the old quarry. It was a hole in the ground with some protruding rocks.
This place is a historical location of the old town of Leno – O’Leno is short for “Old Leno”. The campground / park has lots of information about the history with parts of the old grist mills (there were two) under a pavilion – photo below.
We missed out on visiting the little museum, but the town of Leno disappeared after the railroad was built and passed it by. The deserted town became a work camp during the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corp built up the area in the 1930’s and 40’s into the campground and park it is today.
Remains of buildings and the dam can still be seen.
Here are some things I’d have liked to know before booking my stay.
Wood can be purchased for $7.00 – exact change! It says nothing about bringing in your own wood, so I’m not sure if that is allowed.
There are many trails throughout the area. Some are for walking and biking and some are walking only (also equestrian). A trail map is provided at check-in (like the one linked above). The map shows the location of the “sink” and “rise”. Eventually, I figured out what that meant!
Bring bikes if you have them. The bike trails were too bumpy for me, but there are other places to ride. I rode along the main roadway and never saw a car! I’m sure there are busy times, but this was not one of them.
We took a drive to see the Dogwood Loop camping area and were glad we didn’t stay there. Those sites were on the inside of the loop, whereas campsites are on the outside at the Mag Loop. Some of the sites were pretty close and looked tough to maneuver because of trees. But, if you want to be away from everything (the playground, day visitors, and swimming) and you have a smallish camper or tent, Dogwood might be your thing.
The Mag Loop has a playground area and a bathroom in the center of the loop. Although we didn’t use the bathrooms, I went into the women’s side to get photos for campers who may need to use the facilities. The bathroom is located closer to the entrance / beginning of the loop, with the playground further toward the top of the loop.
Just for Fun… What’s For Dinner?
Camping food is kept simple. Grilled chicken with veggies in foil. With wine of course!
Have you ever camped at O’Leno? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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