Camping at O’Leno State Park

Camping at the O’Leno State Park in High Springs, Florida. A wonderful place to enjoy time in nature with walking and biking trails, and the Santa Fe River.

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 Campsites

The photos here are typical of the sites to rent around the Mag(nolia) 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.

Hookups are electric and water but no sewer. There is a place to empty sewer in the campground, which we did on our way out.

The loop road is very bumpy sand and each site is sand, but very level. I think large RVs would have some trouble with close trees along the roads and backing into the sites. 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.

River swimming and suspension bridge
Swimming area in the river

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.

More Info

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!

See the park map here.

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.

Keep Reading This Blog

Camping at Florida’s Beautiful State Parks

camping trailer art
Vintage RV camper art by arti1st @ Zazzle

Most people I know visit Florida by plane.  They stay at an expensive resort in Disney World or in a condo at the beach (or both) and then head home.  Not only is that type of vacation quite costly, it means that the best parts of Florida (in my opinion) have been missed.

Of course, if you are not an outdoorsy type of person, you may be very happy to skip a trip to a state park, or chance to kayak on a river.  Campers have adventurous blood running through their veins, and they know how to find adventure while saving their cash.

As you get ready to plan your camping vacation in Florida, just remember that it is hot there.  Most of the year it is very hot, with no cool down at night either.  Camping with the luxury of air conditioning is the way to go, if you ask me, but to each his, or her, own.

When planning your trip, a great place to start is the Welcome to Florida State Parks site.  This website is full of great information about the many parks all over the state as well as the variety of campsites available.  Some places have facilities for horses and some are for boat hookups, so you can “camp” in your boat as you travel.  Some are right on the ocean, with beaches just a few steps away.  If you are truly adventurous and prefer seclusion, look for a location in the Primitive Camping area.  (You own snakebite proof boots, right?)

Navigating the site is easy.  View a state map and choose the area you plan to visit, then click on the links there.   More specific information is given on each specific park page.  I like the looks of Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach.  Park the camper right on the dunes with the ocean on one side and the ICW (Intracoastal Waterway) on the other.

** At the time of writing this, there are alert notices for certain parks, and one of them (Blue Springs) is familiar to me, so I looked it up.  The notice is because the manatees have come into the spring area early so the spring has been closed for swimming.  Of course going there to view the manatees is allowed.

Camping is one of the best ways to visit the real Florida.  These are the beautiful places that Disney lovers never venture out to see.   And they are really missing out.

P.S.  Disney has camping too.
(The postcard image is from art1st’s store @ Zazzle)