A state park can be very different depending on the season in which it is visited. During my first visit to Ochlockonee River State Park near Sopchoppy, FL, it was midsummer and the temperatures were well into the upper 90s. The humidity was equally brutal and it didn’t lend itself to much exploration. Last year I returned in the fall to a much more pleasant experience and was rewarded with a variety of experiences.
Ochlockonee River State Park is nestled on the Ochlockonee and Dead Rivers, and abuts the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. The location and protection afforded by this unique refuge provides habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals. The park itself has numerous hiking and paddling trails, any one of which can put you in the midst of a superior nature experience. Even the day-use picnic area has unique park residents such as the infamous White squirrels of Ochlockonee.
More than once on my adventures I found myself walking with and within a herd of White-tail deer, several of which are a rare piebald color. Most of these encounters were early morning or late afternoon as I explored both on and off the trails. There were numerous spotted fawns tucked in amongst the Saw palmettos, hiding in safety while their mother’s foraged for food only a few yards away. If you’ve never found yourself in the midst of a quiet herd of deer it can take your breath away.
Take a break from the hiking trails and wet a line at one of several locations within the park. In addition to a freshwater pond, there are two tidally influenced rivers to choose from complete with floating docks and a boat and kayak launch area. Slip down to the river trail located between the picnic area and campground and you’ll find several wooden walkdowns to the Ochlockonee River. A patient eye might see small mud crabs climbing up the steps or glimpse a Bald eagle soaring across the river.
During my trip, the wildflowers were still in bloom painting a blaze of purple across the pine lands. Butterflies danced across the landscape while a fox skirted along the grassy edge. Despite my extensive explorations, I still missed seeing the Sherman fox squirrel, but I did finally locate the elusive Piebald White-tail doe that calls the park home.
Back at the campground there was time to relax and take in a fiery sunset and later the starry night sky. There is very little light pollution in the area making it a perfect place to watch the skies. Even if you’re just relaxing around the campfire, the night sounds of owls and the occasional coyote create the perfect ambiance for winding down after a long day of exploring.
Ochlockonee River State Park is located 38 miles south of Tallahassee approximately 4 miles south of Sopchoppy, FL on U.S. 319.