By Florence Snyder
If you don't know about Britton Hill, Florida, you're probably not a mountain climber, and you're definitely not a highpointer.
At 345 feet above mean sea level, Britton Hill is Florida's highest natural point – and the lowest "high point" in the United States. You can summit without a Sherpa. Your grandmother can get to the top without breaking a sweat.
Britton Hill, Florida might be the runt of the 50-state litter, but it’s an internationally known must-do venue for thousands of elite mountain climbers, as well as highpoint hobbyists working to join the 490 people who have stood upon the highest ground in each of the lower 48 states.
Included among them are 250 climbers who have also looked down on Hawaii from Mauna Kea and stood atop Alaska's Mt. McKinley.
Some highpointers have conquered Mount Everest, and many more are "senior citizens, young families, people who might make it to a few highpoints and others who will not rest until they have been to the top of every single one," according to Dave Covill, Lead Director for the Highpointers Foundation, which has been keeping track of these things since 1987.
People who live in north Walton County don't take their number one tourist attraction, Florida's highest point, quite as seriously as the far-flung community of hardcore highpointers.
"If you get light headed and dizzy, sit down and breathe deep for a few minutes before going higher," deadpanned Estus Whitfield, who grew up in Walton County and went on to become an environmental advisor to five Florida governors.
In fact, Britton Hill, Florida and its surrounding Lakewood Park is an excellent environment in which to toss a Frisbee and work up an appetite for a family picnic. There are three nature trails on which to wander and enjoy the local flora and fauna. The yellow trail can be walked in 45 minutes but if you're not in a hurry, spend an hour and a half on the red route, or split the difference and explore the one-hour blue trail.
The drive to Britton Hill is a relaxing one. Approaching Walton County, traffic is light on I-10. Heading north toward the Hill on County Road 285, the trees vastly outnumber the tin roofs on old Florida-style homes and occasional 1950s era gas stations and sundry shops.
Aside from Florida's highest point, North Walton County also boasts Strickland’s Christmas Tree Farm, where families come from miles around to cut their own Christmas tree. The Farm was the birthplace of The Panhandle Opry, which got its start in the 1970s when patriarch Ed Strickland and some of his employees discovered a shared love of country music, and a talent for making it.
Jam sessions and covered dish suppers for family and friends soon turned in to a regular Saturday night gig at a local restaurant. The Panhandle Opry’s style, as well as its name, pays tribute to the Grand Old Opry, but steers clear of material that would damage its reputation as “the cleanest show in country music.”
In 1982, The Panhandle Opry performed its first show in its permanent home near Mossy Head Branch, a tributary of the Shoal River. Ed Strickland designed what is now known as the Ed & Vera Strickland Music Hall, and it was built entirely with volunteer labor, on land owned by Gordon Porter, a local businessman and one of the Opry’s founders.
The first 314 showgoers can relax in upholstered theater style seating, which The Opry picked up for a song when nearby Eglin Air Force Base was remodeling. There's room for an additional 150 folding chairs, and The Opry needs every one of them on occasions when north Florida natives like Billy Dean and Chloe Channell come home to headline and sit in with the house band.
It’s more of a party and a labor of love than a regularly scheduled business, so call ahead to find out when the next show is scheduled, and whether dinner is included, which it often is.
The Blackstone Golf Course, also in Mossy Head, is perfect for players who like their terrain rolling.
Modestly priced roadside motels, many affiliated with national chains, are plentiful in north Walton, and the Hotel DeFuniak caters to out of towners with business in the nearby Walton County Courthouse.
Whether you’re staying over or passing through to visit Florida's highest point, take a day off from calorie counting and taste the country fried love at Ed's Restaurant, now in its third generation of serving heavenly hamburgers.
Simply Good Country Cooking is well known for its barbecue, and the Corner Cafe is where folks gather for breakfast and linger for coffee and conversation.
The Hotel DeFuniak and Mom & Dad’s Italian Restaurant are popular with locals for date nights and special occasion dinners.
If you go…
2759 North County Highway 285
DeFuniak Springs, FL 32433
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