By Kevin Mims
Sometimes a short walk in the woods is all it takes to set yourself at ease. If these quick trips can work wonders, imagine what a week or so away can do for you?
Getting in some nature time could be just what the doctor ordered. If this sounds like the medicine you need, head for one of these far-out parks for a great escape.
It's not far from all the hustle and bustle that surrounds Pensacola, but at times you can feel like one of the only people on the planet. It's 4 miles from the park entrance to reach the Fort Pickens area, where you'll travel along completely undisturbed beaches, blindingly white and from another time. Set up camp at the Fort Pickens Campground in one of 200 sites with water and electric hookups, and spend time exploring historic forts and gun emplacements, or simply relax on the beach.
Located in the extreme northeast corner of the state, Fort Clinch State Park offers a similar, but a more east coast feel than you get at Fort Pickens. This was another strategic military installation, but now folks that visit Fort Clinch strategize on whether to hit the beach, go mountain biking or fish on the pier. If you are lucky enough to land a campsite on the Atlantic Beach Campground (the Amelia camping loop is great, too), it's only a short walk over the dunes to the beach. If you do venture out of the park and into Fernandina Beach, you'll find that it's just as laid back as the park.
So, you are going to need a boat for this one. Catch a ferry from one of two providers, take your own boat, or kayak over. Once there, you are rewarded with a completely primitive situation. No electricity, running water, or fancy bathrooms. There is a composting toilet at the camping area, but that's as fancy as it gets. Bring all the supplies you'll need for your trip, and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Cell service is good; the mainland (Dunedin area) is only three miles away.
Looking for something more inland? It doesn't more inland to Kissimmee Prairie. Once you reach the park entrance (a feat to itself), it's still five miles back to the camping area. Keep your eyes peeled for Crested Caracara, hawks, burrowing owls (at night) and lots more. This park is a dream for those who want some quite time to watch wildlife, gaze at the stars or just relax at camp. Tip: bring most of what you need with you – the nearest town is Okeechobee, 30 miles away.
Just the name sounds like you are traveling to one of Captain Jack Sparrow's haunts. Seriously, this is the ultimate in escape, which is somewhat ironic since Fort Jefferson was also used in part as a prison. To get here, take a seaplane or travel on the Yankee Freedom, a high-speed catamaran. Both definitely add a ton of adventure points to the whole trip. Campsites are first come, first served. Again, bring what you need, because you won't find a convenience store way out here. The experience is like nothing else.