Hiking and Biking at O’Leno State Park
As a bonus, Kevin’s brother and family were camping in the Florida panhandle and came to stay with us. They set up their tent on our site, and we got to cook out, hike, and have an awesome time during their brief stay.
O’Leno State Park
O’Leno State Park is one of Florida’s gems. Located on the Santa Fe River in the north-central part of Florida’s wang, there is so much to do in the park that it’s a beautiful vacation destination on its own. Hike, bike, kayak, swim – there’s a little something for everyone.
Camping at O’Leno State Park
The campsites at O’Leno State Park are similar to the ones you’ll find at many of the Florida State Parks. These sites were partially shaded and had enough foliage and space between them that they felt reasonably private. Some of the campsites weren’t quite level so try to research online before you make a reservation. At the time we stayed, the campground wasn’t full, and it was possible to change sites. Your mileage may vary.
O’Leno State Park has two campground loops for RVs. We stayed in the Magnolia Loop which is the one furthest from the entrance. But the Dogwood Loop seemed like it was also quiet.
Warning: if it rains, your site may flood. But don’t worry, it’ll go away in an hour or so almost like it was never there. If rain is in the forecast, bring in anything you don’t want to get muddy. We failed to do that.
Hiking at O’Leno State Park
O’Leno has hiking trails for all levels. We walked the River Trail, the yellow one on the map, a few times and even took small children.
Start off the hike on a wobbly suspension bridge.
And then enjoy plenty of river views.
You’ll also encounter a few cypress groves.
Don’t miss the sign near the suspension bridge that shows the flood levels. It’s hard to believe the water got that high!
Biking at O’Leno State Park
If you look at the trail map above, bicycles are allowed on all trails except the River Trail. We biked the Limestone and Dogwood trails several times, and they were a blast! It is a single track, so we took it slowly in case we ran into another cyclist or hikers. We never did on those trails though.
Here’s a video we took while riding those trails so you can get an idea of what they are like.
We also attempted the Parener’s Branch Trail, but it wound up being too sandy for our bikes. You might need a fat bike for that one.
Wildlife at O’Leno State Park
If you’re a fan of reptiles, you’re going to love O’Leno State Park. The nature center has rescued gopher tortoises in an outside habitat. If you come by at the right time, you can watch them eat.
We also saw turtles cruising around a few different times.
And lizards were everywhere.
Deer hang out at the nature center and near the campground around dusk. And maybe dawn, but we weren’t out that early.
Side Trip to Gainesville
O’Leno State Park is about 40 minutes from Gainesville. So we decided to take a day and go there to eat food, work, eat food, and then watch the bats leave their houses.
Karma Cream has coffee, baked goods, sandwiches, and ice cream with loads of vegan options. So that was an excellent place to start the day.
Kevin had a latte, and I had the kombucha.
This vegan breakfast biscuit ruled.
A Tofurky Reuben.
Vegan grilled cheese with tempeh bacon.
Vegan ice cream!
So many vegan baked goods.
Kevin is excited about vegan ice cream. But who wouldn’t be?
A close up of the ice cream.
After working all afternoon, we met up with Taylor and Beth for an early dinner at Boca Fiesta.
Now, this is not a vegan or vegetarian spot. But they did have vegan options, including deep fried mac and cheese balls.
There aren’t many places where you’ll find deep-fried vegan mac and cheese balls, that’s for sure.
The lentil taco, TVP taco, and side of black beans were pretty good. We’ve had better, but it’s fantastic that these are an option.
University of Florida Bat Houses
After dinner, we headed over to the University of Florida to see the bats emerge from their houses at sunset. If you do this, don’t forget to bring a plastic bag or poncho to cover up. Unless you like having thousands of bats pee and poop on you. No judgment though. To each his own.
The best time to view the bats is on a warm evening 65º F or warmer just after sunset. There was a pretty big crowd when we went in late March so plan to be there early enough to find parking.
We weren’t the only ones waiting for the bats to emerge. See the hawk under the bat house?
We had a Facebook live video going as we waited for the bats to emerge. To save you a bunch of waiting, I cut the video to the point when we start to see bats. There were so many bats!
By the way, bats play an important role in the ecosystem. The planet wouldn’t be the same without them! If you want to learn more about bats, Bat Conservation International is a good place to start.
We loved our stay at O’Leno State Park and think it had loads to offer weekend campers and full-timers alike.
About the Author
vegan. digital nomad. cycling. scuba. intj. former vegan bakery owner.