Primitive Camping in Tate’s Hell State Forest

The Tate’s Hell sites on Reserve America are a mish-mash and entered in several locations.  We have created what we hope is a helpful guide to find that campsite.  See posting of “How to Find Tate’s Hell SF Campsites on Reserve America”, posted on 12 February 2019.  Search by “How to find”.  Because Reserve America does not provide sufficient information to allow for good choices, we have also on this blog site, started to photograph and describe each campsite.  You should be able to access these posts by searching by “camping” or Tate’s Hell State Forest camping” or by the specific name of the campsite.  The individual campsite information also gives you the 911 addresses for each campsite. 

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Pidcock Road site on Cash creek, a good fishing creek.

In Tate’s Hell there are three types of primitive camping sites:

Womack Creek Campground with bathrooms and showers

  • 9 sites for tents only (sand/dirt floor), 3 for RV’s, trailers and tents (gravel floor) with electricity.
  • Water not potable at bath house: smells of sulphur but smell can be removed by letting the water stand overnight in a partially open container.  It may still have a mineral taste.  Bring water filter or drinking and cooking water with you.
  • Bath house with hot showers in each bathroom, flush toilets.
  • Large covered pavilion (day users must be accommodated) and large porch overlooking the Ochlockonee River in bath house.
  • $10 per night per site for tent only sites; $15 for RV site plus reserve america fee.
  • Mack  Suggs has retired as host.  His service was exemplary.  The new hosts, a couple, keep the restrooms clean.  They have a large dog unleashed, friendly but which jumps on people.  If you have a small child or, if you have someone in your party who is unstable on their feet, please let the host know.  Also, look out for dog poop, and ask the host to up after their dog while you are there.   Please be aware that these are volunteers and they voluneer 20 hours weekly cleaning campsites and at Womack Creek campground, maintaining the cleanliness and supplies at that restroom facility.   Do not increase their weekly workload by making unnecessary demands and not cleaning up after yourselves.  Tate’s Hell SF asks you to pack it in and pack it out and leave no trace.  There may be trash receptables at campgrounds, but not campsites.  
  • No hunting zone and open for camping all year round
  • Because the banks along the Ochlockonee River are rapidly eroding, the restroom at this campground may be closed in the future.
  • Access to some campsites in wet periods may be difficult for passenger cars.  Roads in Tate’s Hell State Forest are sandy, with low areas filled with gravel with a depth marker for the deeper water pass throughs.
  • This is a forest which was acquired for restoration of the watershed for the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee River and is the primary reason for its acquisition by the state of Florida.  It is, by law, required to harvest timber in order to financially maintain itself.
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Sunset as seen from Womack Creek Campground rest house veranda, 2012. Photo by Branson Carlton.

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Womack Creek campground may be available for a whole group. Call Tate’s Hell SF office in Carrabelle. This was taken of a weekend event of the “Good ole’ boys”, retired and active Florida peace officers, March 2-4, 2018.

Campgrounds with vault toilets and covered picnic tables

  • Cash Creek (3, with 2 reservable), OHV and Rock Landing (3, with 2 reservable)
  • Gully Branch Tent only site at Gully Branch Day Use area

Campground with no vault toilet

  •  Log cabin campsites (4 sites)

Single primitive camp sites

  • Each site  usually contains a standing grill, a fire pit with grill, a picnic table.
  • The individual sites are usually much larger than the sites in the multi-site campgrounds and most will accomodate RV’s and trailers (see post for each campsite).
  • Certain sites are not available during hunting season which dates change from year to year, consult current hunting season dates.
  • Camping here is whatever nature offers, with few amenities (except Womack Creek Campground).  Biting flies and mosquitoes can be expected from May through October.  Non spraying of area protects the natural ecology — insects are essential to fish, reptiles, amphibians and other creatures in the forest.  It therefore offers a better wilderness experience.
  • These sites are reservable on Reserve America.  Each site is $10 per night plus reserve america fee.   Your permit should be posted at the entrance post identifying your campsite.
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Rock Landing campground – 3 camp sites, vault toilet. This shows how high the flood waters of July 2012 reached — the day use picnic area — see end of fence line marking normal river’s edge. The 3 campsites were neverthless dry.  Photo by Branson Carleton.

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Loop Landing campsite on Crooked River. For those who like a quiet spot to re-create, this is one of the best sites. Large site. A pair of river otters used to have a burrow on the river bank. If they’re still there and if you’re quiet, they’ll appear around dusk. Closest Crooked River campsite to Ochlockonee River to east.  Photo by Branson Carleton.

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Landing at Log Cabin Primitive Camp site on the Ochlockonee River, 2012.

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New River campsite 17. Group of 14 paddlers camped overnight on March 2017 while doing 21 miles of New River. Put-in off FR 22, 10 miles east of Sumatra to Pope’s Place Campsite on New River. Portable toilet rental highly recommended (may now be required) for groups this size — root structures in forests are hard to penetrate if digging potty holes. New River about 1 mile upriver from this site may not be navigable at certain times of the year — you may be hiking more than paddling. Paddling the upper river can be a challenge, depending on season and level of water (higher water, greater current around bends with possible strainers. tree-falls, scoot-overs, portages, limbo logs, no road access between Campsite 1 on New River and Campsite 17.)  Photo by David Brashears.

A FEW POINTERS  FOR THOSE UNFAMILIAR WITH PRIMITIVE TENT CAMPING

1. PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT

  • All of Tate’s Hell Forestry facilities are “Pack it in, pack it out”.
  • Plan your food menus, personal use, accordingly and bring sufficient amount of bags/receptables to take everything out.
  • Do not use or plan to use firepits to burn your non-burnable trash.  (Metals do not burn, garbage does not burn, plastic will leave residue or may not completely burn.)  Leave the firepit clean after you leave. There are bears in Tate’s Hell State Forest, food thrash left in fire pits will tend to attract bears to the pits.  A wild bear will avoid you, a food habituated bear may not.
  • Dish washing should be minimized. (Use biodegradable detergent, throw waste water 200 feet away from rivers and away from sleeping areas.  Do not clean dishes and cooking utensils in river.  Do not leave residues from washing near sleeping area.)
  • Use a sanitizer instead of water to “wash” your hands.

2. FOOD AND GARBAGE STORAGE

  • Tate’s Hell is fortunate to have lots of wild animals, including black bears, which may be attracted to food or garbage.
  • Store ALL food and garbage in car or in hanging caches at least 10 feet high if no one will be at campsite during the day or at night.
  • Even latched coolers may not be as animal-proof as you think. Kayak hatches used as food storage have been known to be destroyed by bears.
  • Do not keep any food or any fragrant items in tents.
  • Let any food residue on the grill burn off, if possible.
  • Do not throw any vegetable wastes in the woods (yes, they are biodegradable, but think about the next camper,  and certain items such as peels take a long time to degrade, and they attract animals near the campsite.)
  • If you are planning to camp for more than a few days, consider going to Carrabelle or Eastpoint to deposit your garbage.
  • DO NOT FEED ANY ANIMALS OR BIRDS

3. PERSONAL WASTE

  • Dig your personal waste holes 200 feet away from the water, 6-8 inches deep.  A trowel will not penetrate that deep because of tree roots; bring a collapsible (military issue) shovel or other shovel.
  • If you prefer, bring your own camp toilet.  Biodegradable and treated bags allow you to deposit your toilet waste in regular garbage cans.
  • Use biodegradable toilet tissue, or, if unavailable, bring plastic zip bags to deposit your used toilet tissues and pack it out to dispose of properly.

4. WATER

  • The rule of thumb for water while camp-paddling or backpacking is 1 gallon per person a day.  Bring your own drinking and cooking water.
  • If engaged in rigorous activity in hot weather, add electrolyte tabs (preferable, sugarless option available) or Gatorade or similar sports drink (which has a lot of extra sugar).  Drink before one gets thirsty to prevent dehydration (this is particularly advisable during cool days when one may not think to drink as much water as one’s body needs.)
  • It it rains, consider it a gift.  Catch any rain from canopies or tarps and use for washing or, if short of drinking water, filter it and/or boil for 5 minutes before using it for drink or cooking.
  • Water from the rivers or pond, even if filtered, may not be safe to drink.

5. BATHING

  • If  river water is clean enough to swim, this may be sufficient to make you feel clean.  Soaps should not be used in any of the rivers or pond.
  • Specially treated wash clothes may be adequate, unless the day is humid and sticky.
  • You can bring your own camp shower, or give yourself a hospital bath.  Any wash water should be strewn 200 feet away from the rivers or pond.
  • If you really need to bath, the showers at the Womack Creek Campground are available for $2 per person (day use fee), pay at the iron ranger.

6. LIGHTING

  • LED camp lights, some solar powered, some with crank operation, are good to have in food preparation and clean-up areas.
  • Each camper should have a head lamp or tiny flashlight (headlamps are preferable because it’s not as easy to lose in the dark; let them dangle around your neck when ot in use.)
  • If you have night waker-uppers, illuminate the area around the tent chords.  We use LED tea-candles which casts a sufficient glow to ID the chords, but not that much to disturb our sleep.  Reflective tent chords are available through most camping supply sources.

7.  FIREWOOD

  • You should not bring your own wood. The IGA in Carrabelle or service stations may have fire wood.
  • You may be able to scavenge fallen wood, bring a small saw.
  • Douse your fires completely when you leave the area for the day or after breaking camp.  Sudden gusts of wind can easily take live embers into pine straw around the camp site.

8. TENTS AND SLEEPING BAGS

  • Tent mesh should be small enough to keep out no-see-ums which are prevalent in most all wilderness and beach areas in Florida.  We have been more than satisfied with our REI half-dome plus which has seen over 5 years of heavy use through gully washers, heavy winds (used all tent loops to anchor the tent), heavy frost and north Florida no-see-ums.  We also have a kingdom four and a quarter dome which allow more space for sitting and higher headspace.
  • If car camping, tent size can be determined by what your car can carry and what you need.  If kayak-camping consider back packing standards — 40 pounds of gear may be all your hatches can carry, particularly if you’re carrying 8 pounds of water (1 gallon) per person per day.
  • A properly fitted footprint (under the tent) will keep your tent dry in a deluge and will not require you to ditch around your tent.  One which is larger than your tent will catch the rain and only compound the dampness.  One well known published outdoors expert suggests also placing a footprint inside the tent as an extra precaution.
  • Florida is wetter than many state; consider the rain fly extensions if you do not have a waterproof canopy in the event of rain.
  • Forty degree sleeping bags is sufficient for Florida, however this means it is comfortable when temperatures fall no less than 50 degrees.  In the winter, north Florida night temperatures can fall to below 40 degrees.  Rather than purchase a 20 degree sleeping bag (twice as heavy and not as usable during most of the year), get merino wool under clothes (top and bottom)  which will also help with keeping you warm during the colder days and can be a foundation sleeping outfit.  A compact thermal ground cloth (some with reflective coating which presumably reflects heat back, some with flannel on one side) may also be a good layer over the sleeping bag.  Down filling, while considerably lighter for the warmth, is not recommended for kayakers — if  wet it takes longer to dry than synthetic materials.
  • An insulated air mattress will protect you from cold ground in winter months and tree roots which are more common than gravel or rocks in Tate’s Hell.  You have more mattress choices if you are car camping.  Do not scrimp on a comfortable mattress.  This, above all of your equipment, will make a difference in your camping enjoyment.  Try it out before purchasing — put rock-like or root-like items under the inflated mattresses while trying it out.
  • For car camping,  a regular fold up canopy to place over the picnic table and cooking area is standard equipment — it protects non-food items from rain and saves us from having to put everything into the car when we are paddling all day and rain is forecast.   We have side flaps so one of our canopies is totally enclosable from driving rains.
  • For kayak/canoe camping where space & weight is a consideration, lightweight nylon tarp, around 1 pound and which folds very tightly is good to have.  For kayak paddling/camping we use a 10 x 10 feet tarp with a collapsible middle pole — total weight a little over 2 pounds and with loops sewn all around the edges, allows for any number of shelter configurations.  Available from Piragis (Boundary Waters) Catalog (at the end of the season, rental tarps which are still in excellent shape are sold at discount.)  This has protected us and gear from being soaked while kayak camping, our tent being a small 2 person backpacker’s tent with storage rain fly.

9. BITING INSECTS

  • There are biting flies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums in Tate’s Hell.  Along the New River, as soon as the weather warms, mosquitoes are prevalent.  Bring appropriate repellents.
  • We have found that smoke from a pit fire will discourage mosquitoes at dusk and early morning in the cooler months of the year.

10. ACCESS TO BOATERS FOR PUT-IN OR TAKE-OUT

  • Boaters can put-in and take-out at your camp site.  Hopefully, you can arrange a reasonable accommodation for their parking spaces.  Individual sites are large enough to accommodate additional cars and the multi-site campgrounds have other parking areas.

11. EMERGENCIES

  • If you have an emergency and require an emergency vehicle to go to your site, the address of the site is given on the back of your copy of the permit.  Emergency vehicles will not know how to get to your site without a specific address.   If you cannot find your permit, it is also on the back of the permit you posted at the campsite entrance.

  12. WHEN YOU LEAVE  OR LEAVE FOR A DAY

  • Make sure all fires are completely doused.
  • Walk the campsite and make sure you have not left a single trace (candy wrappers, torn off tops of drinks,  tissue, tent stakes) of your presence.
  • If you find the campsite looking better than when you arrived and with no sign that you’ve been there, you’ll feel better that you’ve left it in a good condition for the next camper.

13. THOUGHTS ON PRIMITIVE CAMPING AND LEAVING NO TRACE

  • Think minimalist and leave no trace.
  • You can provide yourself a well balanced meal without heavy packaging and with few cooking utensils. (Packaged meals have lots of salt, justified because it’s made for backpackers.  Some brands are coming up less salt.)
  • Since you will not have electricity, plan accordingly.  A cooked at home frozen meal can be used for the first meal, but depending on temperature, probably not recommended for the second day.  Ice is available in Carrabelle (hway 67)  or Eastpoint (hway 65), if needed.
  • A single dish providing all your nutritional needs is preferable to several courses (and cooking utensils).
  • Select foods which can be eaten without leaving any bones or inedible residues.
  • Minimize items which must be washed.  Wash ahead of time and pack in clean (burnable or easily packed out) sacks or containers.
  • Prepackage any condiments you feel absolutely necessary and bring only as much as you need.
  • Do not bring any more food than can be eaten; waste translates into excess garbage which must be packed out.
  • The process and preparation will get easier the more you primitive camp.
  • Bring large plastic bags to dispose of your food and other wastes and carry them out with you.  Don’t do as some campers did in April 2018.  The camp host at Womack (a volunteer post) has all the campsites to clean and having to pick up trash littered around and in the fire-pit does does not make his/her job any easier.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND APPRECIATION

We recently paddle/camped for 6 days in Central Florida on the Withlacoochee River and were dismayed by the encroachment of large homes with manicured and landscaped lawns on the waterways, large docks jutting out into the waterways  and motorized sounds throughout our trip.   Tate’s Hell State Forest still provides wilderness experiences free from houses, barking dogs and noises, including the sounds of air traffic.*

The residents of Franklin County in 1994 were asked whether they would accept the idea of the state purchasing over 50% of the county’s land to be used to restore the watershed for East Bay, the nursery of Apalachicola Bay.  They approved this purchase, which effectively meant that 50% of the total lands in the county were not going to be taxed.   This acquisition is Tate’s Hell, 210,000 acres of wilderness, with streams and creeks throughout the forest for everyone’s enjoyment.

This acquisition is part of the Florida Forever lands which the voters of Florida have supported as a way of restoring, conserving and maintaining our natural areas.  The forest is an essential watershed for both the Apalachicola and the Ochlockonee rivers. Some of the old lumber roads in the forest are being restored back to natural drainage and concrete culverts have been replaced with gravel in lower areas to allow for more natural drainage.  Some roads will have high water (markers indicate how high) and before you have to detour and complain, consider that this is one way we can keep our wild Florida lands and allow all of us to enjoy the remaining parcels of old Florida.

Because this land is not taxed, you can show your appreciation to the citizens of Franklin county by eating out at least once in Carrabelle, Eastpoint, or Apalachicola — seafood their specialty — and/or buying your camping supplies, grocery and gas from the stores in these towns.

* Lately we experienced while on one of the creeks on the west side of Tate’s Hell, jet planes in battle simulations over the Apalachicola National Forest.  The sounds intruded into that section of Tate’s Hell.

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Hauling up the boats for the night, camp site 6 (now CS 16), New River, March 2011. Camp site 16 has a little creek which is affected by tidal flow — do not leave boats on the creek when the tide it out, haul it to the camp area. This camp site has better located trees for hammock tenters.

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Womack Creek at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site. This is on Womack Creek, 3.75 miles from Womack Creek Campground landing,  by road about 7 miles. It is a large site.   Currently there is a resident hawk in these forests. When entering the road, go slowly over the gravelly areas — there are some bigger than gravel rocks which can be thrown against the underside of your car if you go too fast.    This is one of the most secluded of Tate’s Hell’s campsites.  Can accommodate several large tents.                            Photo by Tina Murphy.

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