Category Archives: Camping

Womack Creek in bloom — see and smell the Pinxter Azaleas now and for the next 3 weeks!

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St. Patrick’s day, at 11:30 pm. It was perfect paddling weather — in the low 70’s.  There was a slight breeze which rippled the surface of the Ocklockonee River, but  the trees, even with the early leaves,  protected Womack Creek.   The colors were spring — shades of light green, tinges of red with a few red maples still asserting its shiny red colors — a continuum of hue.  The bays with their darker, mature leaves added a depth to the colors of the scene.

The woodpeckers were pecking, the ubiquitous kingfisher darted upstream and then down, the resident hawk could be heard and was seen, a great blue,  which now seems a regular in that creek, and both barred owls’ dueling duets and great horned owl sounds at dusk and in the early morning.

Walters viburnum is still in full bloom, but will not be so within a week of 70 degree weather, but the swamp dogwoods will be blooming soon and swamp sweetbells soon after.  The blackberries are now in bloom and are the parsley haws.   Ogeche tupelos are just beginning to start their leaf buds.

The swamp is alive with the sound and activity of life — carpenter bees and honey bees sipping nectar from the pinxter azaleas, nymphs hatching out, dragonflies and both the swallowtail butterflies flitting from flower to flower.

Young alligators — the creek may be a nursery — are never cautious.  One cruised along my kayak, unafraid.  And a young brown water snake, less than a yard long, was out sunning, totally camouflaged against the brown/black branch.   And even young cooters, some no larger than 5 inches,  were perched on logs.

We camped there overnight to save a trip the next day to Eastpoint’s Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve where we were looking forward to a talk on Florida’s freshwater turtles.

Two years ago, on this same week (Spring Break for Leon County Schools), we had met a father and his two sons and their guests here.   We did not camp last year during the spring break (we had taken two mothers and their four children to camp at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp site, which was reported on in an earlier blog).   We did not recognize the older son, he is now a freshman at Leon High School, but he nudged our memory.

This dad has taken his sons to camp and boat and canoe, fishing and hiking and just enjoying the Panhandle’s out of doors from the time they were very young.

The young man related to me that he went camping with some friends overnight and he brought along a Coleman stove, water and some food.  His friends made fun of him with all the gear he had, but they helped tote all that gear 2 miles to the camp site.   In the morning, he got up, and had prepared for them when they got up coffee and spam and other goodies!  Were they happy that he had some camping skills and to know that water and food are essential and he knew how to cook the food.

Mack, a host to end all hosts, had at our campfire a load of firewood and fatwood to start the fire.  The bathrooms were immaculate and freshly painted!   The picnic table was pressured washed clean and the fire pit was clean and ready to start.

The day before a couple from Alaska had camped.  There seem to be more out of town campers than in state.  What a shame — for a north Florida experience without being packed between RV’s and trailers, this is one of our favorite places.

The day we broke camp, Paddle Florida, which we had joined last February to paddle 5 days on the Withlacoochee, arrived with 40 paddlers.  Unlike last year, when every day but one was a rain day, and that brought a blustery winds which make doing Ochlockonee Bay treacherous, this year’s group will have perfect paddling weather.

We checked the New River — it is very low.  We were hoping to camp at Campsite 7 next week and paddle upstream, but it does not look promising.   When it is low there are too many big trees which have fallen over the river to paddle.  When the river is high, one merely paddles over them.   A federal forester, now retired, told us that when the deciduous trees start leafing on the New River, they guzzle up water like marathoners and paddling will require portaging and dragging.

The next day we paddled from the Womack Creek Campground on the Ochlockonee to Crooked River, all bounded by Tate’s Hell land on one side, to Loop Landing campground.  This, too, is another isolated campground which we like to camp — right on the Crooked River.  It’s a 4 mile paddle.  We started out at 8:35 a.m. and never have we paddled the Ochlockonee when it was so calm.  Pinxters are blooming there also as are Devil wood with its white blossoms and blackberries.

We paddled to McIntyre landing on the Ocklockonee which is at one end of the Crooked River.  The posts which once supported a train track on which trains hauled turpentine from one side of the river to the other are still there.   Crooked River connects to the New on the west and is subject to tidal flow from both the Carrabelle River and the Ocklockonee River.  We were against the tide that early in the morning, but it was a short paddle and the sky was blue, the air sweet and crisp  and spring in the air.

We had parked our car and trailer at Loop Landing, which is only 2 miles from Womack Creek Campground — one could walk to get one’s car if one is camped at Womack.

Go paddle Womack now and throughout April — the creek is blooming and there will be a succession of blooms from now on.

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The splash from a little turtle’s jump.

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Parsley haw blossoms.

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Nick’s Road landing — always a great place for lunch on Womack Creek.  Picnic bench, grill and fire pit.   Also a great place to camp — away from it all (from April through September, bring mosquito repellent).

P1130378New River at Camp Site 7 — very low for March.

 

 

Primitive Camping in Tate’s Hell State Forest

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Primitive Camp Site 7, New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest, early morning fire to take the chill out of a chilly March 1, 2014.

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

Womack Creek Campground

  • 9 sites for tents only (sand/dirt floor), 3 for RV’s, trailers and tents (gravel floor)
  • Potable water 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.
  • 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, honor system, pay at iron ranger near kiosk
  • Hosts Lee and Mack have recently been appointed.
  • In no hunting zone and open for camping all year round
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Sunset as seen from Womack Creek Campground rest house veranda, 2012. Photo by Branson Carlton.

  • Other Primitive Camp Sites
  • Gully Branch Road, Rock Landing and All Terrain Vehicle (ATV)  campgrounds are multi-sited (3-4 sites) campgrounds with vault toilets.
  • ATV campground is less than 1/4 mile west of hway 67 and a good stopover campground for paddlers and campers passing through.
  • Gully Branch Road has a constantly flowing, non-potable, source of water.
  • Gully Branch and Rock Landing have covered pavilions for day users, but can be used by campers.
  • Gully Branch and Rock Landing are not directly on the river, you will have to carry your boats to the river.
  • Almost all of the campsites are on water:  Ochlockonee River, Crooked River, New River, Deep Creek, Whiskey George Creek (just a ditch at the campsite) and Doyle Creek.  Barrow Pit #2 is on a pond.
  • No water or toilet facilities (except where noted above at Gully Branch & Rock Landing); bring your own portable toilet or shovel; use biodegradable toilet tissue if digging a pit.
  • 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.
  • Certain sites are not available during hunting season which dates change from year to year.
  • Sites which are available year round are:  Womack Creek Campground; Crooked River 1 and 2; Gully Branch 1 and 2; Off Highway Vehicle Campground A, B, C; Rock Landing sites 1, 2, 3; Parker Place and Pope Place, both on the west side of the lower New River.
  • These sites are reservable at the Tate’s Hell Forestry office, 290 Airport Rd., Carrabelle, FL 32322. Each site is $10 per night.   Your permit should be posted at the entrance post identifying your campsite.
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Rock Landing – July 2012 floods. 3 primitive sites are safe from rising waters.

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Primitive camp site on Crooked River.

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

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.
  • 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.
  • Do not keep any food 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.

7.  FIREWOOD

  • You will need to bring your own firewood.  To our knowledge there is no place in Eastpoint or Carrabelle where one can purchase fire wood.

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.    10 x 10 feet square canopies range from $100 to $250 — the more expensive being sturdier, longer and heavier. For kayak paddling/camping we have a several ounces 10 x 10 feet tarp with a collapsible middle pole — total weight a little over 1 pound and with loops sewn all around the edges, allows for any number of shelter configurations.   This has protected us and gear from being soaked while kayak camping, our tent being a small 2 person backpacker’s tent.

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.

A good game for younger children older than toddlers may be to deputize them as “site detectives”, when you arrive at the camp site and are busy setting up camp.  They are to build a profile of the previous campers by collecting “artifacts” of previous campers.    Have bags available for them to collect these “artifacts”.  Around the campfire, have them develop a profile of the previous campers.  A magnifying glass (which always is great to have around for nature observations) would add to the game.  If this caught on with them, have them do the same as you prepare to leave. If you leave no trace, you have no profile — you’ve become the invisible camper.  Make them an “Invincible, Invisible Camper”  badge with any items they have picked up.  If any one asks them what it means, they can respond that they primitive camped and left no trace.

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.

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.

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, New River, March 2011. Camp site 6 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.

Womack Creek at Nick's Road Camp Site

Womack Creek at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site. This is the closest camp site to the Womack Creek Campground (downriver 3.75 miles) or by road about 7 miles. It is a large site; guaranteed to hear barred owls even during the day. 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. Photo by Tina Murphy.

Whiskey George – paddling from estuary to wildernerness

“Whiskey George is a beautiful tannic creek originating in Tate’s Hell State Forest.  It meanders through pine flatwoods and salt marshes to East Bay.   Good birding route.  ( FWC,  “Appalachicola River: Wildlife and Environmental Area Paddling Trail System”.)

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These photos were taken on a paddling trip on November 19, 2013.

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This is the main putting-in place, with lots of parking spaces, for Whiskey George Creek, off Hway 65. See Whiskey George Landing sign to west.

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An alternate put-in, right off shoulder of Hway 65, will save you 7.0 miles, about 3.5 miles from Whiskey George Put-in above. Off shoulder parking only.

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Turkey buzzard, looking for carrion.

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Stepping down to a lower branch, for a better look.

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Maybe, if I act like an anhinga, they’ll paddle away and leave me alone.

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The creek narrows

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And ends here. Only to reappear further upstream. We don’t hike with our kayaks, so we’ll wait when there is more water to the upper stretches.

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Swamp lilies still blooming in mid-November!

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The clouds were spectacular.

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A fly fisherman enjoying his day off, down river.

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Homeward bound to the Whiskey George Launch Ramp — 13. 7 miles of paddling (including every oxbow along the way). If you put-in right at Hway 65 just south of this launch area, you’ll cut your paddling miles by 7 milesw

We saw a fisherman catch a 20-22 inch redfish and return it back into the water, ospreys, flocks of crows, kingfishers, a huge alligator which we surprised, a protothonary warbler, several other unidentified birds.   There is a primitive camp site on this creek in Tate’s Hell, accessible by a mucky bank. There is another called Whiskey George campsite, at Forestry roads 10 and 25.   This creek is tidally influenced — we paddled upstream against the tide and returned, also, against the tide.   It was not a difficult paddle.

It seems from the GRASI maps, that there are military crossings planned in two places on the upper sections of this creek by vehicles weighing up to 2.5 tons,  near the Whiskey George campsite.  Whiskey George empties into East Bay and then into Apalachicola Bay.  East Bay’s estuary is a very important nursery for Apalachicola Bay.

New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest, Great Paddling and Camping by Ed Feaver

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March 11-12, 2012 — a group of paddlers put-in at FH 22 east of Sumatra to do a 2 day paddle on the New. One portage, swift water flowing between tightly growing cypress, but generally an easy paddle. Paddling the New River in this stretch to camp site 7, is always different.

The New River starts in the Mud Swamp Federal Wilderness northeast of Sumatra and travels approximately 21 miles southwest through the entire length of Tate’s Hell to join the Crooked River and there forms the Carrabelle River, north of US 98.  It begins as a narrow stream, some of which disappears underground when the area has not had sufficient rainfall, but usually has sufficient water in the Spring to paddle from the Sumatra put in to its mouth.  Even in semi-drought conditions (which we experienced in 2009-2011) the river has sufficient water and unobstructed paddling conditions from Camp Site 7 to the Carrabelle River, a trip of approximately 12 miles.

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Limbos are to be expected on this stretch of the river. So, this one? No big deal.

There are 14 primitive camp sites along the river, all but four of which are within spitting distance of the river.  A few may be underwater during periods of excessive rainfall.   Each of these sites has a fire pit and a picnic table and most of them can accommodate 2-to-4 tents, with a couple of sites that can handle 10-15 small tents.  There is no potable water at any of the sites and, with the exception of Gully Branch, there are no bathroom facilities at the sites.  The protocol for campers and day users is “pack it in, pack it out”.  The Gully Branch site, which is the location of the only bridge across the river, has a vault toilet and a large pavilion for groups.  The Tate’s Hell Forest Service does a superb job of maintaining the sites, and, for the most part, campers show respect for the natural world and rarely leave a mess.   Sites must be reserved through Tate’s Hell Forestry’s office in Carrabelle for $10 per site per night.  With the exception of hunting season, it is usually possible to reserve a site with short notice.

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Aside from the single portage, this was the most exerting activity of the day.

This river, only one of several in Tate’s Hell, is a paddler’s paradise — challenging and beautiful, but it is equally terrific for fishing, camping, hunting, and most important, for experiencing our natural world.   The camp sites are great places for families (no non-natural noise, no distorting lights) and especially good for introducing children to the wonders of nature and discovering how all of life is connected.

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Under the Gully Branch Road bridge and more than halfway to the take-out.

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Pope’s Place — take-out early enough to have a big meal at the Fisherman’s Wife in Carrabelle.

Womack Creek leading to Womack Swamp, Tate’s Hell

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Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell, upstream from Nick’s Road Primitive Camp site. After heavy rains, this area is deep enough to paddle, with fallen trees to limbo under, brush to avoid, but you may be rewarded by an otter, a barred owl flying overhead and wildflowers which still manage to bloom in the patches of sun they have found. Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site is another isolated site which makes you think you have the wilderness all to yourself. Mosquitoes and yellow flies in the summer months.

New River Wilderness, Tate’s Hell, at Flood Tide photo by M. Feaver

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March 28, 2013. About 2+ miles upriver from Tate’s Hell, primitive camp site 7, New River at flood tide. After March, normally, the section of the river from Sumatra (FH 22) to camp site 7 is usually dry, as deciduous trees bordering the river use up the water for their own needs.

New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest

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New River, Tate’s Hell State Forest. New River from primitive camp site 7 downstream to the Carrabelle River is navigable year round. There are numerous primitive camp sites along the river on both sides, reachable by water or by car. Each campsite has a firepit and picnic table and some have grills. No water, electricity, toilet facilities. Pack it in, pack it out is the practice in Tate’s Hell. Best times to camp October – March, except during gun hunting season when these sites may not be available. Reservable, $10 site, from Tate’s Hell Forest office, Carrabelle.