Gainesville-Charlotte Camping Reviews: Holton Creek River Camp

Overall, Holton Creek Camp is more than I ever expected from a free campsite: electricity, heated water, and a roof over my head. I was really pleased to have such facilities, especially after having to navigate the dirt paths for about forty or so minutes in the near-dark. I am glad certain Floridian wildlife offices are putting the effort and time to make the Florida Trail a real destination rather than a half-assed thing to do “‘cause every other state got it”.

On the first night of the “Blue Ridge Trail” biking trip (self-coined), I stopped at the Holton Creek River Camp, motivated by its proximity to Gainesville, FL as well as its free-ness, which I have prioritized during this trip (though it will become apparent that these priorities don’t seem to hold sway in Georgia). The camp is specifically for Florida Trail hikers and Suwanee River tubers, placed just a few dozen feet from both the river and trail – it also has a sign that deters overnight parking nearby; you will have to earn your way to this area in some shape or form.

Reservations

Reservations were very simple: I just had to call the Suwanee River Water Management District (800.868.9914) and ask if there are any availabilities for the day. Being a Monday, there was absolutely no one looking to reserve either the platforms or the tent sites, so I could easily snag one of the former. For more information, you can also check the WMD’s site out.

Don’t always trust Google.

Google Maps has an issue with directing to the camp: while it identifies exactly where the camp is located, it does not take into account the unpaved roads required to get to the campsite via bicycle – nor the Florida Trail, which would be a huge bonus if it were included in the future.

Google assumes that there is a magical bridge that goes from the south side to the north side; there isn't, just private property.
Google assumes that there is a magical bridge that goes from the south side to the north side; there isn't, just private property.

It was already past 19:30 when I arrived at the southern end, also called the “Sheriff’s Boys Camp” or something similar. I didn’t realize until then that Holton Creek Camp was located north of the river, not south. For the next hour, I rerouted myself to the 249, adding another 18 miles to the bike trip, and causing me to arrive at the camp after sun had set.

Feeling as if I was gonna get Blair Witch’d

It was a stressful experience to go further and further into the Floridian woods from 20:30 to 21:00. The sunset occurred at 20:36, and I was already past the highway and a mile or so into the forest. I did not want to be stuck in the forest, in the dark, alone, and without something already set up to sleep in. As a child, I put the covers over my head when I’m afraid that someone is in my room, or even as a teenager, camping alone. “If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.”

For the last fifteen minutes I had to turn on my bike light so I can see along the dirt path. The worst horror is to seek the image of something; my light flashed through the trees and into the distance, and the reptile-part of my brain just waited for some darkened silhouette to appear.

But moving along.

Holton River Camp is all that and a bag of chips

I was really suprised by the handicap accessibility.
I was really suprised by the handicap accessibility.

I had seen images of the platform online, and had assumed the five structures were simply well-made bug nets. However, when I arrived, I also found it (and all other buildings) to be handicap accessible, with internal and exterior lights, as well as a ceiling fan. The platforms could comfortably fit three small tents, or up to six people with only bivy sacks or sleeping bags (which I would not recommend: the weakest part of the structure are the small perforations in the otherwise high quality platforms, allowing for a few small bugs to find a way in).

Sleeping bag in the Holton Creek River Camp platform - the wood floors were even well-sealed, but I set up the tarp as a barrier anyway.
Sleeping bag in the Holton Creek River Camp platform – the wood floors were even well-sealed, but I set up the tarp as a barrier anyway.

The rain and the platform

The fifth of June had erratic behavior with regard to weather; earlier in the day I had been soaked by thirty minutes of rain, and then clear skies for the next seven or so hours. But by twelve in the morning, a pattering of rain had started, and would not stop until the afternoon of the next day (which dampened my mood and cycling speed). I worried that the “splash back” of the rain drops would get in through the net, but the roof had covered most of the ramp entrance, keeping drops far enough away from the site – perhaps I take this note because of the possible issues that tarp tenting can produce: torrential rainfall will bounce into the enclosure, causing things to get wet regardless of the roof over one’s head.

The bathrooms and showers

It was only a small trip to the bathrooms, which are segregated into disabilities/non-disabilities and men/women.
It was only a small trip to the bathrooms, which are segregated into disabilities/non-disabilities and men/women.

Only the next morning did I check out the bathrooms, which had lit up at night when I passed them; I thought they were small, rentable houses at first. But to my surprise, the bathrooms were fully furnished: working toilet, hot/cold water shower, and a sink with a mirror, with toilet paper already in place. Also cooled by A/C! I don’t know why they put so much effort into this place, but the Holton Creek River Camp had gone way beyond normal expectations of a free campsite.

Conclusions

Overall, Holton Creek Camp is more than I ever expected from a free campsite: electricity, heated water, and a roof over my head. I was really pleased to have such facilities, especially after having to navigate the dirt paths for about forty or so minutes in the near-dark. I am glad certain Floridian wildlife offices are putting the effort and time to make the Florida Trail a real destination rather than a half-assed thing to do “‘cause every other state got it”.

But be careful about Google Maps and attempting to read the official websites PDF map, as the former completely throws you off the correct street, and the latter is not to scale and can be confusing to figure out the actual entrance to the Holton Creek area (you can go along the Florida Trail, which I could not find a trailhead, or via the Northwest entrance).

June Biking Trip: Florida to Washington D.C.

But each time I finished a 30 miler, I still felt I had the energy to do _more_; I just didn’t have the time, what with university and other workstuff. By the time of my graduation, however, I had no excuse but to spend the three or four hours per day to hit about 40-45 miles. I still had more energy, but now it was a mental barrier. Could I possibly spend 6 or 8 hours per day just sitting on a bike? I would need to be somewhere else, not just back at home. The want of _more_, added with the excessive amount of free time, led me to the conclusion that I should be going on a bicycle ride to my next home.

Need to improve my tarp setup.

Need to improve my tarp setup.

In mid-April I was playing with Google Maps’ biking feature, connecting Gainesville to Washington D.C. It was about 900 miles. Then I saw logistics for the Adventure Cycling Association’s Atlantic Coast Route, which is about 1200 miles. I looked over my calendar: after I graduated from the University of Florida on April 29th, my commitments would be relatively empty. By mid-July, I’ll be in Baltimore to start a position as an AmeriCorps-FEMA member, where I’ll be providing disaster preparedness support and logistics. Thus, for two months, I had a miraculous amount of time to do something worthwhile, something I would enjoy.

I was still only hitting 20 to 30 miles per day at that time. But each time I finished a 30 miler, I still felt I had the energy to do more; I just didn’t have the time, what with university and other workstuff. By the time of my graduation, however, I had no excuse but to spend the three or four hours per day to hit about 40-45 miles. I still had more energy, but now it was a mental barrier. Could I possibly spend 6 or 8 hours per day just sitting on a bike? I would need to be somewhere else, not just back at home. The want of more, added with the excessive amount of free time, led me to the conclusion that I should be going on a bicycle ride to my next home.

But May wasn’t to be; I was visiting my SO for nearly a week in mid-May. I decided to simply train during May, get used to camping with the bike, carrying all of my belongings in a couple panniers and a backpack, etc. Hit a consistent 40-50 miles per day, then hike up the mileage in the last week before going on the trip.

I decided that the full Atlantic Coast Route may waste more time and money than I would want: being along the actual coast would hike up primitive tent camping prices. Miles away from the coast, I found a KOA attempting to charge $35 for a primitive campsite. Wow! Instead, I want to focus my attention on getting past Georgia, South Carolina, and the southern part of North Carolina as fast as possible; I want to get closer to the Appalachian Trail, perhaps escape the feeling of Deliverance following me whenever I try to camp alone in the southern everglades.

The itinerary is getting set up: Start at Callahan, Florida, bike up into Georgia, get out of Georgia in two or three nights, through the middle South Carolina in a few nights, then get to Raleigh and see what’s up over there. I’ve used resources like “freecampsites.net” and of course Google Maps to find cheaper primitive sites; only $3.50 to get a three-day permit in Georgia, which is great. But South Carolina is proving more difficult; haven’t spent much time for North Carolina.

By the time I get into northern NC or Virginia I’ll feel a-okay about my progress. These are places I’m more familiar with. The “northern South” if you will (bathroom laws notwithstanding). I want to head right over to the Appalachian Trail area, see if there are any bike-friendly trails (and bike friendly campsites). Smooth sailing as I head to Harpers Ferry and down to D.C., where I’ll settle down and await my new position at FEMA.

The trip doesn’t seem to be long. Let’s say 60 miles per day: two weeks; 40 miles per day is four weeks. I’ll be leaving early June. Will get there mid-to-late the same month. Overall the plethora of time should allow me to relax. I’ll be much more relaxed when I’m past the halfway point. Past the two states that I have suspicions about (sorry South Carolinians and Georgians, but any states that put emphasis on vehicular culture tend to be unfriendly to cyclists).

I’m quite excited, it’ll be the longest camping trip I’ve done, and definitely the longest biking trip I’ve ever done. Since receiving my bicycle in late January, I’ve gone from fearing every minute of riding to loving it. I hope to express this love by extending it from 3 hours to 3 weeks. And being able to see more of the United States, along with the AT? I can’t say not to that.

Biking/Camping at Gold Head State Park