Auto Touring the Osceloa National Forest
Many a resolutions were made today. We opted for an adventure. It's January 1, 2022 and while we should be diving into some ill-fated resolution we said the hell with it and headed for the trails.
Located in Columbia, Baker, Bradford, and Hamilton counties of Florida, the 200,000+ acre swath of land clearly requires multiple trips or a long stay to fully explore. Today, we opted to scratch the surface and see what the public land had to offer. It didn't disappoint.
We headed toward Lake City - the hometown of our favorite brewery Halpatter Brewing Company. While today wasn't for the brews, if you're adventuring within an hour of the area, you should certainly stop in. Home to one of Florida's top ranked beers, O'Leno Cream Ale, Halpatter has brought major recognition to the tiny town in the top of the state. While my personal favorite is their seasonal Sweet Potato Casserole, Mr. Old Florida Vibes has equal parts passion for the brewery's architecture (A former Red Cross and US Post Office Building) and their award winning O'Leno Cream Ale.
Now, back to today's adventure. We entered the forest with the intent of heading toward the Big Gum Swamp Wilderness for photography. This sub-section of the Forest is designated wilderness. What this means is it's the most protected level of public land.
Wilderness areas are the most protected public lands in America. Managed with restraint, they are intended to be self-willed lands, both philosophically and practically. Due to their unique character, these truly wild spaces have become part of a cavalier American identity. Found in most states, but concentrated in the west, they protect lush forests, arid deserts, snow-capped peaks, dank swamps and sandy beaches. Yet, the reasons Americans love wilderness are even more diverse than the areas themselves. https://wilderness.net/learn-about-wilderness/default.php
We ended up completely off track and just letting the beauty of the land drive our destination. Everywhere we turned it was another picture-perfect view. The towering pines, the stunning long shadows, the endless fields of pure, Old Florida bliss, it was exactly the perfect way to slow roll into the new year.
We did have a few moments of high adventure. The roads in the area are definitely intended for 4WD. And despite our 4WD, the giant ponds formed from years of folks tearing down roads were a little more than our truck (well, us) was ready to handle. We backed it up a bit and hit a new road with the intent of venturing back again with the proper vehicle, tow straps, and wench.
This one wasn't highly thought out but one worth sharing at the very least. If you find yourself in need of a place to get outside, take a deep breath, and wander through the forest, you can't go wrong with a trip to the Osceola.
Know Before You Go:
Osceola National Park and its sub-parts are for exploring. By that, I mean you're going to need the right ride to do it. We headed out in a 4WD Tacoma and were in the company of similar rigs. Jeeps, Big Trucks, OHVs, ATVs, are all made for this place.
Pack a lunch . . . or tent: You are going to want to pack in (and out) all of your food and gear. There are no facilities inside the forest (bathrooms, vending, trash). With miles upon miles to explore, you won't want to have to leave for food, water, shelter, etc. Be sure to come prepared.
Download your maps before you go. Wireless service is spotty at best. If you haven't invested in a reliable, offline GPS, you'll want to be sure you download or purchase a map to keep you on-track.
This is the wilderness and you are responsible for your own safety. Once you get back in the thick of the woods, you can't rely on others for help. Be sure you have a solid safety plan, first aid kit, and food/water for hydration. Tell a friend of family member where you are going and when you plan to return. Regardless of the time of year, sun exposure can be intense. Be sure you have the proper protective equipment to stay safe and hydrated. Additionally, this is an area used regularly for hunting. If you are hiking during an open hunting season, you should plan to wear blaze orange.
And lastly, if you are hunting, fishing, or foraging, be sure to abide by all FWC regulations and requirements. Permits and licenses available here: