Beyond Destin: Torreya State Park
Destin has a lot to offer, and although its beaches are world-famous and its seafood delicious, there are hundreds of hidden treasures in the surrounding area of Northwest Florida that yield for fun adventures, day trips and weekend getaways. This column which will be featured on Wednesdays, will follow the wanderings of reporter, Savannah Vasquez, and explore the many opportunities in Destin’s surrounding area. I invite you to explore with me Beyond Destin.
This weekend Cristian and I finally took the camping trip I had been planning for months. I got the idea when searching Florida State Parks for a camp site, but what I stumbled upon led to the coolest camping experience we’ve ever had.
Torreya State Park offers several camping options; primitive camping where you hike into the woods for good old fashioned tent camping; R.V. or camper hook-up sites with electricity and water and bathrooms nearby; a spacious two room cabin; or a circular canvas structure called a Yurt.
The Yurt which stands for ‘Year-round Universal Recreation Tent’ peeked my curiosity. From the photos online I learned that the yurt was climate controlled, had it’s own fire pit and grill, and contained a table, rocking chairs and two beds; but what really sold me on the Yurt was the circular skylight in the roof. Thus began our ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) experience at Torreya State Park.
We arrived at the park right at check-in time on a overcast and rainy weekend. Hopeful and undeterred, we first unpacked our gear into the Yurt, and found it already heated and cozy. After a quick lunch the rain let up so we decided to venture out and check out the hiking trails.
Torreya has 16 miles of hiking trails on the property, two large loops and several smaller connector trails. Known as one of the most diverse parks in the state, Torreya sits beside the Apalachicola River and boasts hiking trails along ravines and bluffs, a rare hilly landscape for Florida that rises up to 150 feet above the river.
On our first afternoon at the park we chose to explore the seven mile main loop. We began at the campsite, but not even a mile into our hike we found ourselves in a marshy swampland filled with large hardwood trees. As we continued our hike, the swampy landscape soon changed to a jungle environment with plentiful low lying palmettos and white lilies. Two miles into our hike we came to a historical landmark site, the Gregory House located on a bluff overlooking the Apalachicola River. The Gregory House is a furnished plantation house originally built in 1849. Ranger-guided tours are available at the site daily, but we were on a quest to finish our hike so we continued onward.
We next passed the site of Civil War gun encampments where the Confederacy placed six canons and three powder magazines to safeguard the river from Union ships. Because its rich history, Torreya is one of the few sites for archeological digs in Northwest Florida.
Our seven mile hike then took us beside a bubbling creek and to an old stone bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s. Next we ventured into a pinewood forest and the landscape changed once again to that of red clay ravines. In this section of the hike we saw a nine-banded armadillo. I actually had no idea that armadillo lived in Florida and excitedly tried to video the funny creature as it burrowed into the pine needles searching for ants. Unfortunately, in my excitement I somehow never hit record so the experience of the armadillo lives in my memory.
After our hike we returned to the Yurt for dinner on the grill and smores on the bonfire. At nightfall the rain began again and we retreated into our comfy canvas oasis for the night.
Day two saw us up bright and early hitting the trail again, this time for the illustrious Torreya Challenge hike. The Challenge is a six mile hike through the highland pines. The furthest point on the hike led to the outland primitive camping site for the most hard-core campers. This trail wasn’t as eventful for us as the first hike, but still very beautiful with my favorite spot being the little limestone jaunts along the creek. I was happy when we made it back to the start of the loop as my legs were definitely ready for some rest.
Torreya State Park is a must for everyone in Northwest Florida from the avid hiker to the glamorous camper, the park has everything needed for a great weekend away.
Torreya State Park is located at 2576 NW Torreya Park Rd. in Bristol, Florida. Park costs $3 per vehicle via honor box, and camping costs $16 per night, plus tax or for the Yurt experience $40 per night, plus tax.
For more information call 643-2674.