Over the decade plus that I’ve lived outside of Florida, I’ve learned that most people associate my home state with sunshine and beaches, Disney and golf. Few and far between are people who know anything about the northernmost parts of the state and even fewer who have visited the city I call home.
So much nature.
Nature is everywhere in Gainesville, from the towering live oaks draped in Spanish moss to the gators and turtles hanging out in nearly every body of water to the warm downpours in the spring, summer, and fall to Devil’s Millhopper, Paynes Prairie, and San Felasco.
…and I barely noticed any of it when I lived there.
It’s probably not that surprising. The hardest things to appreciate are things you see every day. I was born and raised in Gainesville. Until age 18 it was the only place I really knew. Then, I left. I lived in other places, first Massachusetts and now D.C., and when I came home for visits, I realized that there’s something special about my hometown.
While I was home visiting my parents for Thanksgiving, I made a point to get out and take advantage of a few of the local start parks, which is something I did very rarely growing up. Number one on my list was Devil’s Millhopper, my favorite natural site in Gainesville. However, the weather was bad for the first few days of my visit and by the time it let up it was already Tuesday – one of the days Devil’s Millhopper is closed. As a backup, we headed to nearby San Felasco Hammock State Park. Joining me on this trip: my mom and my oldest brother, Glenn.
San Felasco is one of the few mature Florida hammock woodlands. Dedicated as a state park in 1974, it has over 7,000 acres devoted to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. There are four hiking trails: The Spring Grove Trail (5.8 miles), The Old Spanish Way (4.8 miles), Creek Sink Trail (2.3 miles – currently closed due to flooding), and Moonshine Creek Trail (1.2 miles).
Since my mom was having some foot issues, we opted to do the short Moonshine Creek Trial. Named for the creek running through this part of the park, Moonshine Creek was the site of an illegal still during prohibition. Surrounded by neighborhoods built within the last 50 years, the creek must have been extremely isolated back in the 1920s, so moonshiners picked a really great location.
Although it was a weekday, San Felasco was hopping when we arrived at 11:30 am. We managed to snag the second to the last parking spot. Despite the busy lot, our trail was empty. We only passed one other group during our walk.
One surprise – this hike has some elevation changes. Florida is the flattest state in the union, which means any changes in elevation are kind of a big deal. There’s one major reason for elevation changes in our region: sinkholes. We were immediately on the lookout for one and we weren’t disappointed. On the left side of the trail, we could see a sharp descent leading to a large sinkhole.
Continuing on the trail, we approached the first bridge crossing for Moonshine Creek, which was quickly followed by a swamp covered in green algae. There was a large path from our trail to the water’s edge, and I wasn’t sure whether it was from people trying to get a good look at the water or a gator trail (the slide path a gator takes in and out of the water). I kind of wanted a closer look, but none of us were in the mood to cross paths with a gator, so we continued on our route.
Passing the intersection for the Creek Sink Trail, we arrived at a second bridge going over Moonshine Creek. This second crossing gave us a better view of the creek and doubled as a nice photo opportunity. From there, we continued back to the trailhead at a leisurely rate.
We took our time on this one. Even though it was only 1.2 miles, it took us about 35 minutes to complete the loop.
Difficulty – 1
Solitude – 4
Fun – 2
If you’re looking for an outing with lots of adventure and exertion, then Moonshine Creek Trail isn’t for you. For a chill outdoors experience and opportunity to spend time with my mom and brother, it was perfect.