“Where are you guys going on your trip?”
We love that question.
“Where in Florida?”
That’s the quencher, right there. How do we explain this?
This is often met by a rather puzzled look on the interviewer’s behalf. But we mean what we say; we are going everywhere, Florida. No, it isn’t the name of a mysterious city you’ve never heard of. It is the most literal destination we can offer without reciting a list a mile long. That’s just how we do it. We figure if we’re making the trip anyway, we might as well see everything we can along the way.
Planning for this year’s anniversary trip (or “honeyversary, as we call it) had been in the works since we got home from last year’s trip. To say it was extensive would be an understatement. I love having a clear, precise plan. Ironically, though, I hate being on a schedule. This results in months of planning, stacks of schedules and lists, and me knowing good and well I’m only making half the plans to break them. Like how Life’s Little Instruction Book instructs us to “learn the rules, then break some”. Yeah, it’s kind of like that. Make the plan, then stray from the plan.
From the start, and I mean the very start, we went off course. The plan was to drive through the Carolinas, down the Georgia coast, hit a beach in Georgia solely because we’d never been, and then into Florida and onto the A1A. (Then on the way home, we would hit some panhandle beaches, as well as a beach in Alabama. Because how cool would it be to had gone through five states and hit beaches in three of them?) However, due to construction and major traffic delays along our route through the Carolinas, we detoured through Chattanooga and then straight through the middle of Georgia. Bye bye, Georgia beach.
Day 1 – Juniper Springs, Fern Hammock, & New Smyrna Beach
We left Knoxville around 9:00pm the night of Friday, May 26th, and stopped to sleep at a travel center once we had made it to the other side of Atlanta. The plan for Saturday was already slightly off because we had taken a different route. But since we hadn’t stopped along the coast of Georgia, we had time to hit a beach once we got into Florida before resuming our designated course. Once we crossed the Florida state line we worked our way over to the Atlantic coast, passing through the Osceola National Forest along the way. This is why I actually enjoy straying from the plan occasionally. We’ve never seen this area of Florida, and we would’ve missed it had we taken the route that we planned.
We hit the A1A (cue “Ice Ice Baby”) and cruised a bit before randomly selecting a stopping point to walk down to the beach. We ended up at Varn Park, just north of Flagler Beach. There was some major dredging and beachfront remodeling going on along the Palm Coast so, while it was nice to see the ocean for a bit, we kept moving.
Of course now instead of being ahead of schedule we were starting to fall behind, so we beelined it for the Ocala National Forest. Our next stop: Juniper and Fern Hammock Springs.
This place is almost magical. It’s like something you’d dream up while reading a fairytale. The Juniper Springs Recreation Area was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and is one of the oldest recreation areas on the East Coast. It offers swimming and picnic areas, paddle boat rentals, campgrounds, and hiking trails that wind through a dense canopy of oak and palm trees. It even has an old mill house right by the swimming area! It is an absolutely charming little spot. The real magic, however, begins when you venture down the hiking trail to Fern Hammock Springs. It’s like a secret garden within a secret garden.
Truth be told, this is the part we really came for. I saw some photos of Fern Hammock on Pinterest (see my Florida board here) and thought it was absolutely stunning. It was after doing a little more research that I really became obsessed and just had to see it. Two words for you: sand boils. (See video below.)
Please note that swimming is not allowed at Fern Hammock due to the sensitive ecosystem. But it sure is pretty to look at! (Besides, you can always get your swimming in over at Juniper.)
Be on the lookout for the local wildlife!
A little word to the wise though, stay clear around the holidays. We happened to be there on Memorial Day weekend and the swimming area was quite crowded. My advise would be to get there early on weekends and holidays, or go on a regular weekday.
After leaving Juniper and Fern Hammock Springs, we headed back toward the coast and stopped at New Smyrna Beach. My husband is a bit of a shark fanatic, and seeing as how this beach is nicknamed the “shark bite capital of the world”, of course it was on the list.
While we didn’t catch a glimpse of any sharks, we did catch a downright gorgeous sunset.
We hung out at New Smyrna Beach well after the sun had set. It’s amazing how deserted the beach becomes at once night falls. I am so glad it does, though. Sitting at the edge of civilization, with the city glow behind you as you gaze out into a vast darkness like you’ve never known – it’s a humbling, liberating, and somewhat frightening experience all at once. So we stayed to soak it in.
Totals for Day 1:
2 national forests
Trip planning and mapping made possible in part by RoadTrippers.