Perfect weekend in Hiawassee

This weekend started after lunch Friday. We checked traffic in Atlanta, but it was already bad, so the GPS routed us through Gray, to Athens, to Helen and in to Hiawassee. We arrived and got settled in at The Ridges Resort on Lake Chatuge. After we relaxed, we headed over to the Copper Door in Hayesvile, NC for our dinner reservations. Dinner was good and the experience they provide is one you will always remember.

The Copper Door Serves dinner Tuesday through Saturday evening. They offer a rotating, four course prix fixe menu for $65 per person plus 20% gratuity. The service is phenomenal. Their menu changes every week.

After dinner we headed back to get relaxed and rested for our early morning.

Saturday morning we set out for breakfast and then to find Blue Hole and High Shoals Falls. It was really easy to find, but we had to drive the convertible through a huge puddle of water. Hubby walked trough the water first so we could ensure the depth and that the car would make it. I would recommend you not drive a low vehicle here. We made it but water was very close to the bottom of the door.

https://videos.files.wordpress.com/shwogdxn/img_1844.mp4

Once you finish driving down the dirt road, you come to a parking area. There are only about 4-5 spots, but people park all along the road as well. We got there early so we had a parking spot.

The adventure begins at a trailhead off the graveled Forest Road 283 just south of Hiawassee, Georgia. From the trailhead, the trail begins a steady descent through a forest of towering old-growth trees and gnarly-branched mountain laurel. The trail hangs a hard right at just under a quarter-mile, meandering through wide switchbacks and following occasional green trail blazes.

The sound of rushing water grows louder as the hike nears High Shoals Creek. The trail reaches the creek’s banks at a half-mile, swinging northbound. The route passes a large campsite before crossing through the creek.

After crossing the creek, the hike passes several more trailside campsites. The trail winds through dense thickets of leathery-leafed rhododendron as it descends.

The trail crosses a small wooden bridge before reaching a side path at just under one mile. The hike turns left, following the side trail and dropping elevation to Blue Hole Falls. Mosses and ferns line the path in shades of vibrant green, a contrast with the red and orange-hued, iron-rich soil and boulders of the creek valley.

This hike follows the High Shoals Falls Trail through a lush, mossy creek valley to one of Georgia’s most beautiful waterfalls. And on the way, the hike passes some prime backpacking campsites, some of our favorites in North Georgia. And it visits the smaller yet equally beautiful Blue Hole Falls, a single-drop waterfall that cascades into a deep, turquoise pool.

Blue Hole Falls

Departing Blue Hole Falls, the hike retraces to the main trail and turns left to continue to High Shoals Falls. At just over one mile, the route turns left to descend to the waterfall through switchbacks and down rustic stone stairs.

The roaring sound of falling water amplifies through the valley. The tree canopy opens up to reveal High Shoals Falls at 1.35 miles. The waterfall drops more than fifty feet in a series of cascades, casting mist into the mountain breeze.

Relaxing at High Shoal Falls
High Shoals Falls

Departing the waterfall, the trail retraces its steps to the main trail and follows its outbound steps in reverse. It’s a steady, nearly unrelenting climb to the trailhead, gaining over 500 feet elevation. The hike reaches the trailhead and parking area at 2.4 miles, completing the adventure.

The hike is moderate and I had quite sore calves after this hike! If you’re used to hills, you will be fine. Make sure to take water in with you.

After we hiked, it was lunch time, so we headed to Paris & Company for lunch. Paris and company is located on the property of Cane Creek Vineyards. Lunch was tasty and then we headed down to the tasting room for some more wine. The wine was tasty too and the views were stunning! This is a must see if you’re in the area.

View from Paris & Company
View from tasting room porch

After lunch we headed back to the resort so we could shower and I could get ready for my Milky Way workshop. The weather started to get nasty, so I was unsure of how the workshop was going to turn out…but it was not cancelled, so the least I could do was go up and see what I saw.

When I got to the top of Brasstown Bald, it was raining, so we stood undercover until the rain would let up. I made it up to the top for some sunset photos, but then the rain forced up back under cover. They gave some editing tips, but most of us headed out early seeing the clouded sky and the low probability the Milky Way would be able to be seen. Because of the weather and not getting in a full class, Chris and Jason said we could come back to another session later in the month to try again.

After the workshop, I headed back to the Resort. Got ready for bed and called it a night. The morning would be here before we knew it.

I woke up early and was able to capture the sunrise on Lake Chatuge.

Once we got packed up, we headed to Bell Mountain.

From Bell Mountain,you can see the vast expanse of Lake Chatuge.

We headed out and stopped at Anna Ruby Falls in Helen on our way home. I have visited before, but my hubby hadn’t, so we went so he could see it. I will never pass up photographing a waterfall, even if I’ve seen it before. All these waterfall images were captured on my iPhone. If you would like a photo tutorial on how to capture the long exposure on your phone, reach out, I’d love to help,

The .4 mile path to Anna Ruby is all paved. It is not easy, there are hills, but since it is so short, it isn’t too bad to get to.

Anna Ruby Falls marks the junction of Curtis and York Creeks. Both creeks begin on Tray Mountain and are fed by underground springs, rain, and snow. Curtis Creek drops 153 feet and York Creek 50 feet to form the twin waterfalls known as Anna Ruby Falls. From the falls, Smith Creek tumbles downhill to Unicoi Lake and then to the Chattahoochee River.

We planned on eating on the way home, but we just weren’t hungry. We waited and stopped at one of our favorite local eating establishments, Metropolis, to eat some Indian food for dinner when we got back into town.

As usual, we squeeze in as much as we can in all of our trips.I don’t travel to relax, when I travel, I squeeze in as much as I can. I have plenty of time to relax when I’m home.

Until our next adventure, get out there to make your own adventure!

Tell me where you go and what you get to see.

XOXO

-S

6 Days in San Francisco, California

My husband surprised me for Mother’s Day with a trip to San Francisco, California.  I couldn’t have been more excited.  As soon as he told me, I started planning.  I booked an Alcatraz tour with Bay cruise, a sunset catamaran cruise, and a trip to Yosemite and to see the Sequoias.  These were the only tours we booked a head of time and we planned to explore the rest on our own.

The morning of our flight, I was up at 1:00 am and couldn’t go back to sleep.  For those that really know me, know I have a problem sleeping and even more of a problem sleeping when there’s a big day coming up.  My anxiety kept me up through the night, but I made sure we were ready to head to the airport at 4:30 am.

Traffic was bad from a few accidents on I-75 North, but luckily I buffered in quite a bit of “uh oh” time. We made it to the airport in plenty of time and got checked in.

We arrived into San Francisco on Thursday 17 June and headed to the hotel to drop off our luggage. Luckily we were able to check in early and went to the room to get settled in. We stayed at Hotel Adagio, Autograph Collection. This historic hotel was built in 1929 and is located on Geary Street near Union Square. It was nicely appointed and we were very comfortable in our room. The only downside was the restaurant/bar was not open still due to COVID-19.

After we relaxed for a little bit, we headed out to explore.  First stop was lunch.  The name I can’t even remember, because the food was very forgettable.  It was a Thai Restaurant that was recommended at our hotel; so I made a note to self, “Do not listen to her recommendations anymore”.

We explored near Union Square, down Market Street all the way down to the Ferry Building. The Ferry Building seemed like the place to be, with a lot of cute restaurants and eateries and shops. You can also get a decent look at the San Francisco Bay Bridge from behind the Ferry Building.

We headed back to the hotel for a quick shower and get ready for dinner. I chose BOTA, Tapas and Paella Bar. It is located a few blocks from our hotel on Geary. We had a pitcher of sangria and tapas for dinner. I had the Potatas Bravas & Brussels Sprouts and hubby had the Octopus and Lamb Chops. Then we had the churros for dessert. The restaurant was good, but had a few shortcomings on the preparation of the lamb chops. It was a few steps down from the hotel, so a very convenient location to Hotel Adagio.

We called it a relatively early night, because Friday morning, we had to be up really early to meet our tour at 6:00 am to head to Yosemite National Park and to see the Sequoias.

Our tour started out a little bumpy to say the least. The tour guide was rude to the driver…but she said she normally drives and does the tour, but her bus was in the shop. Also her mic wouldn’t work, and she said she couldn’t do a tour without a mic. She was very frustrated and was not a very good problem solver. Her frustration clearly showed to us on the tour. It started out as a pretty rough start. We were fine, but her attitude about the start of the day, according to her it was “in the pits, put a damper on the mood of the bus.

On the way to Yosemite, there were beautiful windmills to see. We stopped in Oakdale for breakfast, snacks and a picnic lunch if we pleased.

Yosemite was very busy and we had to wait about an hour just to get through the gate.  Make sure you have a reservation made for the day you plan to visit.  

Our first stop was to see the Sequoias in Tuolumne Grove. It was a mile hike down to the grove; let me stress “down”. Remember you do have to come back up. It was a very tough hike for me on the way back up as it reached 99 degrees that day and there is quite an elevation change. Make sure to take water and carry as little with you as possible. We spent an hour and 15 minutes here and honestly we could have spent a lot more time here, but this was a tour time-limit.

Then we drove through the tunnels and stopped to see El Capitan, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Rocks.  We got to get off of the bus at this way point for photos and breathtaking views.

A lot of photos were taken as we were driving, as Yosemite limits where tour buses can stop.  There were a lot more pull offs that we could just not stop at in the tour bus.  If you visit in a car, there are a lot more way points to stop at, so be prepared for them.

We went to Yosemite Valley Lodge area to explore.  At this stop we had two hours.  We hiked to the “swinging bridge” that is no longer a swinging bridge…it’s stationary now, but it still keeps the swinging bridge name.  You can get in the river here and it’s a perfect way to cool off.  Then we hiked over to Lower Yosemite Falls…there is a little incline to get up to the falls, but not too strenuous.  While we were there, we dipped our toes in the river to cool off.  

Last stop before we headed back to the bus was the gift shop for a few souvenirs and snacks. 

The road heading to and from Yosemite has some very curvy sections, make sure to take your Dramamine before the trip to Yosemite and when you leave as well…because I got quite queasy on the way back because I didn’t take a second Dramamine until too late.  We stopped at Oakdale for dinner and then headed back to the city.  We made it back to the hotel at about 11 pm.  It was a very long day, but Yosemite was beautiful and well worth it! 

Saturday we had the Alcatraz Tour scheduled.  We woke up early, grabbed breakfast and headed towards Fisherman’s Wharf to stop at Lombard Street.  Lombard Street is known for the one-way block on Russian Hill between Hyde and Leavenworth Streets, where eight sharp turns are said to make it the most crooked street in the world.  The Gardens in Lombard Street were so beautiful and fragrant and even with as steep as it was, it was well worth the climb for the view and the frangrance.  

After Lombard Street we wandered around to see if we could get a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the city. It was quite foggy, but we got a quick view and photo.

We headed down towards Fisherman’s Wharf to pick up our Bay cruise tour tickets and to get some lunch. After lunch we went to Bodega and had a glass of wine and then headed to Coit Tower. You can see 360 degree views from the top of Coit Tower and there are beautiful murals to look at as you wait to ride the elevator up. NOTE: There are glass covers on the windows up top, so be prepared with filters if you want to be able to reduce glare on the glass when taking photos.

After Coit Tower, we headed to Pier 33 to meet for our Alcatraz tour. We took a quick boat trip to Alcatraz island. The federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the chilly waters of California’s San Francisco Bay housed some of America’s most difficult and dangerous felons during its years of operation from 1934 to 1963. Among those who served time at the maximum-security facility were the notorious gangster Al “Scarface” Capone (1899-1947) and murderer Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud (1890-1963). No inmate ever successfully escaped The Rock, as the prison was nicknamed, although more than a dozen known attempts were made over the years. After the prison was shut down due to high operating costs, the island was occupied for almost two years, starting in 1969, by a group of Native-American activists. Today, historic Alcatraz Island, which was also the site of a U.S. military prison from the late 1850s to 1933, is a popular tourist destination.

After Alcatraz and all our city walking (almost 9 miles), we ubered our tootsies to dinner at Amber India. It was quite nice and will make my must try list for San Francisco! We decided to book a tour for Sunday and found a wine tour that I thought we would enjoy.

Sunday we had a Napa wine tour booked. We woke up early and grabbed breakfast. We showed up at 8:20 to meet the tour and nothing. So we phoned the reservations desk and then we were informed that the tour was at 9:20 and that there was a problem with their website…after being on hold for 15-20 minutes. Another tour with a shaky start. Our tour guide, was more of just a driver, she didn’t do much touring or explaining, as was advertised for our tour.

Our first stop was the North Overlook for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Next we were headed to Sonoma for wine tasting. We went to Roche Winery then went to lunch in Sonoma. We ate at Oso for lunch. Next up was Napa Valley. We stopped at Madonna Estates & Kieu Hoang Wineries. These two were the favorites of the day. These wineries were a lot more welcoming and actually toured us around and told us about the wines. At Madonna Estates, it was a small vineyard with a Tasting Room and barrel room. Kieu Hoang was the most impressive of the three we visited; there were outdoor couches set up with umbrellas, a house with tasting area and porches and a large vineyard. At Roche Winery, in Sonoma there wasn’t a tour or explanations, they just poured the wine and walked away; we were however able to walk around the vineyard.

Monday we had the Bay cruise booked at 11 am and the San Francisco Bay Sunset Catamaran Cruise booked at 7 pm. We walked through Chinatown on the way to Pier 39 from Union Square.

The Bay Cruise was nice. It was windy and a little chilly, but not unbearable with a simple sweatshirt on. We got views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge with NO FOG! So that was amazing!

It’s about an hour tour that takes you from Pier 39 to the Golden Gate Bridge and then towards Bay Bridge and back to Pier 39. After the Bay Cruise we ate lunch at Fog Harbor on Pier 39. We also checked out the Aquarium. My favorite exhibit there was the jellyfish.

The sunset catamaran cruise also left out of Pier 39. It sailed pasted Alcatraz and down under the Golden Gate Bridge and once again we got lucky and there wasn’t too much fog! It was a nice relaxing cruise. Had some rose and enjoyed the views. The way the sun was shining also lit up the bay bridge and the city in a beautiful manner. This tour was the most inviting of them all. The tour guides were the most fun and laid back of the trip. It was much cooler than the day time trip, so I added a layer with my raincoat and was fine. They also had extra windbreaker/jackets aboard the catamaran that you would wear if you were cold.

After the catamaran cruise, we headed into town to eat at Serafina. It was a very small Italian restaurant. We had reservations at 9:15 pm, but they seemed to be overbooked and we still had to wait a while. We had to sit outside, which we weren’t very happy about because it was cold (they did turn on a heater for us though); I would still recommend you go here to eat. The owners/workers were authentic Italian, the food was phenomenal and the service was good and food came out quick even though they were completely full. I would definitely call before you go to make sure they aren’t packed.

Tuesday we were returning home, but we had an afternoon flight, so we took advantage of the few extra hours to explore. We rented a car and drove the Muir Woods for a quick hike. We couldn’t be this close and miss it! The rental car was a last minute decision and was located one block over from our hotel. We didn’t reserve it until Monday night. We only rented it because I thought we were leaving later than we were…I think some cylinders aren’t firing in my brain lately. But thankful for my missed fires because Muir Woods was one of my favorite stops of the trip.

We arrived back to the airport with plenty of time to get checked in, get through security and on to our flight.

Our 6 days in San Francisco!  There were some bumps in the trip, but that gives us good stories to tell!  We were glad to be home though and get some rest! 

TIPS for San Francisco:  Wear good walking shoes, no matter what because San Francisco’s hills are no joke.  Even if you’re walking a block or two, to me comfort is trump over being cute!  I tried wearing my sandals one evening just to dinner and my calves and shins were very upset about it to say the least.  We walked over 37 miles during our trip and we even did quite a bit of ubering too, so if you want to see and do, be prepared to hike/walk a lot.  Also women, take a hair tie where ever you go.  It can get very windy especially when down by the bay and the last thing you want is hair all in your face.  Lastly, take a raincoat/windbreaker with you that you can roll up and put in your bag because one moment I was sweating and the next I was freezing. 

 XOXO

-S

Gardens near Orlando Florida

We just returned from a week in Orlando. We did the pool and parks, but had some time to explore a few gardens too. Bok Tower Gardens and Harry P Leu Gardens are both in and around the Orlando area. These are both worth a visit.

Here are a few of my favorite park photos. Our park time was spent different than usual, but we still had a nice experience.

Bok Tower Gardens is located at 1151 Tower Boulevard, Lake Wales, Florida. It’s about 45 minutes to an hour away from the Orlando area. There is a $15 per person entry fee. https://boktowergardens.org

Harry P Leu Gardens is located at 1920 North Forest Avenue, Orlando, Florida. It is nestled right near downtown Orlando. There is a $10 per person entry fee. https://www.leugardens.org

This trip was crazy and my blog post isn’t as thorough as I would like it to be, but I am completely drained. I did however want to quickly share these gardens to visit while in Orlando if you need a break from the amusement parks.

XOXO

-S

Perfect Gainesville Florida weekend

Thursday night rolled around and I didn’t have any plans for the weekend! I knew this had to be remedied immediately.

I started searching for somewhere that I didn’t think wouldn’t be packed with spring breakers, didn’t cost $400 plus a night for lodging and offered some type of hiking and adventuring. Some of the spots we had been wanting to go were coming up short; way too much for a last minute, budget trip.

We recently went to Disney World and I remembered all the state park signs on I-75 between Lake City and Gainesville, I had also seen some springs on Instagram, so I checked out Gainesville for hotels. I found Hotel Indigo in Celebration Pointe, Gainesville for… READY FOR THIS? Under $100 a night!!

I actually went to college for two semesters at University of Florida in Gainesville but spent all my time partying so I completely missed out on the goodness this part of the state offers.

Gainesville Here We Come!

My itinerary was very vague. I wanted to hike at Payne’s Prairie State Park and kayak at Gilchrist Blue Springs or Ginnie Springs. Also had found the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens and Devils Milhopper Geological State Park that I was interested in as well. My husband and I both have ties to Gainesville and University of Florida, so we wanted to check out the campus as well. And of course, check out the food scene!

We arrived Friday night to Gainesville and were pleasantly surprised with our accommodations. The staff was very helpful, hotel was new and very clean, there was a beautiful hanging garden in the lobby, up to date decor and a hotel bar that was open! We were pooped though, so we showered and hit the hay, knowing that we had an early morning in order to ensure we made it to the park before it filled up. With COVID-19 still affecting everything, state parks limit visitors in order to maintain social distancing.

Saturday morning, we woke up, grabbed Starbucks and headed to Payne’s Prairie State Park.

Payne’s Prairie State Park

Payne’s Prairie State Park is located at 100 Savannah Blvd., Micanopy FL 32667; just south of Gainesville. There is a $6 entry fee per vehicle to enter the park. The park is normally open from 8 am to sundown.

Far from the Far West, herds of wild horses and bison roam the prairie in this surprisingly diverse preserve south of Gainesville. Paynes Prairie is unique in many ways. Nowhere else in Florida can visitors experience wild-roaming bison and horses. Nearly 300 species of birds also frequent the park along with alligators, deer and many other animals. The park’s eight trails, including the 16-mile paved Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, allow one to explore the park’s interior and observe wildlife, while a 50-foot high observation tower provides for panoramic views. You can hike the La Chua Trail, Bolen Bluff Trail, Wacahoota Trail, Cone’s Dike Trail, Chacala Trail, Lake Trail, Jackson’s Gap Trail, Gainesville Hawthorne Trail, and Savannah Boulevard.

La Chua Trail – Pets are NOT allowed on this trail.

During drought conditions, vegetation may limit wildlife viewing opportunities along the LaChua Trail. This is part of the natural fluctuation of water levels. Abundant water and alligators sightings will return when Mother Nature provides a wetter rain cycle.

The LaChua Trail is three miles round-trip from the north rim of the prairie to the observation tower. This trail provides scenic views of wet-prairie and marsh habitat including Alachua Sink and Alachua Lake. Main access is at 4801 Camp Ranch Road. LaChua Trail opens at 8 a.m., seven days a week. For safety and wildlife disturbance reasons, the trail closes one hour before sunset. Alternate access is from Boulware Springs at 3500 S.E. 15th St. (Boulware Springs is also the starting point of the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail).

  • Foot traffic only! Pets are not allowed on this trail.

Bolen Bluff Trail – Pets are NOT allowed on this trail.

The 2.6-mile round-trip trail is named after a family of pioneer settlers who lived on the south rim or bluff of Paynes Prairie. The trail leads to a wildlife viewing deck after it passes beneath the shady canopy of a hardwood forest dominated by large oaks – the most impressive of which are Southern live oak. Other species of oaks as well as sweetgum, hickory, palm, magnolia and holly trees flourish along the trail. In Florida, communities of broad-leaved evergreens or hardwood-dominated forests are called hammocks. This name probably originated from early Native Americans who inhabited the region. Hammocks grow on high well-drained soils and thus provide an ideal habitat for a large diversity of animal species including Virginia white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat, gray fox, barred owl and raccoon.

Located halfway along the loop-trail is an open, grassy knoll – Bolen Bluff. The bluff affords the visitor a scenic vista of the low-lying freshwater marsh, wet prairie and open water of Alachua Lake. From the bluff a 0.5-mile spur-trail heads out onto the prairie basin along an old earthen dike. During the 1920-30s, the Camp family constructed an extensive system of dikes and canals into the vast wetland to reduce the flooding and thus create drier conditions for cattle ranching. In 1970 the Camp Ranch was sold to the state of Florida, establishing the first state preserve in the Florida Park System.

  • Today, upland areas once cleared for agriculture and cattle grazing are slowly returning to their previous hammock state.
  • The trailhead is accessed off U.S. 441 south of Gainesville. Open daily 8 a.m. to sundown. Foot and bike traffic.

Wacahoota Trail

About a quarter-mile round-trip. Begins at visitor center and loops through hammock to a 50-foot observation tower along the edge of the prairie.

  • Closes at sunset.
  • Foot traffic only!

Cone’s Dike Trail – Pets are NOT allowed on this trail.

This trail is an 8.25-mile round-trip hike from the visitor center parking area trailhead. The earthen dike trail travels into the center of the prairie creek waterway. The flat terrain of the basin is quite open and has limited shade for hikers or bicyclists.

  • Closes at sunset.
  • Foot and bike traffic.

Chacala Trail

A series of loop trails encompassing 6.5 miles in length, Chacala Trail is named after a small freshwater pond just outside the preserve boundary. The level trail winds through several distinct biological communities, including pine flatwoods, hardwood forest or hammock, baygall, open ponds and old fields. A quiet hiker might observe a diversity of wildlife, including Virginia white-tailed deer, bobcat, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker, bald eagle and various woodpeckers.

  • Horse, bike and foot traffic.

Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

The trail is 16 miles in length. Access from Boulware Springs at 3500 S.E. 15th St. Boulware Springs is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. November through April, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. May through October. Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, however, is open 8 a.m. to sundown daily. Horse, bike and foot traffic. 

Lake Trail

A little less than a mile in length from Lake Wauburg parking area to Savannah Boulevard.

  • Foot and bike traffic.

Jackson’s Gap Trail

This 1.3-mile trail passes through shady hammock and pine flatwoods to connect two of the longest trails within the preserve, Cone’s Dike and Chacala Trail.

Jackson Gap Trail was named after a pioneering cattle rancher from the turn of the 19th century, Archie L. Jackson, who moved cattle through a gap in the fence where the trail passes near Chacala Pond.

Jackson Gap Trail connects with Cone’s Dike Trail 0.15 mile down the trail. Wetland wildlife in the area includes sandhill crane, American alligator, egrets and herons, and rails. Occasionally, the Spanish horses or American bison may be seen grazing in the marsh.

Savannah Boulevard

Visitors also can enjoy walking down the paved park entrance road.

Our Experience at Payne’s Prairie State Park

When we got there, we checked out the observation deck, hiked a short Wacahoota Trail, and then began the Cone’s Dike Trail (8.25 miles). With such a light breakfast and no water with us, I figured we wouldn’t make it very far…maybe 2 miles in and then 2 out.

As we walked into the trail, we saw wild horses in the distance. There is a sign warning not to approach the horses, bison or gators. This trail takes you right out in the prairie and then through what I would call a swamp with tons of moss lined Cypress trees and gators, lots of gators. We saw plenty of birds and even a bald eagle. We made it all the way to the end of the trail. The weather was cool and we were enjoying it so much, we made it all the way. But now what? We had over 4 miles to get back. We decided to sit down up against the gate marking the end of the trail and take a break. After about 20 minutes, we were recharged and ready to head back. We saw very few people on the trail past the two mile out point, so it was very serene and peaceful. On the way back, we actually even got to see the Bison in the distance!

Make sure if you head to Paynes Prairie to take water and even a small snack, granola bar or something. We were very fortunate the weather was cool Saturday and we got an early start. Also a lot of the hike on Cone’s Dike Trail is not shaded; be sure to use sunscreen and a hat. Also bring some bug spray! We didn’t encounter any bugs, but I can imagine when it gets even warmer the mosquitos could be bad in the swampy area. Research the park and make sure you chose a trail to your fitness level and the current weather conditions.

We were almost to the point of being Hangry. I found a brewery, but my hubby didn’t like the reviews, so he found one. We got there and found out they don’t serve food, so plan B. He found a Thai restaurant; we made the drive there and they were closed. Strike Two. So I recommended we just go back to the hotel area and find food there.

Hotel Indigo is located in Celebration Pointe. There are a lot of options for food and shopping. You can see what Celebration Pointe has to offer here – Celebration Pointe. We decided on The Keys for our linner. It is a piano bar & restaurant that has an island vibe, tasty cocktails and delicious food. We started with the gator bites and cocktails; I must say this was the best gator we’ve ever had. I ordered the Cuban and my husband had The old man and the sea sandwich (basically a Cuban sandwich with shrimp). We were both pleased with our choices. Full bellies and tired feet took us back to shower and see what we were going to do next.

After a short rest, we decided to get ice cream at Kilwins. We have enjoyed Kilwins in Highlands, NC and Charleston, SC, so we knew it wouldn’t disappoint.

While we were enjoying our ice cream, I spotted Le Macaron, a French pastry shop. Since our trip to France in 2015, I have enjoyed French pastries especially macarons. The sign out front said they had wine too, so we decided to check it out. No room for anymore dessert, but there’s always room for wine.

I had a glass of Champagne and my hubby had some red wine. We checked out all the macarons and pastries and decided we would head back to eat breakfast there Sunday morning.

After the 9+ mile hike and having a full tummy, we were just ready to call it a night.

Sunday morning we packed up and loaded the car.

Breakfast at Le Macaron

Then we headed to Le Macaron for Pan Chocolate (chocolate croissants). We arrived before they opened, but as soon as we walked in, the worker was packaging up a large order of pastries; no more pan chocolate or croissants. While we waited for a new batch of pan chocolate to come out of the oven, my hubby enjoyed his coffee and we tasted a few macarons. The pan chocolate was amazing right out of the oven.

University of Florida

My husband wanted to go see one of his childhood homes. We explored the University of Florida campus and checked out Lake Alice. He got to see where he lived and went to daycare. I also got to see one of the dormitories I stayed in while there.

Gilchrist Blue Spring State Park

Gilchrist Blue Springs is located at 7450 N.E. 60th St., High Springs FL 32643. There is an entry fee from $4-6 per vehicle to enter the park. They are open daily from 8 am to sundown.

Gilchrist Blue Springs is the newest addition to Florida State Parks!

The park contains a collection of natural springs, including a large second-magnitude spring that produces an average of 44 million gallons of water per day. This spring, known as Gilchrist Blue, has outstanding water clarity and discharges water through a shallow spring run about one-quarter mile to the Santa Fe River.

The other named springs on-site are Little Blue Spring, Naked Spring, Kiefer Spring and Johnson Spring, which provide scenic vistas and photographic opportunities.

The most significant ecological habitats include the spring run stream and floodplain communities. The main spring run is renowned for a diversity of wildlife species, including turtles, fish and invertebrates. Redbreast and spotted sunfish, largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish can be observed in waters with unparalleled visibility. 

Paddling, snorkeling and swimming are all popular at the park. Pavilions are available, and a concession stand provides food and beverage service plus paddling equipment rentals. Other popular activities include camping, hiking, nature study and picnicking. 

Our Experience at Gilchrist Blue Spring State Park

We stopped at Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park. Luckily they had room for us to enter and even still had kayaks to rent. We kayaked through the spring and up the Sante Fe River. Paddling up stream was tough, especially for my hubby as I was not much help. When I did paddle I sent us the wrong direction. We decided to head back downstream and just go relax in the spring floating in the kayak.

After our kayaking, we hit the trail. It’s marked with the blue blaze and is a little over a mile. There are some gems along the path, that are must sees. A smaller spring that is being preserved, that doesn’t allow swimming or kay