Thursday, November 05, 2015

Hiking Hontoon Island State Park

Ferry dock at parking area-3

The trip through Hontoon Island starts at the dock where a pontoon boat ride brought us from the parking area to the island itself.  The boat is operated by the park rangers, and on the short trip across the river they give a brief description of the park and it’s history.  Of course, one could also take their own boat to get there.  At the boat landing on the island, there is a ranger station, a small shop, and a small museum.  There are also canoes and kayaks available to rent.

Wet trail underwater-2Behind the ranger station is the trailhead for the Wet Trail.  This trail wasn’t part of our planned hike for the day, but we did take a look.  It starts with a boardwalk heading into the woods, but soon after the boardwalk ends it becomes clear why they call this the wet trail.  We couldn’t actually see a trail through the water, and there were no blazes visible at the waters edge either.

Branch is now the tree-2We left the wet trail behind and headed for the main trail.  This starts out as a forest road that heads west from the ranger station before turning south.  Keep an eye out in the woods to the west of the trail for a very large fallen oak tree.  It must be an old one because one of the branches has become the new trunk and it was a good size tree by itself.Large fallen tree-2

The hiking trail starts just a little further south from this tree… it was marked “wet trail” as well, but there was almost no standing water on it anywhere.  On a few of the trees along the trail, there are shoelace ferns growing.  The trail isn’t too far from the river as it heads to the south, but there is one boardwalk that must be crossed before arriving at the river overlook.  Along the way, we passed another large fallen oak tree – this one looks like it has been there for a few years.

River view-1The river overlook offers a view of cypress knees looking to the south, and a fence that blocks access from the north.  The signs on the fence face outwards, so I suspect they have something to do with controlling this as an access point for the island.  MiddenCollage

From the river overlook, there trail splits in two directions – to the south is the shell mound, which is where we were headed.  This mound of shells, like all of the others in Florida, is really kind of amazing.  It is essentially the waste left over from the dinner preparations of native Americans over hundreds of years or longer.

Tina by large tree on shell midden

A little known fact is that the aggregate used in many Florida roads (obviously shells) comes from mounds like this one that were simply dug up by road builders.

Andy by big oakThis shell mound is also home to a massive tree that reaches over the swamp below the mound.   It’s not the biggest tree on the island, but is is probably one of the top three.  To get to the biggest tree, we had to retrace our steps back to the river overlook and head to the east.

Biggest oak in the park-3The trail heading to the east leads through a scrub prairie with a couple of benches along the way, which are nice spots for a lunch break, before turning to the south along Tumucuan Trail Rd. towards Bear Tree Landing.  This is where the biggest tree in the park can be found.  This one is massive, with branches that dwarf most other oaks. 

On the trip back, we went through the camping area where there are sites for tents as well as cabins that can be rented.  When we made it back to where we started, we took a quick look near the picnic area where there is a replica of the Owl Clan totem that was found on the island. 

Hontoon Island is the only state park that doesn’t have a day-use fee; there’s not even a charge for the boat ride across the river.  It’s a perfect spot to hike during hunting season – the ground is dry, and there is no hunting allowed.  Wildlife on the island includes a few bears, deer, and a few other species, but on this trip they all stayed hidden.

If you would like to see where these photos were taken, jump on down to the map below the photo dump and click on “trip details”.  You can also download a .gpx file there or just review the technical details of the hike.

Photo Dump

Hontoon Island across river Canoe and Kayak rental Start of wet trail-2Shoelace fern
Trail start-1 Trailview-2bFirst boardwalk-2 Trailview-1
Trail view 3 River view-2 Small mushroom
Looking down from shell midden-2 Shells on shell mound-1 Standing on big root
Small bridge-2 First bench by trail-1 Second bench by  trail
Largest tree on the island-1Owl Clan totem-1 Biggest oak in the park-1 Moss and ferns-2

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