I stopped at the Holton Creek River Camp, motivated by its proximity to Gainesville, FL as well as its free-ness, which I prioritized during the trip (though it will become apparent that these priorities don’t seem to hold sway in Georgia). The camp is specifically for Florida Trail hikers and Suwanee River tubers, placed just a few dozen feet from both the river and trail - it also has a sign that deters overnight parking nearby; you will have to earn your way to this area in some shape or form of physical movement.
Reservations were very simple: I just had to call the Suwanee River Water Management District and ask if there are any availabilities for the day. Being a Monday, there was absolutely no one looking to reserve either the platforms or the tent sites, so I could easily snag one of the former. For more information, you can also check the WMD’s site out.
Don’t always trust Google.
Google Maps has an issue with directing to the camp: while it identifies exactly where the camp is located, it does not take into account the unpaved roads required to get to the campsite via bicycle - nor the Florida Trail, which would be a huge bonus if it were included in the future.
It was already past 19:30 when I arrived at the southern end, also called the “Sheriff’s Boys Camp” or something similar. I didn’t realize until then that Holton Creek Camp was located north of the river, not south. For the next hour, I rerouted myself to the 249, adding another 18 miles to the bike trip, and causing me to arrive at the camp after sun had set.
Feeling as if I was gonna get Blair Witch’d
It was a stressful experience to go further and further into the Floridian woods from 20:30 to 21:00. The sunset occurred at 20:36, and I had already passed the highway and a mile or so into the forest. I did not want to be stuck in the forest, in the dark and alone, without something already set up to sleep in. As a child, I put covers over my head when I was afraid that someone was in my room — this has held over into adulthood while camping alone. “If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.”
For the last fifteen minutes I had to turn on my bike light so I can see along the dirt path. The worst horror is to seek the image of something; my light flashed through the trees and into the distance, and the reptile-part of my brain just waited for some darkened silhouette to appear.
Holton River Camp is all that and a bag of chips
I had seen images of the platform online, and had assumed the five structures were simply well-made bug nets. However, when I arrived, I also found it (and all other buildings) to be handicap accessible, with internal and exterior lights, as well as a ceiling fan. The platforms could comfortably fit three small tents, or up to six people with only bivy sacks or sleeping bags (which I would not recommend: the weakest part of the structure are the small perforations in the otherwise high quality platforms, allowing for a few small bugs to find a way in).
The rain and the platform
The fifth of June had erratic behavior with regard to weather; earlier in the day I had been soaked by thirty minutes of rain, and then clear skies for the next seven or so hours. But by twelve in the morning, a pattering of rain had started, and would not stop until the afternoon of the next day (which dampened my mood and cycling speed). I worried that the “splash back” of the rain drops would get in through the net, but the roof had covered most of the ramp entrance, keeping drops far enough away from the site - perhaps I take this note because of the possible issues that tarp tenting can produce: torrential rainfall will bounce into the enclosure, causing things to get wet regardless of the roof over one’s head.
The bathrooms and showers
Only the next morning did I check out the bathrooms, which had lit up at night when I passed them; I thought they were small, rentable houses at first. But to my surprise, the bathrooms were fully furnished: working toilet, hot/cold water shower, and a sink with a mirror, with toilet paper already in place. Also cooled by A/C! I don’t know why they put so much effort into this place, but the Holton Creek River Camp had gone way beyond normal expectations of a free campsite.
Overall, Holton Creek Camp is more than I ever expected from a free campsite: electricity, heated water, and a roof over my head. I was really pleased to have such facilities, especially after having to navigate the dirt paths for about forty or so minutes in the near-dark. I am glad certain Floridian wildlife offices are putting the effort and time to make the Florida Trail a real destination rather than a half-assed thing to do “‘cause every other state got it”.
But be careful about Google Maps and attempting to read the official websites PDF map, as the former completely throws you off the correct street, and the latter is not to scale and can be confusing to figure out the actual entrance to the Holton Creek area (you can go along the Florida Trail, which I could not find a trailhead, or via the Northwest entrance).