Four months after the 2020 pandemic “shut down”, we visited Torreya State Park. Located about 65miles from home, this park is accessible off Interstate-10 and FL state route 12, both of which we had driven multiple weekends on our way to track meets and tennis tournaments mostly in Tallahassee. I had been told the park had trails of varying difficulty and high bluffs for scenic views of the Apalachicola River. With no tennis tournaments or track meets happening due to the “lock down”, one Saturday morning, we decided to go for hike at Torreya state park with our family friends, the Dunlaps.
Torreya state park is approximately 13,700 acres big located north of S.R. 12 overlooking the Apalachicola River, 13 miles north of Bristol in Northwest Florida. The park is named after an extremely rare species of the Torreya tree which grows only on the bluffs over the Apalachicola river. The park was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1930s. It is a National natural landmark and historic site with the Gregory House which was built in 1849 overlooking the river. During the period of the Civil War about 200 Confederate soldiers called these high bluffs home for about two years. At the time of our visit, the Gregory House was closed but as of May 6, 2021, it is open to daily tours at 10am on weekdays and 10am and 2pm on weekends and state holidays. It is limited to 8 persons at a time and physical distancing is required between households. For more about the historical significance of the Gregory House click here.
The park is open from 8am to sunset and the entrance fee is $3 per vehicle. It is very popular for camping, kayaking, birdwatching, and picnicking. There are campgrounds for tents and RVs but also yurt camping and cabins are available on site. After hurricane Michael, the landscape of the park has changed. There are fallen tree trunks and felled wood along the trails. Some of the paths are narrower than expected and require some agility to traverse but one can still appreciate the unique scenic views over the Apalachicola River and the rare endemic plants and animals in its hardwood forest. Several maps are available with designated camping areas, picnic grounds/playground, and hiking trails. There is also a topography map available online from which the elevation of different hiking trails can be determined.
We chose to hike a combination of a main trail with a “connecting trail” as this was with little elevation and least difficulty given the ages of the children in both our families (age range 4months to 14years old). Once we started on our hike it was evident we were going to get a lesson in local botany and entomology. The pictures below better describe the natural environment much better than words can.
About a mile into our hike, we realized we had made a “wrong” turn onto a trail which was much longer than we intended and we had to back track to the fork in the trail at which time the kids noticed the alligator caution sign even though there was not visible body of water on the trail. Fortunately, there were definitely no alligators anywhere close by.
It was hot enough in the month of July hiking on mangrove trails, and we were constantly drinking fluids to stay hydrated. We noted there were “rest stops” on the connecting trails with a small bench where I stopped at one point to nurse the baby. We were delighted to find a park ranger who was an entomologist and gave us a quick lesson on the well camouflaged insects we had observed so far. After less than 2 hours in the forest we had reached the back of the Gregory house where there was a viewpoint of the Apalachicola River.
We then circled the Gregory house to the parking lot where the playgrounds and picnic area were located between Youth Camp #1 and Youth Camp #2. Being the only ones at the picnic area and playground, the kids went wild on the slides, monkey bars and horse shoe games while we set up snacks for a picnic. After another 40minutes of play we all returned home glad we got outside and had a well-deserved family activity that afternoon with good friends.