Always eager to find new trail-riding spots, my husband, Rick, and I investigated northwestern Florida locations. Knowing the Blackwater River State Park boasts a variety of relaxing, outdoor activities, we checked in with nearby Coldwater Recreation Area to see how much fun the horses could have, as well. As it turned out, we had a terrific time by combining the two spots into one weeklong vacation.
Coldwater Recreation Area is located north of Pensacola in the western part of the Florida Panhandle. From Atlanta, Georgia (where we live), it's an easy 6_-hour trailer haul down the interstate.
While summer temperatures may push the mercury too high for truly comfortable riding, spring, fall, and winter riding seems ideal. We chose a mid-April visit and feel the timing couldn't have been better. With daytime highs in the low 80s and evening temperatures around 65, we enjoyed balmy daylight skies and perfect fireside evenings. We plan to try the trails in the fall and winter, as well.
Locating the camp was easy, as signs pointed the way once we were within shouting distance. Once in the drive, we found the United States Forest Service office and a notice to check with a ranger prior to unloading horses.
Our Coggins papers inspected, we pulled into a wide-open parking spot to safely unload our mares. From there, we were shown to the covered paddocks. We had reservations, but we were allowed to select any trailer campsite in which we felt most comfortable. We picked a large, pull-through site, with a clear view of our horses' stalls.
Managed by the Florida Division of Forestry and manned in large part by friendly, horse-loving volunteers, this camp is clean, orderly, safe, and attractively kept. It's also well laid out. Equine accommodations include barn stalls; large, covered paneled stalls; and open paneled stalls. There are free shavings, plus wheelbarrows and forks. Water hoses are easily accessible.
Another nice feature is the one-acre-plus paddock provided free for a 30-minute turnout per horse. After a long ride, what a treat for our mares to roll, graze, and just relax in the shade of trees before being confined. A 50-foot round pen and several concrete wash racks complete the horse facilities.
The trailer sites are just as pleasant and easily accessible via a paved loop that runs through the camp. Coldwater is situated alongside a minor vein of the Blackwater River. Several campsites are located adjacent to this quiet, clear creek, and offer access to a small, sandy beach.
Many sites are tree covered, providing cool shade. Water and electrical hookups are provided, although primitive camping is also available. A dump station is located at the exit drive, and day parking is available. Horses aren't allowed in the trailer campsites, so the sites remain debris free.
The large, rustic bathhouse is immaculate, with intriguing horse dÈcor. A pavilion and an indoor dining area round out the offerings.
Coldwater Recreation Area advertises 69 miles of trails. These, coupled with USFS roads, provided more than enough riding to keep us and the horses busy.
For the most part, these trails are flat and easily ridden. They're well-marked, although efforts are underway to rework the guiding colors. While maps are provided at the USFS office, we found that after riding the perimeter trail, we could easily negotiate the interior trails.
Several trails are crossed by clean, shallow, streams. Our horses had ample access to water during the rides. Some of the largest, oldest stands of long-needle pine are found here. We crossed huge forested areas, riding on large, open tracts and weaving through thicker, shaded woodlands.
Carnivorous pitcher plants were a uncommon sight, and we enjoyed trying to identify various wildlife. Spotting only a couple of black snakes, we kept our eyes open for other, more-threatening types, including rattlers and coral snakes, of which we were warned.
Pleasant and affordable, Coldwater Recreation Area gets a "Happy Hoof" from us. Give this great place a call as you plan your next southern outing. You'll be glad you did!
For more information on the Coldwater Recreation Area/ Blackwater River State Forest, contact the Florida Division of Forestry, (850) 957-6161, www.fl-dof.com.