Things are looking up for ATV riders in the Sunshine state. The State of Florida has been working on adding new riding facilities at all ends of the state to compliment the current state trails found in central Florida. This past January, after a 10 year effort, Clear Creek OHV Trails opened as an extension of the Blackwater River State Forest thanks in part to grants from Yamaha and Polaris. The 346 acre tract has 27 miles of trails for area riders.
Pulling into the park, there is a large staging area with ample parking on a gravel parking lot. There is a bathhouse with an outdoor shower. The small store where you sign in and pay your riding fees also has a selection of snacks and drinks and a few items you might need or have forgotten. Though the park is owned by the state it is operated by a private company. There is no camping at this time but future plans include it. More on that later. There is a small kids track for the youngest of riders to ride on. One note is the lack of shade around the staging area. You won’t find much of an escape from the Florida heat until you press the throttle and create a breeze. Like many of the parks in northwest Florida, Clear Creek OHV is popular for dirt bikes. During our visit no other ATVs were seen but several bikes were around. While all 27 miles of trails are open to them, about 8 miles is single track trails for dirt bikes only. Currently the width limit is 50″ for the ATV trails keeping most side by sides out. With some of the tight weaving between trees we found this limit to be an accurate measurement. Another advantage for dirt bikes is the complete lack of anything mud related. Despite being named Clear Creek OHV, there is no creek, clear or otherwise on the property. Our visit was at the end of a week of heavy rains but the trails were dry though not overly dusty. Most of the trails run through an area that was obviously clear cut for timber a few years ago. These trails are especially sunny and dryer. The outer trails run through more tree coverage and are also the tighter trails. With no mud there aren’t many ruts. The trails are also not particularly technical. While it may not be challenging this does make the park incredibly family friendly and a great choice for young or inexperienced riders. The trails are all clearly marked and color coded. All trails are one way, with road signs limiting speed and warning of trail crossings. The state also acquired another 350 acres across the street. Grants are in progress to expand there including trails for side-by-sides and camping areas. Riding fees are very reasonable at $15 for adults, $10 for youth (14 and under), seniors and military. Annual passes are in the works as well. The park is only open Friday through Sunday from 8am-5pm, weather permitting. Helmets are required for all riders. Youth riders also need eye protection and boots that cover the ankles. Riders under age 16 are also required to take an approved ATV safety course. An approved online version of the course can be taken at http://www.atvsafety.org/. Noise is strictly rated to 96dB and every vehicle is checked before it hits the trails. For more details the Clear Creek OHV website is http://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Recreation/New-OHV-Trails-at-Blackwater-River-State-Forest. They are also on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ClearCreekOHV.
Like hopefully each of you were, we spent the days leading up to Labor Day looking for a place to ride. We try to avoid doing trail reviews during an event or ‘Fest as that won’t truly represent a normal weekend. So that and severe thunderstorms to the west sent us into the Florida panhandle and into the area of Hard Labor Creek Off Road Park. Hard Labor Creek Off Road Park is located not far off Interstate 10 near Chipley, Florida.
Hard Labor Creek Off Road Park is primarily a dirt bike park. There are about 50 miles of trails dedicated to them, which means you’ll see more NO ATV signs then anything else. We were told there were about 20 miles of ATV and UTV trails, but we only clocked 12 miles and that included some repeating. It is very likely that we missed a few trails. I would love to see more trail markers telling us where we can go instead of so much where we can’t go.
The trails are all one way except the main strips which have a speed limit and signs telling you to stay to the right. Helmets are required and boots are recommended. Both are available for rent if you come unprepared. The park is very family friendly and their safety and alcohol rules help keep it that way. There are also beginner trails and pee-wee tracks to satisfy the younger riders.
The clubhouse has drinks and snacks as well as covered seating. A bathhouse offers a couple of flush toilets and showers which beat many off road parks. They also have a nice wash rack to clean off your machines. It’s elevated off the ground so your ride istn’t stading in a puddle of the dirt and mud you are washing off. There is plenty of parking space with the ability to pull through. Hard Labor Creek Off Road Park also offers RV hookups and tent camping options if you want to stay overnight. Something we love to see are loading/unloading areas; dirt berms designed to safely and conveniently load/unload your ride from the back of a truck without needing ramps. The dirt ramp can’t slide out from under you!
Riding rates are reasonable at $20 per day/per rider for adults, $30 for the weekend. Riders ages 5-12 are $15 per day or $20 for the weekend. Non-riders are $10 a day and those under 5 are free. The park is only open on the weekends from 8-5, but groups of 8 or more can get access during the week by reservation.
Hard Labor Creek Off Road Park is clearly designed with our two-wheeled cousins in mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just good to know in advance. If you’re in the area it’s a fun stop, probably even better after a rain. Some of the ATV trails were as small as single track trails and made for tight navigation. If you are on a full size side-by-side I would scout the trails before going down them.
The park as many plans for the future including more tracks for the sport quads and an R/C track for remote controlled toys. We’d love to see them expand the ATV trails into more of their unused land. Of course, expansions like that can only be funded by visits from riders like you! For more information check out the Hard Labor Creek Off Road Park website at http://www.hardlaborcreekoffroadpark.com.
On the south-west border of Florida’s state capital of Tallahassee sits one of the states largest National Forests, Apalachicola National Forest. Florida has always been a haven for off-roaders and Apalachicola National Forest is a prime example. It is home to 56 miles of ATV, single track and automobile trails over several types of terrain.
There are three trailheads for ATV enthusiasts. Two are dirt parking lots off dirt roads. But the Silver Lake trailhead at the Silver Lake Recreational Area is a great launching point. For a $3 use fee you can pull into paved parking lots with plenty of room for trailers. Surrounding you is the swimming area of Silver Lake and a bathhouse as well as grilling areas. Riding fees are $10 per rider for a 3-day pass good for most of the National Forest trails in Florida. $75 will get you an annual trail pass.
Hitting the trails you may immediately wonder if you need sand paddles. The trails start off with very soft, white sand and may concern you about getting stuck. The softness of the sand fluctuates throughout the trails but we never had any struggles from it. The trails are all clear and wide. They are also pretty clearly marked with forestry road numbers. The trails cut in and out of automobile forestry roads and each of the ORV trails are clearly marked for what types of vehicles are allowed.
The trails aren’t all about sand. There are several water crossings and deep water holes. Most of the water holes have bypass trails cut around them or have a rock base. The holes were fine for even stock ATVs but we did bottom out on one and have to practice our recovery methods.
While generally a flat landscape the scenery changes regularly. Patches of tall pines with a lush fern floor disappear fade to small hardwoods with thick underbrush and then to few trees with shrubbery growing in swamp like conditions. At times you can’t even see a trail, just a submerged clearing, curving through the bushes.
The trails are very easy, a great place for beginners to learn. The trails are fine for sport ATVs and dirt bikes too. UTVs are allowed and should have plenty of clearance on the trails. The only disappointment we saw was that the shower heads in the bathhouse had been removed. Not as in the were stolen, but as in they had been capped off. If you need to clean up just take a dip in Silver Lake! For more information on the ATV Trails at Apalachicola National Forest see their website at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/apalachicola/recreation/ohv/recarea/?recid=75268&actid=93