We had heard that in High Springs Florida Mother Nature preformed a natural disappearing act with the Santa Fe River, so John and I decided to go check it out and view this phenomenon for ourselves.
A short hike from the parking area at O’Leno State Park, over the suspension bridge and along the river, will take you to the sinkhole where the Santa Fe River disappears into the earth, travels through an underground cave system only to re-emerge three miles away at River Rise State Park.
O”Leno State Park is one of Florida’s original nine State Parks and in addition to being a beautiful state park full of trails and wildlife, it has an interesting history.
The park itself was once a town called Keno named after a popular gambling game. The time period was the late 1800’s and a town named after a gambling game was not socially acceptable and it had to change names to a more acceptable name in order to be approved for a post office. They chose the name of Leno.
A few years later the railroad by passed the booming town of Leno, the railroad choosing instead to go through Fort White. This put the town of Leno into despair and after only two years everyone had moved away.
Despite becoming a ghost town, due to the river and the beauty of the area, the town was still a popular place to gather for recreation and people started to refer to the area as Old Leno which was finally shortened to O’Leno.
In 1935 the town was purchased by the Florida Forest Service and by 1938 the Civilian Conservation Corps had built a Florida Forest Service training camp and it was named Camp O’Leno. The Florida Park Service opened Camp O’Leno as a state park in 1940, and O’Leno State Park became one of the original nine state parks in the Florida Park Service.
O’Leno State Park has around 11 miles of trails however when you take into account that the O’leno trails connect with the trails of River Rise Preserve State Park, the two trail systems combined offer 35 miles of trails for hikers to explore.
The townspeople of Old Leno came back to the area for good reason because the recreation opportunities are indeed abundant and the beauty of O’Leno is breathtaking.
Miles of hiking, and off-road biking trails, kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, birding, and nearby equestrian trails, all await the nature lover within you. A Park with an interesting history, fascinating geology, and enchanting forest, that is bound to keep an inquisitive person engaged for hours.
There are two campgrounds in the park for tent and Rv Camping, with 61 campsites available. Amenities include water, electric, an in-ground grill/fire pit, a picnic table, and a centrally located restroom. Magnolia loop has a playground for registered campers. A dump station and dumpsters are located off the main park drive across. Of the two campgrounds, in our opinion, the Magnolia campground seemed to us to be the better of the two. Both are a tight fit for larger rigs, however, it can be done as we did see plenty of bigger RV’s set up. Check the dimension of sites when booking. For more info on booking a campsite click here to the State Park Reservation page.
O’Leno State Park is located at 410 SE O’Leno Park Road in High Springs FL. Admission is $5.00 per carload.
From O’Leno State Park you can Hike to River Rise Preserve State Park to view the re-emerging of the Santa Fe River, however, I estimate that the hike is about 8 miles round trip. John and I hiked quite a bit on our visit so we decided to drive down to the east entrance to River Rise on Highway 441 and hike the 1 1/2 mile trail to view the rise and then of course the 1 1/2 mile hike back to the parking area.
Notes and reccommendations
- As with any dense forest, TICKS are present. Apply insect repellant that contains DEET and apply it heavily remembering your hair and feet.
- There are 35 miles of interconnecting trails. Make sure you grab a trail map.
- We had relatively good cell phone signal and it is a good idea to keep your cell phone with you just in case. Wildlife including bears and snakes are common in the forest and with all the interconnecting trails there is always the possibility of getting turned around.
- Make sure you carry enough water for a long hike even if you think you are going to take a short one.
- The terrain on the trails is uneven with occasional climbing over a fallen tree, sandy patches, and slight elevation changes. We would rate the trails as medium difficulty
We hope you enjoyed reading about O’Leno State Park and River Rise Preserve State Park. Make sure to watch the video above. We know it is long but there was a lot of information to cover.
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