by Robin Rowan
Steinhatchee bills itself
as "the gateway to Floridas Nature Coast," that crook
in the arm of the state where panhandle becomes peninsula and white sandy
beaches give way to marsh and limestone rock. In this part of Florida,
there are no man-made amusements. There are no resort towns. Heck, there
arent even any towns! Im kidding, of course. But beginning
around St. Marks Wildlife Refuge due south of Tallahassee, the Gulf
Coast beaches disappear. The coast becomes marshy, grassy, and brimming
over with wildlife. Freshwater rivers and springs make it an anglers
Traveling east on I-10,
turn south onto Hwy. 19, which runs down from Georgia and dead-ends
at St Petersburg Beach on Floridas west coast. Twenty-six miles
south of Perry, turn right onto Highway 51 and travel another 10 miles.
Notice how the landscape changes as you travel north to south. The scrub
and stands of tall pine give way to spindly palms and prairies of saw
palmetto. Dense fog often shrouds the small highways at night, so keep
an eye out for wildlife that might skitter across the road.
camp for your Steinhatchee adventure is situated about three miles inland
from the Gulf of Mexico on the Steinhatchee River, an oasis called Steinhatchee
Landing Resort. Lush doesnt even begin to describe it. The resort
seems to have retained every gorgeous mossy oak, pavement is used sparingly,
foot trails wind through dense natural areas and preserved Native American
sites, and the little cottages are sited for the best views.
THINGS TO DO
Where to Stay
Landing Resort 800.584.1709; web address: www.steinhatcheelanding.
-com. Two-night minimum required on weekends; three-night minimum
on holiday weekends. Cottage prices range from $132 per night (weekday)
for a one-bedroom "Spice" cottage to $270 per weekday
night for the three-bedroom Presidential Retreat. These are off-season
rates and are applicable now. Dogs up to 28 pounds are allowed in
designated units with a $100 refundable housekeeping deposit. Pool,
spa, shuffleboard court, petting zoo and playground, tennis and
basketball courts, outdoor barbeque grill, jogging trail and fish
cleaning facility are included with the price of your room. Boat
trips, canoes and bicycles are available at additional cost.
Steinhatchee River Inn, 352.498.4049, located across from River
Haven Marina and the Steinhatchee River. Daily off-season rate for
suites with refrigerators, ranges and kitchen area accommodating
up to 4 people is $60; $420 weekly and $1380 monthly. Cable, pool,
barbeque grills and picnic area are all available to guests at no
For more information, contact the Dixie County Chamber of Commerce
Rent a canoe from the
resort to explore the Steinhatchee River. Either put in at the resort,
or take the canoes upriver and paddle the gentle waters down to Steinhatchee
Falls, a steep one-foot drop-off! The limestone banks rise up around you
in unusual formations, creating coves and small cave-like indentations.
Resort staff knows of a little offshoot of the river near one of the many
springs, where a two-minute walk will take you to a beaver dam. If you
begin your trip there, its quite possible to spend a couple of hours
on the river without seeing another boat.
Drive into town for a wonderful
lunch at the Bridge End Café and a quick orientation of the town
(population: 800). Six marinas line the river, while quaint shops beckon
travelers across the street. Theres a charming inn here, perfectly
serviceable and a bit more affordable than the resort with a nice view
of the river. The
Steinhatchee River Inn has
a shady swimming pool, barbeque grills and its own picnic area. If youd
rather cook your own meals than eat out, some of the suites are equipped
with small kitchen areas, and all have refrigerators and coffee makers.
This "strip" of motels, shops and marinas may be the most "touristy"
part of the area, but it doesnt have that feel at all. What you
will notice, however, is the terrific customer service, the friendliness
of the locals, and the feeling that you are wanted and welcomed as a visitor.
Feel free to ask any of the marina owners or shopkeepers for a restaurant
recommendation or a great place to fish; theyll be more than happy
to tell you.
|The Steinhatchhe River
Inn offers affordable lodging with a wonderful river view.
Explore the town by bicycle; rentals are available at the resort. Be sure
to spend some time riding the trails of the resorts ten acres first,
though, to get a great feel for the areas natural beauty. Steinhatchee
Landing can also set you up for horseback riding or a horse-drawn carriage
ride. Pontoon boats can be rented from the resort, or you can book a two-hour
sunset cruise on the river. The resort will even provide a hiking pack
and some great places to go, plus tennis, archery and badminton all right
there on the property. The kids will adore the riverfront petting zoo
(lots of goats that will eat anything), the pool, and the screened barbeque
"house" on the river.
part of Florida is picturesque and romantic.
Part of the resort was once
an old Indian trail, lovingly preserved by owner Dean Fowler. If youre
interested, you might ask him to show you an ancient hitching post well
hidden in the dense underbrush on Kings Creek, which runs through
the property. Displayed in the resorts main office are many of
the artifacts found along the creekold pharmaceutical and whiskey
bottles, arrowheads and pottery shards.
For some gorgeous scenery,
bird and wildlife watching, and real solitude, head to Hagens Cove
in time for the sunset, which is about a 15-minute drive from Steinhatchee
on the gulf. Hagens Cove isnt a preserve or a state park or
a wildlife refugejust a public area with a primitive parking area,
some really bumpy roads and a picnic pavilion. Heres where you get
the feeling youve left civilization behindbecause you have!
Marsh grasses grow right up to the shoreline here, creating a haven for
all types of small marine life. If youre feeling especially ambitious,
take a canoe out to one of the small islands off the coast here to spend
a day fishing or just exploring. It would be folly under normal circumstances
to canoe into the Gulf of Mexico, and its not recommended for beginners,
but the gulf waters are protected here and unusually calm. If you go out,
please watch for rapidly changing weather conditions to be sure you can
make it back to shore before a storm hits.
Landing Resort welcomes boaters of all description.
Bring a pair of binoculars
and a camera, then climb the bird watching tower to spot osprey and
huge wading birds like egrets and herons, or watch in awe as several
thousand migrating birds all rise in flight at once from the shore.
Catch the brilliant colors of a winter sky as the sun sinks into the
Oyster and scallop shells
litter the shoreline, as do horseshoe and hermit crabs. If you take
some shells home, please be sure youre not taking any live specimens.
You might also spot some unusual driftwood pieces, which look great
in backyard gardens. Kids will especially enjoy climbing around on the
gigantic pieces of limestone rock, brought here to mark the parking
If youre trying to
take in Steinhatchee on a single weekend, you will, of course, want
to discover its wild and natural beauty, but upon your return to your
charming cottage at Steinhatchee Landing Resort, youll wish you
had more time to spend there as well. Architecture is Victorian, Florida
Cracker, or Georgian, all beautifully woven into the natural landscape
of giant oaks, pines and palms. The "Spice Cottages" are just
thatall named after spices, with the bedroom downstairs and the
living and kitchen areas upstairs and a screened porch on both levels.
Theres a wood-burning stove, a TV and VCR, and a stereo system
in every unit. Youre hardly roughing it. Two-bedroom houses, duplexes
and condos are also available. Steinhatchee Landing Resort requires
a two-night minimum stay on the weekends; three nights on holiday weekends.
And just in case you find Steinhatchee too irresistible, you can purchase
a home site on property adjacent to the resort.
The excellent Landing Restaurant
on the property attracts resort
guests and both locals and visitors not staying at the resort. Special
dinners during holiday weekends are sellouts. And the combination of shade,
colorful plantings and natural landscaping, a gazebo and the river location
make Steinhatchee a natural for weddings, reunions, and special gatherings
of all kinds. But the most popular time of year in Steinhatchee is during
scalloping season in summer, where hundreds of bivalve-loving visitors
descend on the tiny village, filling its hotel rooms and lining the grassy
shores of Deadman Bay for a taste of the local delicacy. Theres
no better eating than freshly harvested scallops cleaned right on shore,
then tossed on a waiting hibachi. Just a bit of salt and pepper, and youve
got a memorable seafood experience.
|Catch your own scallops,
and grill them on the hibatchi - can't get fresher than that!
With literally millions
of visitors flocking to hundreds of man-made attractions, huge developments
wiping out marshlands and forests, and trucked-in landscaping replacing
native vegetation, scenic natural areas like Steinhatchee are becoming
harder to find. But on this portion of the coast, nature still rules,
attracting the kind of travelers who have an appreciation and a true
reverence for the real Florida.