Washington County, Florida, just an hour’s drive north of the white sand beaches of Panama City, is an ideal spot for off-the-beach family fun. Often called the “real Florida,” the natural landscapes, beautiful inland waterways and authentic downtowns are filled with opportunities for visitors of all ages to get out and enjoy. Washington County is a place where, away from the beaches, Interstate highways and crowds, families find ways to celebrate their time together, their own way.
Florida is known for gators but at Orange Hill Gator Farm (3172 Orange Hill Road, Chipley, Florida 32428; 850-527-1383) an up close and personal encounter can be fun! Interaction is tempered with education as visitors encounter gators of all sizes and learn about their growth, habits and habitats. The knowledgeable guides also share updates on conservation efforts to ensure the species’ sustainability. The farm has nearly 200 gators in residence and is also home to coyotes, tortoises and other amazing native species.
For an even wilder time, Seacrest Wolf Preserve (3449 Bonnett Pond Road, Chipley, Florida 32428; 850-773-2897) offers an experience like no other. The preserve, one of only a handful of its kind, offers one of the world’s rarest opportunities for humans to interact with wolves. This is the largest preserve of its kind in the country and its mission is to provide a safe and humane sanctuary for this misunderstood species. VIP tours are offered by appointment.
Riders of all skills will enjoy horseback riding at Sunshine Riding Trails (2273 Rolling Pines Road, Chipley, Florida 32428; 850-773-1900 ). With access to more than 10,000 acres of Florida sandhills and preserved forest, there is plenty to explore on rides atop majestic Tennessee Walking Horses. Most rides are from one to four hours but can range from basic riding lessons to guided trail rides.
Pine Log State Forest (5583-A Longleaf Road, Ebro, Florida 32437-1227; 877-879-3859) has equestrian trails, too, amid its more than 7,000 acres of natural lands. Visitors can enjoy miles of hiking and equestrian trails through sandhills, flatwoods, cypress ponds and titi swamps and around lakes and ponds. Hunting and fishing are popular in their seasons and full hook-up and primitive campsites are available, too.
Washington County boasts more than 16,000 acres of freshwater rivers, lakes and ponds, offering a wealth of opportunities for getting out on the water. Paddling and tubing are popular on Holmes Creek, Econfina Creek and the Choctawhatchee River. Holmes Creek is considered a favorite Northwest Florida run in the Paddle Florida guide. While it and the lower Choctawhatchee River offer clear-water paddling and spring-fed recreational opportunities, the swift-flowing and remote Econfina Creek is nearby and gives a thrill to more experienced paddlers. There are local vendors who offer equipment for both paddling and tubing, as well as on-site rental and shuttle services.
There are 29 boat ramps throughout Washington County, many used by those who want to add some excellent fishing to their time on the water. Dozens of great fishing holes can be found along these waterways, as well as on the many other fresh water lakes and streams throughout the county.
One popular spot for fishing is the three-acre lake in Falling Waters State Park (1130 State Park Road, Chipley, Florida 32428; 850-638-6130). But there’s more than fishing here! The famous Falling Waters Sink is a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide pit into which flows a small stream that drops 73 feet, creating a one-of-a-kind waterfall for these parts. The park is a popular spot for hiking, swimming and camping, too.
For the golfers in the family, Sunny Hills Golf Club (3634 Country Club Boulevard, Sunny Hills, Florida 32428) offers the region’s best value as well as a challenging design. The old-style, 18-hole, par 72 course was designed by Gene Sarazen and Ken Venturi and is open to the public seven days a week. Facilities include a pro shop, practice facility and bar and grill. Luxury hunting expeditions can be booked at Hard Labor Creek Plantation (P.O. Box 739, Chipley, Florida 32428), where the plantation offers specialty quail and deer hunting excursions. For those who love off-road fun, The Swamp Off Road Park (3690 Mobile Swamp Road, Chipley, Florida 32428) is a paradise! Bring your own wheels and hit the miles of trails and a challenging obstacle course on the first and third Saturday of each month. It’s a family friendly venue and also has vehicle wash stations, hot showers and food vendors.
Where to Stay
There are many hotels and motels conveniently located near I-10 in Washington County with easy access to outdoor attractions as well as local restaurants and shopping. Camping is also popular here. Both Falling Waters State Park (1130 State Park Rd, Chipley, Florida 32428) and Pine Log State Forest (5583 Long Leaf Road, Ebro, Florida 32437) have full hook-up and primitive sites as well as group sites. Primitive sites are also available at some area canoe liveries and select county owned landings.
For more I-10 information, visit www.i10exitguide.com, the Internet’s largest and most complete website devoted to Interstate 10. Detailed exit service listings… discount lodging, camping, food, gas and more for every exit from California to Florida!