Osceola National Forest is a great place for new campers who have little camping experience and want to get familiar with the mechanics. It is an excellent weekend gateway and a simple vacation spot to start your camping venture before you go fully wild.
The place I camped at had resources like water supply, firewood for Barbeque or during winters, a table for keeping the stock you brought or to eat and a restroom facility. Such a relief for us, simpletons!
With camping, I have little to no experience in the woods. I went camping when I was in school, which is always under some kind of supervision. So this was my first time to go on my own.
It was the 4th of July long weekend and thankfully we had 4 days to spare so we thought of camping first.
We decided to visit Osceola National Forest considering it to be the perfect location for us as new campers and is also on the way to Savannah which we later visited in the latter half of that weekend. It is closer to Jacksonville, one of the many coastal cities in Florida, just in case you have a mood to sunbathe on the beaches.
I must add, we drove the trip to near perfection. That's right, 'NEAR', meaning we got wet under the tent and almost ran out of food. The reason for that was we were one of the least prepared bunch in planning this camping trip. We bought a camping tent, but no one had hands-on experience in putting up the tent, or preserving food, or checking the weather. So whatever we did, we learned lessons on 101 of camping.
Osceola National Forest has a good connectivity to the cities and the closest airports to the campground are Gainesville Regional Airport (50 miles) and Jacksonville International airport (60 miles). We started in the morning from Tampa and reached Ocean Pond campground in around 3 hours.
On the way, we stopped by the forest office and got the details of the exaction location along with a map of nearby camping areas and beautiful trails. Wait for a second. Before that we also saw a train traveling in the same direction as we were, we felt like we were in a race except that we weren't.
Ocean Pond Campground
Ocean Pond Campground is on the southern side of the Osceola National Forest. The national forest has various types of camping grounds and after inquiry, I came to know that they are a first come first served basis camps except Group Camping is for 50 people and is available with reservation.
I worked out the details with my friends and agreed upon one location in the national forest called Ocean Pond Campground beside the Ocean Pond lake or on the northern side to be exact, giving you the serene look of the circular 2-mile wide lake.
There are 3 kinds of camping spots available within the 60+ campsites provided near the lake -
1. Electricity sites (for RVs)
2. Water sites
3. Primitive sites
These are all available throughout the year On reaching the camping area, we found a good spot facing the lake except a few trees in between. It was the water site and we paid $12 then for a 24-hr period. The price was quite reasonable with the facilities provided along with the great view of the lake it offered.
The campground is equipped with a common restroom, boat ramps, recreational area and the camp hosts were very helpful with arrivals and formalities. There are various forest trails both short and long ones present nearby. If you are bitten with a hiking bug, they are yours to try out.
It was already past noon when we were kind of hungry and still had a tent to erect. We decided to put up the tent first and then go out for lunch. We went to a fast-food restaurant and decide to keep the Barbeque at night. Yes, we cheat. After burning these many calories, we deserve it.
Building the tent first, proved to be a blessing. How? you will come to know as you read on.
Assembling the Tent
We lost a lot of sweat and blood conjuring up this tent out of nowhere. This was a 12 person capacity tent and now that I come to think of it, we could have started this team building activity with a war cry to motivate the soldiers.
Tent assembling went on for a while, some of us laid the foundation, some created the pillars while others built the walls and finally the roof was placed over the structure. We ended up telling each other what to do and no-one actually doing. This too got along for a while.
Under Florida's hot and humid climate, it seemed like a mammoth task to start with and we built it completely under 40 minutes(it might have been just 15 minutes but considering the heat) with every one of us having a noteworthy contribution towards the cause.
On top of this, one thing came to light while building the tent was one of the us brought a winter-wear sweatshirt thinking that the forest atmosphere might be chilly throughout and we won't have anything but comforters to protect us in the cold weather. That is how prepared we were! It was not me, to be honest.
Finally! Lunch Time
I was already hungry before this 'oh-its-nothing-it-will-be-over-within-minutes' tent building task. Post this, I was on the verge of starvation and might ravage a whole city just for food. We went to KFC and some of us had Pizza at Little Caesars because we are vegetarians and they have vegetarian options.
One the way back we realized that the weather has gone full cloudy and the campsite already had some rain-showers. I was mad and relieved at the same time because on one hand the chance to have Barbeque got botched up but on the other hand, we had already put out the tent before the rain and now had our much-needed shelter already in place.
It was a time to do some fun activities. The camp ground is an excellent place with variety of those, like hunting, fishing, swimming, hiking, observing wildlife if you are luck enough, cooking barbeques, and chilling out ofcourse.
Amidst the cloudy weather with inconsistent rains and thunderstorms, we decided to have some fun and hope into the lake. We had brought floaters on this trip. Yup, we did that! And with the addition of Bluetooth speakers, we had our fair share of music and dancing by the lake.
The 4th of July also became the venue for a birthday celebration. The lack of cake was compensated by the insane dancing and.
The dreadful night which got funny at the same time
With the absence of Barbeque dinner, the role of backup food stock came into play. We gorged on Lemon rice, Paneer Tikka, snack and chips with Namkeen mix and finally some beer. We took an eerie night walk in the forest sometime after the rain stopped. It was a great opportunity to do your ghostly impressions and creepy weird noises.
Back in the tent, when the onslaught of rain kept happening over the tent roof, we enjoyed few games of UNO which made the transition of dreadful to funny quickly, under the dim night lamp of our humble abode. The most amusing part was to teach the rules to already tipsy new players.
The ecstasy of the game reverberated through the trees with our post-game serious discussions while passing the food supplies to the hungry lots, the rain showers outside and the insanity inside. I slept after all this drama accompanied by some 'drowning in the rain' nightmares.
The Morning after - Forest Trails
There are numerous forest trails one could undertake in the Osceola National Forest. During that pleasant morning, we went on a short stroll deep in the forest. Thankfully there was a nip in the air which was outright refreshing after the series of recreational tasks we did in the heat, the day before.
The fog looming over the trees, the birds chirping in the distance and our silence amidst all this somehow made it all worthwhile.
Here are some advice from me which you should follow
DOs and DON'Ts
1. Have some cash with you as one needs to pay cash to reserve a camping spot
2. Bring Mosquito repellent
3. Keep umbrella, poncho or raincoat with you
4. Always have food stocked up if your original plan fails
5. Bring water, though there is a water supply, we preferred to bring of our own
6. You must have flashlights when you go for a night walk or hike.
7. Do not keep the food exposed as this attracts wild animals and lastly
8. Do not litter.
This was my first great camping trip where we all had so much fun considering the daredevils we are. The mighty and ferocious tent we built had seen it all, the same as it's fellow inhabitants.
Right from the scorching heat while putting it up, to the stubborn humidity not letting us cool-off afterward,
-to the torrential rains and scattered thunderstorms joined later,
-to the water drip (tent windows were kept open to get rid of the heat, what were we thinking? We cool, we cool),
-to dry it off completely. We are productive!
-to the stupid water fights in the lake opposite,
-to the Bluetooth speaker silencing the downpour,
-to the canceled 'out-in-the-forest' BBQ (we had packed food, of course, we brilliant!),
-to the card games played under a dim light where players would hardly tell green from blue. We are sporty!-to the unwilling freshers of the game who kept deliberately asking and asking and asking doubts, with a straight face,
-to the screaming laughs echoing in the forest,
-to not making sense at all, for a while,
-to the eerily quiet night later
-to the rain battering the roof one more time and it's noise reverberating throughout the tent,
-to getting nightmares of mama bear attacking us,
-to the rhythmic snoring in the peak of night,
-to a quiet morning stroll in the woods (tent didn't see this last one, obviously).
All this happened within a span 24 hours.