When your daughter tells you she wants to spend her birthday at a state park, well, you really need to make that happen. Such was the case of Olivia's 8th birthday in July. We had a party planned for her the weekend after the big day, but we really wanted to make her actual birthday something special.
I gave Olivia the state park passport to browse through, and she picked out Stump Pass Beach State Park. It's across the state, so we decided to make a whole weekend out of it and hit another nearby park too, Don Pedro Island. I booked a hotel, and we loaded up our kayaks and drove to Port Charlotte on Friday night.
Don Pedro Island was our first park on that Saturday, which was Olivia's actual birthday. Research had shown us the island was accessible only by private boat or car ferry...there are homes on the north end of the island...but the distance from the land base was not that far. But before lugging our boats down the trail and launching, we decided to explore a bit.
The walk down to the water was a bit of a distance, and we suddenly fell in love Don Pedro Island. See, the people that operate the park know how far it is, and they provide a little something for kayakers like us:
Thanks to these little guys, we were able to roll the kayaks down to the launch, run them back for anyone else who may need them, and then...we were off!
We recently got Olivia her very own paddle, and this was the first chance she'd had to use it. Thankfully, she was very enthusiastic, comprehending, and...a natural!
Pretty soon we were across the small channel and came to the mangroves that run down the side of the island. After a total paddle of maybe 20 minutes, we crossed under a bridge and found the dock.
After parking the boats in their designated spot...and leaving the admission tag hanging on the S.S. Shagatsea...we grabbed our towels and picnic supplies and headed up the trail for fun. This is what greeted us from the other side of the picnic pavilion:
Holy cow. Really? We claimed a picnic table, grabbed a couple of beach toys and our dive mask, and then headed to the water. I have seen some pretty beautiful beaches in my life, but this one has to be at the top of the list!
Do you see what I see? Or rather, what I don't see? Crowds of people. I realized that, because of accessibility, it actually takes work to get to Don Pedro Island. And because it takes work, it doesn't get the huge number of visitors like other beaches do.
So, we relaxed in some of the calmest water I've ever had the pleasure of swimming in. It was the perfect temperature, it was calm and clear. It was...yep...perfect! Olivia had definitely picked the right spot for her birthday! And, there were shark teeth. After our visit to Fort Clinch in December, we love looking for shark teeth at the beach. Apparently this is a prime location for them, because they were *everywhere.*
How many do you see here, including partial teeth?
Check this out:
It's very faint, but I circled 7...yep, 7...teeth in this handful. Some were reallllllllllyyy tiny:
It went on like this for quite some time. We swam, we used the mask and looked for teeth on the ocean floor, and we worked up an appetite. Pretty soon we were in the picnic pavilion, feasting. Here's the birthday girl in one of my favorite pictures:
We took a quick trip down the nature trail for some geocaching, but then it began to get cloudy. Rain was coming.
We played in the water during a brief shower, and once it let up it was time for us to go. The sun came back out and our trip back to the land base was peaceful. When we pulled up to the launch, I felt so happy and fulfilled! Don Pedro Island is one of those amazing hidden gems I've always heard about, and I am so grateful for our experience there!
Once we got back to the hotel and showered and rested, we had a celebratory birthday dinner at Chili's. It was Olivia's choice, and the servers brought her dessert and a song at the end of our meal:
Sunday morning we packed up and checked out of the hotel. As was our plan, we headed straight to Stump Pass Beach State Park:
Unlike Don Pedro Island, Stump Pass is accessible by car and has a small parking lot. When we got there, the lot was already full. There didn't seem to be many cars in line ahead of us, and a park ranger was directing what traffic he could. Pretty soon enough spots opened and we were able to park. And as soon as she could, Olivia took her favorite beach toy and headed for the water:
There was definitely a different vibe at this beach than the day before. For starters, it was a lot busier:
Not exactly crowded beyond comfort, but still crowded. Also, the waves were a little rougher. But, the shark teeth were...if this is even possible...even more prevalent. I had a good time collecting them, too!
While I looked for shark teeth, Rob and Olivia ventured out to the sand bar for awhile. Once they came back in, we packed up and explored the rest of the park:
Before long it was time to pack up and head home. Stump Pass Beach was another beautiful park, but it didn't quite have the same magic we experienced the day before at Don Pedro Island. Still, we enjoyed ourselves and are richer for the time we spent. It has to be one of the more satisfying weekends, and best birthdays, we've ever had as a family. And honestly, I love having the opportunity to do this with them. Our state parks have so much to offer, and they're right there. You just need to go out and experience them for yourself!