For my birthday this year, Rudy surprised me with a five day stay in a bad ass little tree house up in the Panhandle of Florida located on an unbelievably beautiful property called Coldwater Gardens. I had seen a picture of the tree house on Instagram several months ago and after doing some research to find out exactly where it was located, I quickly became obsessed with taking a road trip north to stay a few nights in this adorable little gem.
I’d mentioned the tree house to Rudy towards the end of last year and although I thought he’d forgotten all about it, he ended up booking the place for the week of my birthday (Monday-Friday) and to say that I was ecstatic about it would be the understatement of the year. Aside from the fact that the cabin itself looked so rustic and cozy from the pictures I saw on Instagram and on Coldwater Garden’s website, the grounds and creek surrounding the property were also drop-dead gorgeous and I could not wait to get up there and explore them.
Located in the tiny little town of Milton, FL, Coldwater Gardens is an almost seven hour drive from St. Pete, so we decided we would leave in the wee hours of the morning on Monday, and then break the trip up a bit by making a pit stop at Blue Spring in Gilchrist County (about three hours north of St. Pete) on our way up towards the panhandle. We wanted to make it to the tree house before sundown, so we knew we wouldn’t be able to stay long at Blue Spring, but figured we could spare a few hours to take some pictures, do a little hiking, and go for a swim in the stunningly beautiful spring water before hopping back in the car and making our way towards Milton.
So we got up at 4am on Monday, which was kinda brutal especially because I procrastinated packing until the last minute as I am wont to do, and was still up at midnight running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to figure out what to bring and what to leave home. Packing is stressful, man, and even more so when you wait until the very last minute to get it done like I do every single time I go on a trip. I’m still hoping that one of these days I’ll be organized enough to be packed and ready ahead of time, but I’ve been a Last Minute Larry my entire adult life and so I’m not holding my breath. Rudy isn’t holding his breath, either, I can assure you.
So anyway, it was kinda tough getting up so early with just a few hours of sleep clocked in, but we knew we’d be pissed at ourselves if we didn’t take full advantage of the day and so we dragged our sleepy heads out of bed at 4 and were on the road and headed north by around 5am. Carpe freaking diem and all that jazz.
We ended up making pretty good time and arrived at Blue Spring in Gilchrist County about a half hour before the park opened, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had brought my drone along to take some aerial shots of the spring, you see, but unbeknownst to me they don’t normally allow drones at that park. The very nice man in charge, however, told me that since the park wasn’t officially open yet and we were the only ones there, that I could fly it until people started showing up. Score! I considered it a reward from the universe for getting my ass out of bed so early.
So I got the drone up in the air as quickly as I could, took a few shots above the spring head, and then hauled ass down to the end of the elevated boardwalk where the sparkling blue waters of the spring converge with the dark brown tannic waters of the Santa Fe River creating a striking contrast and an absolutely gorgeous photo op. Actually, the entire park is one incredible photo op after the next and no matter how many times I visit I’m still just as stunned by its beauty as I was the first time I laid eyes on it.
Here are a few pics I was able to get before people started showing up and I had to put the drone away (I’m still trying to figure out the camera on the drone, btw, and I’m not all that crazy about how the pictures turned out, but it’s a pretty cool perspective from high up above the spring so I’m gonna go ahead and share them with you anyway).
The day we were there was Presidents’ Day which we had totally forgotten about, so it was busier than we had expected for a Monday in the winter, but not insanely busy like it gets in the summer. Last time I was there in the summer, I went on a weekday and arrived before the park opened and there was already a line of cars waiting to get in including a busload of about 40 screaming teenagers which made for a pleasant, peaceful, and enjoyable experience that lasted all of about thirty minutes before I packed all of my stuff up and hightailed it right on outta there. I’ll Pass with a capital P on all of that nonsense and stick to going in the fall and winter even if it means I have to freeze my ass off.
So anyway, after I brought the drone down and packed it back up in the car, we hopped in the spring for a half hour or so to take some pictures and swim around in the stunningly beautiful crystal clear spring water. Man, is that water gorgeous. When you put your head beneath the surface it’s sometimes hard to believe that it’s real and no matter how many times I experience it, it just never gets old or any less breathtaking. It’s also cold as hell (72 degrees, I believe), and so I can only last about 20 minutes in the water without a wetsuit before my hands turn blue and my fingers go numb, but that’s all part of the adventure, ya know?
After our quick dip in the spring, we spent about an hour hiking the trails of the park and checking out a few of the smaller springs located nearby. There were colorful wildflowers all over the place, and cypress knees, and butterflies, and all kinds of natural beauty just everywhere you looked. I could’ve spent the entire day there taking pictures and enjoying the scenery, but the tree house was calling and we had to get back on the road if we wanted to make it to Milton before sundown as planned. Seems like no matter how early we get up there’s still never enough time in the day to fit everything in. Woe is me.
Here are some of my favorite pics from our hike…
I can’t remember what time it was when we finally got back on the road, but we still had I think 4 hours of driving ahead of us or something along those lines. We gained an extra hour at some point as we drove west across the panhandle and crossed into Central time zone which was kinda cool because both of us had forgotten about the time change and so it was like getting a surprise extra hour of vacation that day. Score!
We ended up rolling into Coldwater Gardens just as the sun was setting and were greeted at the main lodge by Rusty, who is the owner of Coldwater Gardens, and Nick who is the caretaker. They were both incredibly friendly and spent some time giving us information about the property, going over a map of the grounds (it sits on 352 acres!), and also answering some of the questions we had, such as: where was the best spot to catch the sunrise and when could we see the chickens and the bees (they raise both there at the Gardens and also sell eggs and honey which I was extremely excited about). Oh, and they also informed us before we headed off to settle into the tree house that we’d be the only people staying at Coldwater Gardens until Friday and that we’d have the entire property to ourselves for the entire week and that is when the heavens parted and the angels began to sing! Peace, quiet, and solitude all week long…it was music to my ears!
By the time we unloaded the car and unpacked everything into the tree house (which was even more bad ass than I had anticipated, btw- pictures coming in Part Two!), it was pitch black out and we were both absolutely drop-dead exhausted. Not too exhausted, however, to build a fire, knock back a couple glasses of wine, and enjoy the peace and quiet in the crisp evening air…it was just perfect.
Our plan was to get up the following morning and hike down to Coldwater Creek to watch the sun rise, so we figured it would be wise to turn in early that night and recharge. After the fire went out, we walked back up to our cozy little bedroom, opened up all of the windows, crawled under a pile of blankets, and were both out cold within seconds of our heads hitting our pillows. Zzzzzzzzz….
The end. (Of day 1). 🙂
Stay tuned for Part Two of our Coldwater Gardens adventure where Rudy and I manage to get ourselves lost in the woods in the middle of nowhere right before sundown with no map, no flashlights, and two dead cell phones while hiking during a torrential downpour. Good times…