Southwest Florida’s Paynes Creek State Park
The State of Florida has about 175 award-winning state parks and one of them is Paynes Creek Historic State Park. (And yes, the name leaves out that apostrophe you want to see there, ha!) You’ll find Paynes Creek near the tiny town of Bowling Green, Florida off of Lake Branch Road.
We visited Paynes Creek Historic State Park in mid-July, not the best time to get out and hike their wonderful trails because of the deep heat and the sudden summer storms that roll in during the afternoon. But we were driving in that area, and wanted to check it out. We’ll go back in the winter, when picnicking and walking under the big shade trees to the creek would make a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. If you can brave the summer sun, it’s open all year.
Florida has a very modest charge of three dollars per vehicle to enter their state parks. You can pick up an informational brochure at the gate, and the guard there was full of information about what to see and do.
Paynes Creek is the site where, in 1849, Fort Chokonika was built. The terrain is tall pines, typical Florida dense undergrowth, and big shade trees. You’ll notice that the forest has been burned some time back, there are still blackened and charred tree stumps standing throughout the forest.
Fort Chokonika was established in the latter part of 1849 because of the tense relationships then between settlers and the Seminole Indians. You can read about the fort’s history on the Paynes Creek website and in the brochure you receive at the park. The United States Army build Fort Chokonika, but quickly abandoned it less than a year later due to it being infested with disease-carrying mosquitoes. In 1978 the state park was placed on the United States Register of Historic Places. Nothing remains of the fort or of the nearby trading post, although you can hike to both sites within this state park.
There’s a small visitor center in the park with a movie about the former fort and the settlement of this area. You’ll also find artifacts there along with a large cannon.
Visiting Paynes Creek Historic State Park
According to the website, the Visitor’s Center is open Thursday through Monday only. But the brochure we received at the guard gate says is open daily from 8:00 AM to sunset. So you might call to check times at 863-375-4717. Besides the Visitor’s Center, there is picnicking (several large pavilions and some shady areas), a playground, wildlife viewing, hiking, fishing (state license required), bicycling, birding, a launch for canoes and kayaks, and primitive camping for youth. The park’s website gives you details on all of these.
One of the walking trails has a bridge over the creek, but as of this writing (July, 2018) the bridge was waiting for repair, as it was damaged by Hurricane Irma in September, 2017.
Pets are welcome on leash, but not inside the Visitor Center.
One of the trails is known for butterfly viewing. You’ll also spot alligators, turtles, and other wildlife. There are four separate trails, one of which goes to the site of the former fort, one to the trading post site, one to Paynes Creek, and one to the Peace River, which the creek flows into.
If you love spending a quiet day walking trails, kayaking or canoeing, fishing, or hanging out under the shady pavilions (they can be rented for large groups), you’ll enjoy Paynes Creek Historic State Park. It gives you a good understanding of how remote and wild Southwest Florida once was.
Paynes Creek Historic State Park
888 Lake Brand Road, Bowling Green, Florida 33834
You can find pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #paynescreekhistoricstatepark
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