I havenâ€™t been to all 161 Florida state parks, but Iâ€™ve been to dozens, and every single one was worth visiting.
While returning from Silver Springs State Park, my husband and I were driving near Lake Griffin State Park in Fruitland Park, and debated whether to stop.
We did, and once again, this Florida State Park did not disappoint.
First, it has the sort of thing I canâ€™t pass up â€“ a famous tree.
But thereâ€™s more to this smallish park surrounded by the suburban sprawl of US 441 and the Villages. It has a beautiful picnic area, an interesting short hike, some shaded campsites and it even offers a nice place to kayak and fish.
We first sought out the tree, of course, which is famous for being very big and very old.
Itâ€™s the second largest live oak in the state and some say the oldest one. (Monumentaltrees.com dates it at 316 years old, give or take 100 years.)Â (And because I knew youâ€™d be curious: The largest live oak in Florida is the Cellon Oak in Gainesville.)
The Lake Griffin oak is magnificent. Tourists have been visiting it since the 1800s. It is so big I couldnâ€™t get far enough back to get it all in the photo.
The trunk of the tree is enormous. With a little boost, kids can climb into a large space formed by the huge branches that spread out from the trunk â€“ and thereâ€™s room for more than one child.
The tree is located very near the parkâ€™s border with US 441. The rest of the 620-acre park is forested with large moss-draped oaks, including an attractive short hiking trail.
Picnic tables under shade trees overlook the water.
Kayaking at Lake Griffin State Park
The park wraps around the Dead River Marsh, which leads to Lake Griffin, the eighth largest lake in the state and one of nine lakes in the Harris Chain of Lakes.
Thereâ€™s a large dock, popular with fishermen, and a boat ramp where we launched our canoe, paddling around the Dead River, a languid body of water where we saw a number of birds and alligators along the lily-pad lined shoreline. If you are in the neighborhood or a fisherman, it is a nice place to explore.
You can rent canoes and kayaks here too Â — $12 for two hours for a single or canoe; $25 for two hours for a double kayak. Â (Cash only.)
From November to March, the park offers a pontoon boat tour of the marsh area Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. Â Price is $15 per person.
Camping at Lake Griffin State Park
There are 40 campsites, many under a live-oak tree canopy. All campsites have water and electricity, 10 sites have 50-amp electric service, seven sites are pull-through sites, and seven sites have sewer hook-ups.
The state park website warns that some campsites have noise from nearby US 441.Â Many of the campsites, however, are quiet and all of them are surrounded by beautiful trees and vegetation. The noisy campsites would be those along the western edge of the campground, campsites 6 through 16.
Bottom line: Lake Griffin State Park makes a pleasant stop if youâ€™re in the neighborhood. Â Itâ€™s not a destination park worth driving hours to reach, like many larger and better known state parks. But if you like famous trees or a pretty site for a picnic or paddle, check out Lake Griffin State Park.
Lake Griffin State Park website
3089 U.S. Highway 441-27
Fruitland Park, FL 34731