Florida isn’t all high rises, beaches, and Mickey Mouse—Blackwater Airfield is surrounded by over 200,000 acres of thick pine forest. Land at this beautiful grass airstrip, pitch a tent, and start exploring.
Blackwater Airfield lies within the Blackwater River State Forest (BRSF) in the Florida panhandle—at N30°52.66'/W86°51.26' to be exact. Managed by the Florida Forest Service, the strip was closed to the public until 2012, when the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) negotiated a “user permit” process to allow public access. Remember, future access depends on every visitor to Blackwater Airfield respecting the access they have been given.
Each year, the RAF schedules a fly-in to celebrate access to the airfield. Formerly held in April, the fly-in has been moved to November, to be held in conjunction with the Florida Sport Aviation Antique and Classic Association. Volunteers and the Florida Forest Service have now built a substantial fire hub, there are nearby plumbed restrooms with hot and cold showers, and a fresh water supply is available at the south end of the airfield, as are picnic tables and a barbecue. A portalette on the airfield is typically arranged for when there are weekend group events, but the plumbed restrooms are always just a short walk away. Camping, a barbecue, and fun times with fellow aviators characterize the RAF fly-in event each year.
If you fly in on your own, a ranger will generally come out to ask if you need anything, but it’s a laid-back atmosphere. Cell phone coverage is iffy, but, if needed, a camp host is at the Krul Recreation Area, about 150 yards down the pathway exiting the southeast end of the field, and they can arrange emergency services. The firepit should have wood, but if not, you can ask the ranger or camp host. The 6.5-acre swimming hole is actually a pristine, sand-bottom, spring-fed lake that offers walkways and floating platforms for swimmers, with barbecue facilities and two campgrounds ashore, no pets allowed. Pay your fees here: Payment slips are outside both campground restrooms on the bulletin boards and should be deposited in the Iron Ranger (a slotted metal tube). Pilots aren’t assessed any extra fees for flying in, so you simply pay the same access and camping fees as anyone else, a day-use fee of $2 per person, primitive camping (as under your wing) $10 per night, campground with water access $15, campground with water and electric access $25.
From the Krul Recreation Area, the 1.3-mile Sweetwater Trail takes you east to Bear Lake, a 107-acre impoundment that offers canoeing, fishing, and has its own camping facilities, restrooms, and showers. No swimming, but leashed pets are allowed, canoe rentals $15. About 6 miles farther east, the Blackwater River is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the nation, making it popular for swimming, fishing, camping, and paddling. The river's gentle flow rate is 2 to 3 mph, with an average depth of 2.5 feet. You can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle the 31-mile-long Blackwater River Paddling Trail. Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Center offers pickup/dropoff service and organized tours—they even have zip lines and a resort with cabins for rent.
BRSF is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and hosts over 300 species of birds. You can also go fishing for largemouth bass, catfish, bream, and pickerel. Forgot your camping food and fishing rods? Hop in the airplane and fly 16 nautical miles southwest to Peter Prince Field Airport and Hungry Howie’s Pizza 850-626-8600 will deliver a pie to the fixed-base operation's office at Aircraft Management Services, 5600 N Airport Rd., 850-623-4704, for your quick return to Blackwater…Pine Paradise!
Share your favorite destination in the AOPA Hangar: Places to fly, things to do, where to eat!