Florida is a beautiful country, graced with yearlong sunny skies, ocean breezes, subtropical foliage, and abundant wildlife. This southernmost continental state delivers a whole host of natural adventures on both water and land. There is certainly more to Florida than oranges and Walt Disney World, including luxury Florida RV camping resorts and adorable Florida campgrounds to make your road trip a terrific success.
The northwest corner of the Sunshine State is our first stop, where the Gulf of Mexico glistens, dolphins play, and sandy shores prevail. The Gulf Islands National Seashore in Gulf Breeze stretches some 150 miles along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline, from Pensacola, at Florida’s northwest border, to Davis Bayou and the barrier islands in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. This national saltwater treasure is a kaleidoscope of turquoise water, bright white sand dunes, seaside marshes, wooded nature trails, historic fortresses and archaeological sites that tell the long-ago stories of Native American people. Visitors are free to camp, hike, fish and swim on the gulf or Santa Rosa Sound. Beach-goers also have been known to share the park’s sandy terrain with these”locals” as diamondback terrapins, armadillos and sea turtles.
Florida’s huge, outdoor playground is available for all seasons and therefore are many Florida campgrounds which makes this state a snowbird paradise.
The Emerald Coast Beaches at Navarre, Fort Walton, Destin, and Santa Rosa are shining examples of Northwest Florida’s gulf coastline. Do not miss’em if you’re in the area.
Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, the site of Florida’s only lighted tour cavern, is a Natural National Landmark. The highlight at this park is certainly the ranger-guided tour of Florida Caverns and the explanations of its varied calcite formations – stalagmites, stalactites, columns and brimstones. But don’t fret about the geological terminology, there will not be a test afterwards. Of course, there are cave critters to reckon with, such as many species of (gasp!) bats. However, the park also shelters some surprising species like 200-pound alligators, snapping turtles, barred owls and beavers. The budding geologists in your team should enjoy the marine fossils embedded in the cave ceilings and walls that tell a fascinating tale of Florida Caverns’ ancient underwater past. When it is time to ascend into the park’s ground level, the choice of activities is delightfully well-rounded. Swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding and canoeing are easily available. The scenery includes atypical vegetation such as orchids, flame azalea, columbine and various wildflowers, including a dash of color to the excursion.
In north central Florida, travelers enter a universe of winding rivers, cold, freshwater springs, and refreshing, green woods. The Ichetucknee River at Fort White is a hot spot for tubing; a laid-back, solo alternative to whitewater rafting. Grab an inner tube, recline, and shove off into a leisurely present (about 1 mph). In Ichetucknee Springs, the crystal-clear river is fed by multiple springs which supply an awesome daily influx of 233 million gallons of water. And tubers can’t help but”chill out” as the river registers a bracing, yearlong temperature of 72? F. Tubing trips at Ichetucknee are nearly effortless since there are shuttle buses between authorized launch and take-out points.
Small streams tumble down the steep slopes of the sinkhole, disappearing through cracks in the bottom. Alas, the sinkhole’s contents, in the form of seashells, sharks’ teeth, and fossilized animal relics, have contributed geologists invaluable clues to Florida’s natural history. Visitors are afforded views of the sinkhole from boardwalks, stairways, or from a nature trail on the upper rim. The inside of Devil’s Millhopper features little streams rushing down its sheer walls and lush plant development, like ferns and orchids, that resemble Appalachian mountain foliage.
Head east on your Florida journey, and you’ll be rewarded by a region that offers beautiful Atlantic beaches, quiet salt marshes and scores of graceful shorebirds. Take Little Talbot and Big Talbot Islands in Fort George, for example, only 17 miles from Jacksonville via a series of bridges. As close as they are into the”big city,” these isles offer a refreshing sense of escape from civilization. Even better, they offer convenient oceanside parking for your RV and easy boardwalk access to five miles of unspoiled Atlantic beaches. Besides researching sandy shores, flowering deserts, marshes, and maritime forests, Talbot’s visitors immediately take to such activities as swimming, shelling, saltwater fishing, boating, biking, or horseback riding. The Talbots shelter almost 200 species of birds and coastal critters; gopher tortoises, river otters, and occasional bobcats are still a few of them.
Anastasia State Recreation Area, a barrier island east of St. Augustine, is one of Florida’s best and busiest coastal parks, so we urge when staying at a Florida campground nearby you make reservations beforehand. It offers all the beach blanket principles – a sandy coastline, rolling waves, scenic dunes, a lagoon, tidal marshes and sea meadows. It also provides opportunities to swim, fish, kayak, or learn the art of windsurfing. For people who simply want a little R&R, visit the designated picnic area surrounded by ancient, and somewhat unusual, oak trees gradually bleached and twisted by the salty sea winds. Do not overlook the wildflowers, nature paths, magnolia trees and interesting creatures to behold: red-shouldered hawks, swallowtail butterflies, sea turtles, screech owls and Anastasia’s own beach mouse – which make this place unique.
Heading south you will find Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville. It was set up nearly four decades ago through a cooperative effort between NASA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River to the west, this subtropical locale provides a pleasing mix of ancient oak hammocks, sandy dunes, salt marshes, mangroves, ocean beaches and piney woods. Merritt and its immediate neighbors, Canaveral National Seashore and Kennedy Space Center, are positioned on the Atlantic Flyway. The refuge is a significant winter home not only for legions of migrating birds, but native sandpipers, ibises, and wood storks. For visitors who’d prefer to catch their own dinner, shrimping, crabbing, clamming, freshwater or surf-fishing and/or regulated waterfowl hunting are permitted at Merritt Island.
Established in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge near Sebastian on the Indian River Lagoon was America’s first wildlife refuge. Scores of endangered native and migratory birds call the area home. The island has since been named a National Historic Landmark, National Wilderness Area, and a Wetland of International Importance. Visitors who arrive by kayak, canoe, or boat tour visit jet-black anhingas and assorted varieties of herons, egrets, ibises and terns. The lucky people might catch a glimpse of any one of four types of sea turtles and endangered manatees, which occasionally linger at Pelican’s peaceful refuge. The 1903 introduction of this island’s protected status signaled the momentous start of the entire National Wildlife Refuge System.
When tourists proceed west to the heart of Florida, they enter a property of freshwater lakes, dense woodlands, and bubbling springs. Ocala National Forest is the southernmost national forest in the continental U.S. and the first such woods established east of the Mississippi River. There are highlands, lowlands, swamps and a splendid abundance of pine, cypress, and palm trees. This lively destination has much to offer, such as hundreds of sparkling lakes, springs and two important rivers – the Ocklawaha and the St. Johns – with every offering ample opportunities for swimming, boating and angling. Snorkeling enthusiasts surely can not withstand the transparent waters and amazing aquatic views in Ocala’s chilly springs, can they? After all, there’s more than 430,000 acres to cover, so you might want to leave yourself a little time to explore. When you do, you may happen upon black bears, bald eagles and other rare species rarely seen outside the boundaries of Ocala National Forest.
Paddling canoe trails, horseback riding, and hiking on Florida’s National Scenic Trail are also popular pastimes and lots of Florida RV camping hotels provide resort packages that include these activities and much more with your stay at their campground.
The wooded terrain around Lake Kissimmee in Lake Wales was once the homeland of Native Americans who were drawn to the area because of its bounty of fish, plants and animals. Today’s travelers look equally eloquent, especially those who prefer to hike, ride horse, boat fish or about Florida’s third largest lake. Trophy bass are plentiful in its waters.
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park invites visitors to learn firsthand about Florida’s native animals in a natural setting. The park’s centerpiece, Homosassa Springs, is a 45-foot deep, 72? F headspring pumping millions of gallons of water per hour to the scenic Homosassa River. The spring itself is home to over 30 species of fish. The adjacent wildlife park presents interactive animal displays, an indoor nursery for baby alligators and crocodiles, and special ranger programs designed to introduce participants to Florida’s population of reptiles, birds and manatees. Visitors can practically rub elbows with gentle manatees in the underwater observatory.
The Myakka River near Sarasota offers natural experiences on one of Florida’s finest”wild and scenic” waterways. Sightings of deer, alligators, hawks, bobcats and lunker bass are common. And for guests who prefer a guided tour, Myakka’s refuge can be looked at from narrated tram and airboat tours.
Florida’s southwest region offers world-renowned shelling, island getaways and glowing Gulf coast sunsets. J.N.”Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is the most prominent example of enduring local conservation efforts. Founded in 1945, the 6,000-acre sanctuary was officially dedicated in 1978 to Jay Norwood”Ding” Darling, a political cartoonist and staunch environmentalist who fought to preserve Sanibel’s fragile ecosystem. Wildlife Drive, a one-way, five-mile road winding through the island’s bay side, grants visitors a possible glimpse of nearly 400 resident animal species. Depending on the season of arrival, refuge guests might see a colorful songbird, splashing otter or lounging crocodile. The informative, self-guided Wildlife Drive tour could be completed on foot, by bicycle or vehicle. Suggested stops are marked with wooden signs and volunteer interpreters are on hand to answer questions.
The Everglades National Park, North America’s only subtropical preserve, is a 1.5 million-acre”sea of grass” in the southern tip of southern Florida. It’s a place where Caribbean plants and animals coexist in a curious mixture of swamps filled with cypress and mangroves, saw grass prairies, pine and hardwood trees. 1 third of the park’s acreage is actually underwater, such as Florida Bay which borders the park, much to the delight of canoeists. Drier park pursuits include biking; ranger-led trail walks or tram tours; and wildlife-watching for manatees, alligators, crocodiles, elusive Florida panthers, more than 300 varieties of birds, as well as the Everglades’ most prolific species, mosquitoes.
One of the best attractions in the Florida Keys is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, America’s first undersea preserve, located in Key Largo. For the marine species that reside there, the park protects and showcases the only living coral reef in the continental United States. A high-speed, glass-bottom catamaran is the best way to see the sights (narrated, too). Otherwise, grab a snorkel and a few fins. Scuba dive or paddle a”spyak” (a customized kayak with a big, transparent viewing floor) for an even closer look.
Bahia Honda State Park, in Big Pine Key’s mile marker 37, is an eye-appealing island jewel with sandy beaches, waving palms, and bright blue waters that ripple onshore from the Atlantic Ocean into Florida Bay. Besides boasting a number of the Key’s best swimming, fishing and snorkeling beaches, Bahia Honda has rolling dunescapes, mangrove forests and tropical hardwood hammocks.