Florida Roadtrip

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Florida is a beautiful country, graced with year-round sunny skies, ocean breezes, subtropical foliage, and abundant wildlife. This southernmost continental state delivers a whole host of pure adventures on both water and land. There is certainly more to Florida than oranges and Walt Disney World, including luxurious 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 edge, 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 which tell the long-ago tales of Native American inhabitants. Visitors are free to camp, hike, swim and fish on the gulf or Santa Rosa Sound. Birders who explore the Gulf Islands are rewarded with sightings of blue herons, ospreys, egrets and brown pelicans. Beach-goers have also been known to share the park’s sandy terrain with such”locals” as diamondback terrapins, armadillos and sea turtles.

Florida’s huge, outdoor playground is available for all seasons and so 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 are in the area.

Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, the website of Florida’s only lighted tour cavern, is a Natural National Landmark. The highlight at this park is surely 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 later. Of course, there are cave creatures to reckon with, such as many species of (gasp!) bats. However, the park also shelters some surprising species such as 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 submerged beyond. When it’s time to ascend to the park’s ground level, the choice of actions is delightfully well-rounded. Swimming, fishing, camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding and canoeing are easily available. The scenery consists of atypical plant life 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 popular place for tubing; a laid-back, solo solution to whitewater rafting. Grab an inner tube, recline, and push off into a leisurely present (about 1 mph). At Ichetucknee Springs, the crystal-clear river is fed by multiple springs which supply an amazing daily influx of 233 million gallons of water. And tubers can not help but”chill out” as the river registers a bracing, year-round temperature of 72? F. Tubing excursions 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 given 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 small streams rushing down its sheer walls and verdant plant growth, such as ferns and orchids, that resemble Appalachian mountain foliage.

Head east on your Florida travel, and you’ll be rewarded by a region that provides 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. Better yet, they provide convenient oceanside parking for your RV and easy boardwalk access to five miles of unspoiled Atlantic beaches. Besides researching sandy shores, flowering dunes, marshes, and maritime forests, Talbot’s visitors quickly take to such activities as swimming, shelling, saltwater fishing, boating, biking, or horseback riding. The Talbots shelter almost 200 species of birds and aquatic creatures; gopher tortoises, river otters, and occasional bobcats are but 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, and so we urge when staying at a Florida campground nearby you make reservations in advance. It offers all of the beach blanket basics – a coastal shore, rolling waves, scenic dunes, a lagoon, tidal marshes and sea meadows. It also offers opportunities to swim, kayak, fish, or learn the art of windsurfing. For people who simply want a little R&R, head to the designated picnic area shaded 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 – that make this place unique.

Heading south you’ll find Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville. It was set up nearly four years 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 major winter home not just for legions of migrating birds, but indigenous sandpipers, ibises, and wood storks. Green turtles, whales, alligators and diamondback rattlesnakes (FYI, avoid these) can be seen from area beaches while hiking or paddling canoe trails, or on the refuge’s scenic, seven-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive. For visitors who would prefer to catch their own dinner, shrimping, crabbing, clamming, freshwater or surf-fishing and/or regulated waterfowl hunting are allowed 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 very first wildlife refuge. Scores of endangered native and migratory birds call the area home. Visitors who arrive by kayak, canoe, or boat tour visit jet-black anhingas and assorted kinds of herons, egrets, ibises and terns. The lucky folks may catch a glimpse of any one of four types of sea turtles and endangered manatees, which sometimes linger at Pelican’s peaceful sanctuary. The 1903 introduction of the island’s protected status signaled the momentous start of the total National Wildlife Refuge System.

When tourists proceed west into the heart of Florida, they enter a land 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 forest established east of the Mississippi River. This dynamic destination has much to offer, such as hundreds of sparkling lakes, springs and two important rivers – the Ocklawaha and the St. Johns – with each offering ample opportunities for swimming, boating and angling. Snorkeling enthusiasts surely can not withstand the transparent waters and incredible aquatic viewpoints in Ocala’s chilly springs, can they? After all, there is more than 430,000 acres to cover, so you may want to leave yourself a little time to explore. And when you do, you might happen upon black bears, bald eagles and other rare species seldom 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 more with your stay in their campground.

The wooded terrain around Lake Kissimmee in Lake Wales was once the homeland of Native Americans who were attracted to the area because of its bounty of fish, plants and animals. Today’s travelers look equally smitten, especially those who like to hike, ride horse, boat about or fish Florida’s third largest lake. Trophy bass are plentiful in its own 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 profound, 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 adjoining wildlife park presents interactive animal exhibits, an indoor nursery for baby alligators and crocodiles, and special ranger programs designed to introduce participants to Florida’s population of birds, reptiles 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. This river meanders past wetlands, hammocks, prairies and pinelands, all prime places for canoeing, angling, biking and wildlife viewing. Sightings of deer, alligators, hawks, bobcats and lunker bass are common. And for guests who prefer a guided tour, Myakka’s splendor could be viewed from narrated tram and airboat tours.

Florida’s southwest region provides world-renowned shelling, island getaways and glowing Gulf coast sunsets. J.N.”Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is the most obvious example of enduring local conservation efforts. Founded in 1945, the 6,000-acre refuge was officially dedicated in 1978 to Jay Norwood”Ding” Darling, a political cartoonist and staunch environmentalist who fought to preserve Sanibel’s fragile ecosystem. Depending on the season of birth, refuge guests may see a colorful songbird, splashing otter or lounging crocodile. The informative, self-guided Wildlife Drive tour could be completed on foot, by bike 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 mainland Florida. It is 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. One third of the park’s acreage is truly 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.

For the marine species that reside there, the park showcases and protects the only living coral reef in the continental United States. A high-speed, glass-bottom catamaran is an ideal way to see the sights (narrated, also ). Otherwise, grab a snorkel and some fins. Scuba dive or paddle a”spyak” (a customized kayak with a large, transparent viewing floor) for an even closer look. Among Pennekamp’s many masterpieces is a 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium where tropical fish, sharks, snappers and groupers swim within inches of landlocked observers.

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 to 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. The birds of the Caribbean, such as brown pelicans, great white herons and deep pink roseate spoonbills, make Bahia Honda an engaging stop for avid birders.

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