Journey to the sunshine state

Poster Beach Sign Notice Florida English W

Florida is a beautiful state, graced with year-round sunny skies, ocean breezes, subtropical foliage, and abundant wildlife. This southernmost continental state delivers a whole host of natural adventures on both land and water. There is certainly more to Florida than oranges and Walt Disney World, including luxury Florida RV camping resorts and cute 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 at Ocean Springs, Mississippi. This federal 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 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 also have been known to talk about 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 most Florida campgrounds which makes this state a snowbird paradise.

The Emerald Coast Beaches in Navarre, Fort Walton, Destin, and Santa Rosa are shining examples of Northwest Florida’s gulf shore. Don’t 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 later. Needless to say, 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 on your team should enjoy the marine fossils embedded in the cave’s ceilings and walls that tell a fascinating tale of Florida Caverns’ ancient submerged beyond. When it’s time to ascend into 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 vegetation such as orchids, flame azalea, columbine and assorted wildflowers, adding a dash of color to the excursion.

In north central Florida, travelers enter a universe of winding rivers, chilly, freshwater springs, and refreshing, green woods. The Ichetucknee River in Fort White is a hot place for tubing; a laidback, solo alternative to whitewater rafting. Grab an inner tube, recline, and push off into a leisurely present (about 1 mph). In 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, yearlong temperature of 72? F. Tubing trips at Ichetucknee are almost effortless since there are shuttle buses between authorized launching and take-out points.

The highlight of Devil’s Millhopper State Geological Site in Gainesville is its enormous 120-foot deep sinkhole, made by the collapsed ceiling of a subterranean cavern.

Small streams tumble down the steep slopes of the sinkhole, disappearing through cracks in the bottom. Regrettably, the sinkhole’s contents, in the kind 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 top rim. The interior of Devil’s Millhopper features small streams rushing down its sheer walls and lush plant development, such as ferns and orchids, that resemble Appalachian mountain foliage.

Head east on your Florida travel, and you will 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 at Fort George, for example, only 17 miles from Jacksonville via a series of bridges. As close as they are to the”big city,” those isles provide a refreshing sense of escape from civilization. Better yet, they offer convenient oceanside parking for your RV and effortless boardwalk access to five miles of unspoiled Atlantic beaches. Besides researching sandy shores, flowering dunes, 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 finest and busiest coastal parks, and so we recommend when staying at a Florida campground nearby you make reservations in advance. It offers all the beach blanket principles – 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 graceful art of windsurfing. For those 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 will find Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville. It was established 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 offers a pleasing mix of ancient oak hammocks, sandy dunes, salt marshes, mangroves, ocean shores 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 only for legions of migrating birds, but indigenous sandpipers, ibises, and wood storks. Green turtles, whales, alligators and diamondback rattlesnakes (FYI, avoid these) may 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 like to catch their own dinner, shrimping, crabbing, clamming, freshwater or surf-fishing and/or controlled waterfowl hunting are allowed at Merritt Island.

Scores of threatened 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 might catch a glimpse of any one of four kinds of sea turtles and endangered manatees, which occasionally linger at Pelican’s peaceful sanctuary. 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. You will find 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 major rivers – the Ocklawaha and the St. Johns – with each offering ample opportunities for swimming, boating and angling. Snorkeling enthusiasts surely can’t resist the transparent waters and amazing aquatic viewpoints in Ocala’s chilly springs, can they? Paddling on horseback trails, horseback riding, and hiking on Florida’s National Scenic Trail are also popular pastimes. After all, there is over 430,000 acres to cover, so you might want to leave yourself a little time to research. And when you do, you might 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 many Florida RV camping hotels offer 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 like to hike, ride horse, boat about or fish Florida’s third largest lake. Trophy bass are plentiful in its waters.

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park invites visitors to learn first-hand about Florida’s native creatures 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 adjacent 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 reptiles, birds and manatees. Visitors can practically rub elbows with gentle manatees at 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 splendor could be viewed from narrated tram and airboat tours.

Florida’s southwest region offers world-renowned shelling, island getaways and shining Gulf coast sunsets. J.N.”Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island is the most prominent example of enduring local conservation efforts. Wildlife Drive, a one-way, five-mile road winding through the island’s bay side, grants visitors a potential glimpse of nearly 400 resident animal species. 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 may 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” at the southern tip of southern Florida. It is a place where Caribbean plants and animals coexist in a curious mixture of swamps full of cypress and mangroves, saw grass prairies, pine and hardwood trees. 1 third of the park’s acreage is actually underwater, including 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, over 300 varieties of birds, and the Everglades’ most prolific species, mosquitoes.

For the marine species that live 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 some 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, at 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 in 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.