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Roadtrip Florida

Miami, Florida, Sunset, Skyline

Florida is a beautiful state, 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 luxurious Florida RV camping resorts and adorable Florida campgrounds to get 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 across 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 that tell the long-ago stories of Native American inhabitants. 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 most 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 in this park is certainly the ranger-guided tour of Florida Caverns and the explanations of its diverse calcite formations – stalagmites, stalactites, columns and brimstones. But don’t worry about the geological terminology, there won’t be a test later. Needless to say, there are cave critters to reckon with, including several 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 crew 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 readily available. The scenery includes atypical vegetation such as orchids, flame azalea, columbine and assorted wildflowers, adding a dash of colour to the trip.

In north central Florida, travelers enter a world of winding rivers, cold, freshwater springs, and refreshing, green woods. The Ichetucknee River in Fort White is a hot spot for tubing; a laid-back, solo alternative to whitewater rafting. Grab an inner tube, recline, and push off into a leisurely current (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’t 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.

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 interior of Devil’s Millhopper features small streams rushing down its sheer walls and verdant plant growth, like ferns and orchids, that resemble Appalachian mountain foliage.

Head east on your Florida journey, and you will be rewarded by a region that provides lovely Atlantic beaches, quiet salt marshes and scores of graceful shorebirds. Take Little Talbot and Big Talbot Islands at Fort George, for example, just 17 miles from Jacksonville via a series of bridges. As close as they are into the”big city,” those isles provide 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 exploring 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 but a few of these.

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 in a Florida campground nearby you make reservations in advance. It offers all the beach blanket basics – a coastal shore, rolling waves, scenic dunes, a lagoon, tidal marshes and sea meadows. It also provides opportunities to swim, kayak, fish, or learn the art of windsurfing. For people who simply want a small R&R, head to the designated picnic area shaded by ancient, and somewhat unusual, pine trees slowly bleached and twisted by the salty sea winds. Do not overlook the wildflowers, nature paths, magnolia trees and fascinating 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’ll 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 offers a pleasing mix of ancient oak hammocks, sandy dunes, salt marshes, mangroves, ocean beaches and piney woods. The refuge is a major winter home not only for legions of migrating birds, but native sandpipers, ibises, and wood storks. Green turtles, whales, alligators and diamondback rattlesnakes (FYI, avoid these) may be understood 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 controlled waterfowl hunting are allowed at Merritt Island.

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 see jet-black anhingas and assorted varieties 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 sometimes linger at Pelican’s peaceful refuge. The 1903 introduction of the island’s protected status indicated the momentous start of the entire National Wildlife Refuge System.

When tourists proceed west into 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. This dynamic destination has much to offer, including 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 resist the transparent waters and incredible 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’s more than 430,000 acres to pay, so you might want to leave yourself a little time to explore. And when you do, you may happen upon black bears, bald eagles and other rare species seldom seen outside the borders 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 provide resort packages that include these activities and much more with your stay in their campground.

The wooded terrain around Lake Kissimmee in Lake Wales was once the homeland of Native Americans that were attracted to the area because of its bounty of fish, plants and animals. Today’s travelers seem equally smitten, especially those who like to hike, ride horse, boat fish or about Florida’s third largest lake. Trophy bass are plentiful in its own waters. Keen observers spot whooping cranes, bobcats, fox squirrels, deer and wild turkeys along Lake Kissimmee’s shoreline.

Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park invites visitors to learn first-hand 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 birds, reptiles and manatees. Visitors can almost rub elbows with gentle manatees at the underwater observatory.

The Myakka River near Sarasota delivers 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. And for guests who prefer a guided tour, Myakka’s refuge can 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. 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. Based on the season of birth, refuge guests might see a colorful songbird, splashing otter or lounging crocodile. The informative, self-guided Wildlife Drive tour may 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 mix of swamps filled with cypress and mangroves, saw grass prairies, pine and hardwood trees. One 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, evasive Florida panthers, over 300 varieties of birds, as well as 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. For those smart enough to stop over, there are dazzling saltwater spectacles to behold – gliding rainbows of tropical fish, spiny lobsters, vibrant coral formations and bobbing loggerhead turtles. A high-speed, glass-bottom catamaran is an ideal 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 a much closer look. One of 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 in the Atlantic Ocean to Florida Bay. Besides boasting some 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 cease for avid birders.

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