We tend to mix it up where we camp overnight and have stayed anywhere from National Parks to County Parks, free sites on BLM land to the occasional Cracker Barrel. Since we’ve been in Florida, we have mainly stuck with their impressive network of State Parks and have not been disappointed. The Sunshine State showed us their hospitality as soon as we crossed the border from Georgia with free OJ at the roadside Welcome Center. I love how parking next to semis always makes our camper look comically tiny.
Our first stop in Florida was Tomoka SP just outside of Daytona Beach. It boasted the nicest Park Ranger checking us in, palm trees surrounding the campsite and a lovely camp store with a deck overlooking the river where we relaxed with an ice-cold beer.
Upon the recommendation of the park ranger, we headed to Blue Spring State Park to see manatees. This will be remembered as one of the most magical experiences that Florida gave us. The spring in the park pumps out over 100 million gallons of perfectly warmed 72 degree water year round. The manatees are very sensitive to water less than 68 degrees and as it gets colder in the winter, they head from the St. John’s River toward the warmer water. A boardwalk lines the spring and as you stand overlooking the clear, aqua colored water, you hear little snorts and see a nose peek out of the water. They breathe every 2 to 4 minutes, and if you can’t see them right away, eventually their snorts give them away.
They really don’t do a lot, but you can’t stop watching them. They glide like blimps through the water with what looks like minimal effort. It’s lumbering and graceful at the same time. We were mesmerized by them. The boardwalk continues to the source of the spring about a 10 minute walk from the river opening. We met another enchanting scene there. There were even more manatees at the source of the spring and apparently they were the rowdy bunch. They were swimming around and doing their thing. Check out the manatee cams for more manatee love here. When the manatees aren’t there, you can swim, snorkel and scuba dive in the spring waters.
We also saw a few manatees at the appropriately named Manatee Springs State Park. This park sits just on the Suwannee River, and the manatees were not as numerous here, but a fellow camper said that while kayaking one came up to her and rolled over for her to scratch its belly! The boardwalk goes through stands of Cypress trees and we saw lots of turtles, fish and one alligator.
Another great park back on the Atlantic Coast was Sebastian Inlet. Sadly, we won’t be remembering this park for the beautiful beach, stellar fishing or colorful sunsets. It will be remembered as the park where we were introduced to the most horrific insect of all time – the Noseeum. They devoured us in the evening and then got through our screens at night. After they had their way with us, we looked like we had broken out with a deadly pox, and the intense itching over the next week kept us up at nights despite gallons of hydrocortisone and liberal Benadryl use. Sorry Sebastian Inlet, we would have loved you had it not been for these miniscule agents of evil.
Lastly, St George Island State Park is located on a barrier island on the Gulf side of Florida. The beach there was amazing, and had it been warmer we would have loved to bask for a few days on that beach, but we ended up only spending one night here. We got to the beach around sunset (at the early hour of 5:30 pm) and the wind whipped us as thunderstorms were building in the distance.
We can tell the pride that the state takes in their parks. For the most part, the facilities were in top shape and the scenery and views were nothing short of spectacular. It’s hard to go wrong with any of these locations for a few nights or even a few weeks!