Attracted by the cooler temps (we are Northerners after all), after the Tampa RV Supershow, we headed north and west towards the less congested (at least this time of year) Florida panhandle and to the Gulf Coast of Alabama. It always surprises us in talking to other RV’ers and even native Floridians that their explorations of this beautiful state have been limited to the more congested realm of southern Florida.
Guess before our adopting the RV lifestyle, we were like that too – thoughts of the “Sunshine State” would conjure up images of a tropical paradise complete with pelicans and palm trees, not to mention oranges and theme parks. Little did we know that the state had so much more to offer among several different climates and types of terrain – rolling hills and green pastures, thoroughbred horse farms, dense forests of hardwoods and longleaf pine trees, crystal clear freshwater springs, the cool breezes of the Atlantic coastal environs, the Bahamian climate of the Keys and of course the emerald green Gulf waters bordered by beautiful “squeaky” white sand beaches. After our first visits there, the panhandle and the Alabama southern shore quickly became favorite areas in the South to visit during the less busy winter months.
And besides the natural diversity, initially we also never fully appreciated how BIG a state Florida is. Did you know that Florida spans two time zones? To drive from Pensacola to Miami is about the same distance as driving from Chicago to Washington DC, yep, about 700 miles!
As we journeyed towards the panhandle taking the slower, more scenic routes along US-41 to US-27 to US-98, ignoring the boring interstates, we stopped at several of our favorite state parks. It would be different from previous visits – the urge to do a lot of sightseeing was thwarted by the fact that we had already “been there and done that” and the weather enveloped us in abnormally cool temperatures combined with a few days of rain, keeping us inside some of the time. Plus after talking about it for over a year we suddenly had become inspired to finally make the effort to update our aging blog site, an effort which would end up consuming many hours over a span of several days.
After the hectic pace of the RV Supershow, we were really looking forward to our first stop – Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon, FL where we had reservations for 11 nights, giving us plenty of time to unwind. We love this park with its (mostly) large, spacious, full hookup sites, most surrounded by lush vegetation (see our review and previous posts from 2014 and 2015) and its resident eagle. Although we spent way too much time in front of our PC’s, when the weather was good, we made it a point to tear ourselves away to stretch our legs and clear our heads by taking a walk down to the river and hiking the tram road to the tubing area.
While there we just had to make a return visit to the Rainbow Springs Headsprings Park not far from the campground (but on the other side of the river). Here we once again savored the crystal clear water, it’s brilliant aquamarine color shimmering against the bright blue sky and the beautiful waterfalls cascading down the rocky slopes amidst an assortment of tropical plants. And we refreshed our memories of it’s fascinating history from the time it was a popular amusement park in the 1930s to when it joined the National Park Service in the 1990s. If you’ve never been to this park, for a taste of the true “Old Florida” you should definitely add it to your bucket list! Very popular at the campground though so advance reservations are a must.
After our stay at Rainbow Springs, we headed a few hours further north to Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs, another favorite campground we have stayed at frequently. This would be a much shorter visit so although there is a lot to do here, there was no sightseeing here for us during our two night stay. Just a few short walks around the park and to the river to reduce the tedium of working on our blog – this was a really, really low key stay. With its museum, it’s a great place to learn about Stephen Foster and to talk to the volunteers who demo various crafts (blacksmith, pottery, quilting, etc.) at the crafts village. Even though we had been here before, hearing the Stephen Foster tunes being played by tubular bells of the Carillon tower is always a treat!
On January 30th, off we went to the adults only Ho Hum RV Park in Carrabelle for another short 3 night stay. Unlike most of the other campground/resorts along US-98 in the Carrabelle area which are located across the highway from the bay, this park is located right on the water. Sites are fairly close together but the view from the beachfront sites makes up for the lack of room or privacy. We lucked out during this recent stay, our site #35 (referred to as the “honeymoon suite” by the guy who checked us in) was at the end of the waterfront row so we had sweeping views of the bay. From our front window, we could watch pods of dolphins frolicking in the water not too far from shore. Very cool! Staying here makes Florida’s Forgotten Coast not quite so forgettable!
The last leg of our journey on the panhandle took us along US-98 to Topsail Preserve State Park, another favorite Florida state park where we had a 14 night reservation. We were excited to arrive here – we hadn’t seen the ocean since we left RI in October! Very unusual for us. We were also excited that once again we would meet up with our friends, Betsy and Nancy (RV-A-GoGo) who were work camping there for the winter.
As we checked in, we were informed that the site we had reserved through Reserve America was one of the many that had damaged cement pads and was being rebuilt. Fortunately there was another site available nearby. See more information in our review.
By now our newly revised blog site was almost done so we were ready to have some much needed fun! And boy, did we ever! Walks to the beach, a Superbowl Party (sadly no New England Patriots this year but that made it a lot less stressful) hosted by Betsy and Nancy, complete with all the fixin’s – nachos, Mexican Dip, wings and ribs (I think in between the bites, we did see most of the game and of course the commercials). That fun event was followed up with a burger party again at their site attended by one of the park rangers, Nick. I didn’t think anything could top the Superbowl party but this particular night sure did. So many laughs especially when next door neighbor Dave and ranger Nick (who had left) showed up in robes, telling us to quiet down! Too funny!
Reluctantly on the morning of February 16th, we said our goodbyes and headed for our next destination, Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, AL. More about that and our dining adventures in our next posts.