Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Florida’s Amazing Gulf Coast State Parks

The Gulf Coast along the Florida Panhandle was bestowed the title of “Emerald Coast” for the simple reason that its clear bright waters dazzle people with the emerald green color.  Set that sparkling water next to endless miles of sugar white sand beaches that squeeeeek under your feet and you will see why the panhandle lures people back year after year…including us. 

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From Destin to Panama City you have plenty of great state park camping options to choose from.  State park campgrounds usually bring lower prices, offer outdoor recreational opportunities at your doorstep, and place you in a calming natural environment.  If you are like us and enjoy camping at state parks, then this area will suit you as well.  For those of you without an RV, don’t worry tent sites and cabins are also overnight options at these parks. 

Destin is a spring breaker’s option but the cooler winter days bring a shift from shirtless college students to snowbirds flying in from the north.  Henderson Beach State Park sits in the heart of Destin with lots of entertainment, restaurants and shopping at your doorstep.  Golfers will rejoice in their nearby options and brush off their putters.  Garnishing the title “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” is a sure sign that inshore and offshore fishing activities are plentiful.  Destin is also a big draw for families with its fun activities like the Adventure Zone, Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, parasailing, putt-putt golf,  and a buccaneer pirate ship that are all nearby.  Once you enter the park there is a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of Destin and the serenity of Henderson Beach State Park takes over.  There are over 60 campsites that can accommodate any size rig or tent.  Sites are hard packed gravel and have plenty of privacy between and provide 30/50 amp electric and water.  There is no sewer but a centrally-located dump station provides relief for full tanks.  A three-quarter mile pet-friendly trail winds through the dunes for a nice walk.  From our site (#44), it was a short five minute walk to the white sandy beach.  (Click here for a rv park review we did on the park.)

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About eleven miles past Henderson Beach State Park to the east is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park - home to towering dunes that line 3.2 miles of spectacular beachfront.  This park is home to the Gregory E. Moore RV Resort which used to be privately owned before the state acquired it in 1998.  Once you drive into the campground you get a different vibe.  You can tell this is no typical state park campground as you pass the swimming pool and shuffleboard courts and find your site perched beneath towering pines and among the manicured landscape.  The park has some 156 big rig-friendly campsites, 22 tent sites, and 32 cabins/bungalows.  Campsites are priced higher than what you would expect to pay at a state park but many people don’t seem to mind paying that as this is one of the most popular and loved Florida state park campgrounds.  The $42+tax/night includes a paved or graveled site, full hook-up, and cable.  Other amenities include a shuttle to the beach, outdoor amphitheater with free weekly concerts, and of course, swimming pool and shuffleboard courts.  If it is biking and hiking you like, this park offers some five miles of paved trails and 13 miles of unimproved hiking trails.  The camp store is where you will want to pop in to rent a bicycle, browse for a new t-shirt, or get advice on where to eat.  Campbell Lake, one of many scenic coastal dune lakes provides the perfect opportunity to rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board to explore the wetter side of Topsail.  (Click here to link to a previous post about the coastal dune lakes and here for a rv park review we did on the park.)

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If you continue east along Scenic HWY 30A another eleven miles you will encounter Grayton Beach State Park.  This happens to be one of our favorite Florida state parks.  The adjacent Western Lake makes for beautiful sunrises and picturesque scenery.  The park has 59 sites with about half in an older loop that offers 30 amp electric, water, a sandy pad, and more privacy (no sewer but there is a dump station) while the newer loop is hard packed gravel, and full hook-up (30/50 amp).  Depending on your preference and needs, you may enjoy one loop over the other.  The park provides miles of interesting hiking trails through a pine flatwoods forest or along Western Lake through the coastal dunes.  A short walk or bike ride from the campground leads you to the beach (or you can drive) where you will find miles and miles of sugar white sand and far less people than the other places.  The park sits between the funky beach towns of Grayton Beach and Seaside – both of which are a short bike ride away.  Each are worth exploring and you will find plenty of things to do whether it is shopping, listening to live music at the iconic Red Bar, or grabbing a bite to eat from the Airstream trailers parked in downtown Seaside.

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Moving farther to the west and situated at the end of a gorgeous peninsula in Panama City Beach is St. Andrews State Park.  There seems to be no end to the sugar white sands and emerald green waters in this park.  The park lies between the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon which makes this a water lovers paradise and endless opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and canoeing or just admiring it from a beach chair.  Two fishing piers, a jetty, and a boat ramp provide ample fishing opportunities for anglers.  Hikers and bird watchers can enjoy the two nature trails that wind through a rich diversity of coastal plant communities.  Those wanting to relax can sunbathe on the beach or enjoy a leisurely lunch under the shade of a picnic pavilion.  A concession offers snacks, souvenirs, and fishing amenities and an interpretive center displays the history, plants, and animals that call the park home.  Boat tours to the uninhabited Shell Island are available during the spring, summer and some of the fall.  The campground has 176 sites offering electric (30/50 amp) and water (no sewer but dump stations) with picnic tables and fire pits that invite you to spend time outdoors.  Numerous sites are directly on the St. Andrews Bay where you can jump in for a swim or just relax and watch the boats go by. 

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Reservations for all these parks is made through www.reserveamerica.com.  Reservations can be made 11 months in advance but beware that they fill up fast during spring break, summer, and holidays, especially the smaller campgrounds.  Prices vary from park to park.  A 14-day maximum stay is the rule for all the Florida State Parks. 
Whatever park you choose, you will still be graced by the beautiful emerald waters and sugar white sands that make this a beach lovers paradise.  Sunrises and sunsets are magical and perfect ways to start and end your days at these great state parks. 

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2 comments:

  1. Still looking for my perfect rv but I so appreciate this post about Florida state parks...the panhandle will be my first destination once my rolling home on wheels comes my way...thanks so much for sharing this valuable information...Rhonda

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  2. this article is right: you have to act quick (sometimes 11 months in advance) if you want the nicest camping spots through www.reserveamerica.com ... for THAT part, I can help.. I use the site a lot and developed skills!... contact me (via facebook, or email, or whatever!)... benlau@distromtl.com GOOD LUCK FELLOW CAMPERS!

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