2020 provided enough drama to last a few lifetimes. Still uncomfortable with air travel and three-hour airport waits for international flights? Consider a jaunt into nature with friends, family, or a significant other to help restore inner balance. Rent an RV and roam the open roads to one of Florida’s 191 state parks for a nostalgic return to childhood camping trips. We’ve selected our top six getaways that are accessible in roughly the same amount of time as an early airport arrival. For reservations and availability, consult Florida State Parks or Reserve America. Go forth and venture, happy campers!
Lake Kissimmee State Park
See the 1991 film City Slickers before visiting this state park, an 1876 cow camp where cowboy heritage remains alive and kicking. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect is the living history reenactment each weekend, which transports visitors to a time when a “cow hunter’s” life was spent herding cattle between Florida’s cow camps and downtime was spent on hard ground beside a campfire. Payment in Spanish gold doubloons was a decent enough incentive, say the actor cowboys, but probably few of us city slickers would last a day. Boat, canoe, fish, stargaze, or hike more than 13 miles of verdant pathways–-keep your eyes peeled for white-tailed deer and bald eagles–-or venture out on horseback through well-groomed trails.
Blue Spring State Park
Hundreds of manatees call this large St. Johns River spring home, and although swimming with them isn’t permitted, it’s nearly impossible not to encounter one of these gentle sea cows: the cheeky fellas take great delight in swimming alongside humans and partaking in aquatic adventure. Snorkel through crystal-clear waters, float with an inner tube (rentals available) down Blue Spring boil’s natural lazy river, or launch a kayak for a zen-like wander through lush woodland areas surrounding the spring. Possibly as famous as the manatees are the cavern and cave diving opportunities—restricted to certified cave divers—and scuba diving, which is allowed only with a buddy. Visitors say the hidden and mysterious underwater holes lead to otherworldly places and swear it is one of the best places in Florida to scuba dive. Don’t miss a visit to the Thursby house, the well preserved nineteenth-century home of European settler Louis Thursby, who hoped to strike it rich with an orange grove and a steamship pier.
Curry Hammock State Park
The largest uninhabited piece of land between Key Largo and Big Pine Key engulfs visitors in the pristine beauty of wild, undeveloped mangrove swamps, rockland hammocks, and seagrass beds. Get wild on a Saturday night and join the local astronomy group for some memorable stargazing or strike out on your own and search for wildlife within the 1,000-acre sanctuary, which is a centuries-old migration route. Visitors can also kiteboard or paddleboard on the Atlantic, kayak through Curry Hammock’s picturesque waterways, hike through miles of nature trails, and fish for tarpon, snook, redfish, and mangrove snapper on the shoreline. A state fishing license is required but can be readily obtained online.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
A picturesque drive south toward Key West will yield what is arguably one of Florida’s most famous snorkel spots—John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. Adjacent to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the country’s first undersea park, it’s considered an underwater Grand Canyon, offering a rare glimpse into colorful coral formations. The outside world is left behind when exploring delicate ecosystems via glass-bottom boat, kayak, canoe, or scuba diving here. Thick mangroves provide shelter for inexperienced snorkelers, and these quiet respites sometimes yield close encounters with curious manatees, sea turtles, and dolphins. A short hike through the park exposes an ancient artesian well hidden within mangrove swamps, while walking trails through tropical hammocks lead to picnicking, bird-watching, and fishing spots. Thirty-nine RV sites are available, all dog-friendly with electric hookups and a long list of amenities, from barbecue grills to interpretive programs and handicap accessibility.
Everglades National Park Flamingo Campground
One of the country’s most famous national parks is at Florida’s southern end, where a million and a half acres of swamps, subtropical jungles, and sawgrass marshes beckon visitors to commune with nature. Fourteen endangered species reside here, meaning you’re immersed in untamed beauty. Yet the adventures are easily and comfortably navigable with plenty of modern conveniences. Choose relaxation or adventure with hiking and biking trails, kayak and canoe rentals, exotic wildlife and bird-watching perches, and world-class fishing. Several campgrounds abound, yet the Flamingo Campground is quickly rising to visitor “favorite” status for its seemingly infinite Florida Bay views, refreshing year-round breeze, and camping options. The newest—and only “glamping” alternative on the list—is Flamingo’s safari-style Eco Tents. Slightly elevated off the ground, these fully furnished tents have electricity plus a dresser, bookshelf, queen or two full-sized beds, sheets, removable bug-protection screen, and private outdoor patio seating area. Showers, a community grill, and a marina store are nearby for all the essentials. RV camping is just next door with 65 spots, many with electrical hookups. Don’t feel landlocked, though. Boat options are abundant with single and double kayaks and canoes for rent, as well as motorized skiffs and pontoons. For another adventurous overnight option, a limited number of Flamingo Adventures Houseboats are available–complete with A/C while docked. Outfitted with two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom, galley, gas oven/range, and fully stocked kitchen, these floating homes sleep up to four adults and two kids, the ideal family getaway or romantic retreat.
Koreshan State Park
With its charmingly restored buildings amidst resplendent Victorian gardens, Koreshan is named for a late-1800s pioneer who established his new religion, Koreshanity, on the banks of the Estero River. Step back in time into 11 homes and buildings preserved on the National Register of Historic Places. Every Sunday, a farmer’s market engulfs the historic settlement with fresh and locally produced goods, from vegetables and honey to soap and artisan breads. Embark on natural adventures throughout the 135-acre park, including hiking and bird-watching through a pine flatwoods habitat and along bamboo trails. Kayak and canoe rentals are available to paddle through Estero River’s brackish tidal waterway out to Estero Bay. Beyond the abundant redfish, snook and mullet in its waters, the area is famed for freshwater bass fishing during hot summer months and saltwater fishing nearby. Return to childhood hide-and-seek with the park’s self-guided “Geo-seeking” adventure to unearth hidden trinkets, treasures, and information hidden by Geocachers. A special website provides clues.
This national chain has several local South Florida locations from which to rent three types of RVs that range in size to accommodate three to seven people. Even the smallest motorhome has all the comforts of home, from toilet and shower to refrigerator, air conditioning, cooktop, and microwave. With optional kitchen and bath/sleep rental kits available, little is needed to hit the road.
If the rockstar tour bus always held secret appeal, then the Class A motorhome fulfills a fantasy. Sleeping from two to six people, it has a proper bedroom, fold-out living room couches, two slide-outs for additional space, A/C, a kitchen, a shower (often a tub, too), closets, and even an entertainment center. It’s just not big on fuel economy.