Florida Panhandle State and National Parks

Florida Rambler’s excellent blog post about beach camping in the Florida Panhandle http://www.floridarambler.com/florida-camping/beach-camping-in-florida-panhandle/ made me want to see some of the campgrounds there. That really was the start of planning our route to Yellowstone this summer.

Here are some notes about each place we stayed.

Saint George Island State Park

-Beautiful beach with white sand and green-blue water. Softest sand-like baby powder.

-Small sandy RV spots, but there are a few bigger sites with concrete pads. Must book 11 months out. Trees block neighbors a bit. Some sites are hard to back into with fences in front of them.

-Nice bathhouses, but only two showers for woman and two for men in each bathhouse.

-Nature trail to bay and beach.

-Very buggy with no see ums and little black flies. The beach breeze keeps them mostly off the beach.

-The beach is empty. Very quiet campers!

-Ranger programs. We attended a campfire talk. Great!

-Beach path is out by the road where you turn in. About a 10-15 minute walk.

-Sun rises on beach, but sets on bay side.

-Shells are plentiful. Many sea birds.

-Town is small. Lighthouse is pretty. Paddy’s Raw Bar has great oysters from the Apalachicola Bay. Apalachicola is a close town that looked cute.

-No WiFi.

Saint Joseph’s Peninsula State Park

-About an hour and a half drive from Saint George Island.

-Small sites, but plenty of trees in between your neighbors. A few concrete pad sites. Book 11 months out.

-Very buggy. Bring bug spray or cream.

-About four showers for women and four for men in bathhouse. Bathrooms separated.

-Very short walk to the beach on a boardwalk.

-Beach was much more crowded and many more waves than St George when we were there.

-Best sunsets of the three parks.

-Lots of teens in this campground. Looked like church youth groups.

-Quiet Campground.

-So many jellyfish on the beach. Maybe due to the rough waters while we were there.

-Camp store close by marina.

-WiFi at marina and screened in pavilion. Slow.

-No diesel gas close by. No stores close by.

Fort Pickens Campground at Gulf Shores National Seashore (Santa Rosa Island)

-Best beach! Very white sand and emerald green water.

-Empty beaches. Many Ospreys and other sea birds. Great for birdwatching.

-Close walk for some campsites to the beach path. Longer for others. Long boardwalk to beach.

-Close to Pensacola and stores and restaurants.

-Campsites were wide open with little shade or privacy. Sites along the tree lines were the best.

-Very crowded campground with many families and tent campers. Kids riding bikes and skateboards everywhere.

-Small concrete pads and you must have your vehicle on the cement pad as well, or park in overflow parking.

-Bathhouse crowded. A few showers closed off so it only left three for a huge campground. Unisex showers. Separate bathrooms.

-Fort Pickens is a great day trip. 10 minutes up the road. Nice bookstore and ranger tours. Jr. Ranger program.

We really loved spending time at these beautiful beaches and walked them morning and night. Look at our Instagram page for many more pictures!

Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake

Craig and I said farewell to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground at the beginning of January and headed to Bill Frederick Park near Universal Studios. It is a City of Orlando park and has only 36 RV spots. They also have cabins and tent sites.

Our site has partial hook ups, so electric and water, but no sewer. We have been using the bathhouse bathrooms and showers. They are old, but clean. We did purchase a 42 gallon “blue boy” portable tank so we can empty the gray tank at the dump station. That way we can wash the dishes and take showers in the RV again. Craig does not really want to use it for the black tank.

The park is nice and quiet compared to Fort Wilderness. It is mostly snowbirds. There are a couple of fishing piers, grilling and picnic areas, a large pool open seasonally, a children’s farm and three disc golf courses. Disc or frisbee golf is played like regular golf with small frisbees or discs. We got a set at Outdoor World, but they also sell and rent them at the front of the park.

We are happy with the choice of this park, and really recommend it if you are staying in the Orlando area with an RV or tents. The sites are small and some are not level, but most people seem to fit their rigs in fine. The price is also great compared to other parks in the Florida area in the winter. Like the Florida state parks, book way ahead!

RV Holiday Decorating

Note: Be sure to visit the other links below for more of the “Christmas in the Camper 2017” series. We are one of 15 RV bloggers participating!

You may think RVers would not decorate much for the holidays. Before we moved into our travel trailer full time, we downsized a lot. We did keep a few small bins of decorations (mostly unbreakable ones.) If you visit or camp at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground, you will see how some campers actually do go crazy decorating their sites! We have been here since September, and Halloween and Christmas are the two big holidays to decorate.

One site even built a walk through Haunted Mansion for Halloween!

These were our Halloween wreath and decorations.

Craig and I put a few things up for Thanksgiving and then decorate for Christmas the weekend after. We made this grapevine wreath for the door with some small decorations.

Here is our little Thanksgiving set up. Chip and Dale by the campfire are new.

We got the natural wood tree from Target this year. I love how it can fold pretty flat! Most of the decorations we kept have a camping or woodsy theme. Craig made new green plaid pillowcases for our couch pillows.

I guess when you have the Disney parks and resorts for inspiration surrounding you, it makes you want to go all out!

Here are some more amazing Fort Wilderness campsite decorations from the past few days.


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Goodbye

Today Craig’s coworkers threw a really nice party to say goodbye. He has a few days left of work and then we get down to packing the last of our stuff and the truck! People are coming Labor Day weekend to pick up the couch, TV and table. Then it will really be empty in here!

We loved all the cute decorations and food. The highlight was the camper cake our friend made.


We Bought an RV!

Our RV shopping trip to Florida was a success! We went to look at several RV parks and a few RV dealers. We also went back and forth by email with some other dealers to make sure we were getting the best price we could. In the end we decided to order a new 2018 Grand Design Reflection 297RSTS from the factory. It will be ready for us to pick up in September. Grand Design seems to have a good reputation in the RV world.

The first RV dealer we looked at was Lazydays in Tampa, Florida. This is a large dealer with an RV resort, big store, restaurants and even training classes. I had heard they did not deal much, but we knew they had a lot of stock to look at and we were interested in seeing everything they offered. We wound up buying our Reflection from Lazydays. They offered us a nice percentage off of MSRP, we liked our sales person and we loved the ability to stay overnight (or several nights) and test everything out. They will give us a full walk through of our travel trailer and even have classes we can attend since we are new to all of this. They are also a close drive to Orlando where we will be for several months in case we need any warranty work done.           

Lazydays is so large we were driven around in a golf cart. Our sales person dropped us off near all of the Grand Design Reflection and Imagine travel trailers. He asked if we wanted him to look with us or come back. Since we wanted to take our time in the trailers and not rush, we looked for a while without him hanging over us. He had other customers waiting around too so this worked out well for all of us. Many of the trailers were hooked up to electric and the AC’s were running. This helped us to get an idea of how cool they stay in 95 degree Florida heat!

The floor plan we chose was one we had been eyeing online for a while. It is just shy of 34 feet and has a nice layout for full time living. There is a small fridge and grill outside as well as a television. Not sure how much we will use that, but it is a nice option. The loveseat folds out to a bed and the recliners are heated and face the TV and a small fireplace.  

We decided to go with a free standing table and chairs even though we thought we would like the dinette better. The dinette was not comfortable and Craig was really cramped at 6’4. We also opted for a second AC since we will be staying in some hot areas (like Florida in September and October.) There is a lot of cabinet space, so hopefully we can fit the small amount of items we are taking with us. It looks like a small cat litter box can fit in the bathroom and a crate can fit near the center kitchen island. Their water and food also can fit in the kitchen area. There is a combo washer/dryer hookup in the bedroom, but we will see if it is worth loosing some closet space after we move in.

We also looked at Orlando RV in Winter Park, Florida. They were very nice to us, but did not have any Grand Design Travel Trailers there. We got to look at several floor plans that were really nice, but the RV companies (Forest River, Jayco, etc.) do not have great reputations from my research. I feel like we have been researching for years, so it is so exciting to finally have a decision made! Now for the truck shopping… And job applying…

When we got home our new campsite sign that we custom ordered was waiting. We love it and can not wait to get on the road! 3 more months!

 

 

       

It’s Official

Yesterday we gave our landlords notice so it looks like our start date is official! We are going to be heading to Florida on September 10th or 11th.  The departure date depends on how fast we pack the truck. I think a Monday will be the better travel day, so it will probably be the 11th.

We are going to Acadia National Park with friends for Labor Day weekend and held Blackwoods Campground again. We are staying 5 nights, so that gives us 4 full days to pack all of the things we are taking when we get back. Right now, that is not much. We plan on having about 10 boxes, a few bags of clothing, tools, camp gear and a few odds and ends. A lot of things we need for the RV we will get while we are stationary in Florida.  We need a few things like a surge protector, a water pressure monitor, a few Corelle dishes and a generator.

Next week we are looking at several RV dealers in Florida. I am excited to see the floor plans and RVs we like in person. We will look at more up north as the weather gets nicer too. Some of the local dealers are having open houses with give-a-ways. I want to win a national park annual pass one of them is giving away!

We continue to get rid of furniture and clothing. Last week we sold our bureau, desk, big chair, shelving and coffee table. We are down to the bed, couch and dining table. I did get a few collapsible pet bowls for the cats. I figured they would be good on the trip down to Florida. They have been really calm with all of the packing and furniture moving. I think they know they are going on an adventure soon. This place has been way too boring for all of us.

   

We also cleared out some more things from Craig’s parents storage area. They are holding a few boxes with pictures and scrapbooks for us. I am bringing some framed prints to friends in NJ and FL-hopefully they all fit. We did have a free coupon to make a softcover scrapbook/memory book online so we used it for a small one we can bring with us. We might get a small digital photo frame too. We can always show people pictures on the TV or our phones. It is so nice to not have a ton of huge photo albums sitting around. I love pictures, but we only looked at the hard copies once in a while.

       

I will post pictures of the RVs we like after we get back from Florida. 

 

Dry Tortugas National Park

The Dry Tortugas are seven islands located nearly 70 miles west of Key West. You can take the official concesionare ferry (the Yankee Freedom), a seaplane or your own boat to get there. Most visitors plan a day trip by ferry. The ferry costs about $175 per person, but check during the year for coupons. They sometimes give $25-$50 off. You should know, the Yankee Freedom ferry is very fast and several people were seasick on our trip. We took Bonine just in case and were fine. We stood out in the front of the ferry for most of the trip back and forth. I saw a huge sea turtle! You can also camp for $8 per night. The Yankee Freedom ferry will carry your gear for you. The campsites were pretty nice and some were shaded by trees. They were steps from a beautiful beach.

The Island you will visit on your day trip is Garden Key. Most of the island is taken up by Fort Jefferson. This fort was built from 1846-1875. It was built to protect an important shipping channel. In 1825 a lighthouse was built to warn vessels about the dangerous reefs. There are many shipwrecks all around the islands. The fort was also used as a prison during the Civil War. Audobon loved the islands for bird watching and Hemingway for sport fishing.

There were two tours offered of the fort. A 30 minute one and one that took an hour and 1/2. Craig and I just did a self guided tour. There are apps you can download for this. We toured the fort for about half an hour-45 minutes, got our national park stamps in the visitor center and then went snorkeling with our new masks! We rinsed off, changed and had lunch on the ferry. Then we went back out to take more pictures. I also got a new t-shirt in the gift shop. It takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Garden Key by ferry. We left at 8am from Key West and got back about 5pm. We did not feel rushed, but would love to spend more time on the islands camping for our next trip.

It was a great visit and our 18th national park! Craig and I were celebrating our 20th anniversary and we had a wonderful time in the Florida Keys and the three Florida national parks. More posts about our Florida road trip soon!

The Precipice Trail-Acadia National Park


We had a great long weekend in Acadia National Park. One of the highlights was The Precipice Trail to the top of Champlain Mountain. The Precipice is an iron rung and ladder route up the steep cliffs along the east face.


Last year, we were not able to hike the Precipice  because the parking lot was packed. We did the Beehive instead. The Precipice is twice as long as the Beehive and harder. This year we took the park shuttle from Blackwoods Campground where we were staying with friends. It worked out great.


There is an 850 foot elevation gain up the trail and it takes about 1 and 1/2 hours if you go at a safe pace. Wear good hiking shoes and bring water. This hike/climb would be hard to do if you are afraid of heights! There are several exposed areas and narrow ledges. Sometimes you will have to wait on a ledge for others to climb. 

There are a few different trails you can take back down the other sides of Champlain Mountain.

I thought the Precipice Trail was amazing and challenging. I am glad we hiked when it was a cool 70 degree day out. It was definitely more like climbing than hiking. Have fun and be safe if you do The Precipice. Remember the trail is usually closed from March-August for Peregrine Falcon nesting.

Two New Books

I am reading two new books that I thought you all might enjoy. Here is the description for The Hour of Land:

“America’s national parks are breathing spaces in a world in which such spaces are steadily disappearing, which is why more than 300 million people visit the parks each year. Now Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge and the beloved memoir When Women Were Birds, returns with The Hour of Land, a literary celebration of our national parks, an exploration of what they mean to us and what we mean to them.

From the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to Acadia in Maine to Big Bend in Texas and more, Williams creates a series of lyrical portraits that illuminate the unique grandeur of each place while delving into what it means to shape a landscape with its own evolutionary history into something of our own making. Part memoir, part natural history, and part social critique, The Hour of Land is a meditation and a manifesto on why wild lands matter to the soul of America.”

Under the Stars is both funny and interesting so far. It is a history of camping. Here is the book description:

“The definitive book on camping in America. . . . A passionate, witty, and deeply engaging examination of why humans venture into the wild.”―Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild

From the Sierras to the Adirondacks and the Everglades, Dan White travels the nation to experience firsthand―and sometimes face first―how the American wilderness transformed from the devil’s playground into a source of adventure, relaxation, and renewal.

Whether he’s camping nude in cougar country, being attacked by wildlife while “glamping,” or crashing a girls-only adventure for urban teens, Dan White seeks to animate the evolution of outdoor recreation. In the process, he demonstrates how the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, Roosevelt, and Muir―along with visionaries such as Adirondack Murray, Horace Kephart, and Juliette Gordon Low―helped blaze a trail from Transcendentalism to Leave No Trace.

Wide-ranging in research, enthusiasm, and geography, Under the Stars reveals a vast population of nature seekers, a country still in love with its wild places.”

Check them out of the library like I did or look for them at the book store or on Amazon!

Full Time RV Route Planning

RVMapRoute2017/2018

After we decided on a date of 2018 for full time RVing, I have been planning a route. I think I have a good plan for our first year! I have been using Road Trippers again since it is pretty easy to map out a route online. Then the info shows up in the app on my phone. It is a rough draft right now since campsites are still too far out to book in a lot of the areas. I have to fill in stops in between major stops as well. I would like to keep our driving time to 3-4 hours or less on travel days. We also have to firm up where we would like to work. Interviews for the summer season (April-October) in the National Parks usually happen in November and December of the previous year. We hope to work in Yellowstone or Grand Teton for our first summer season since they have a lot of options for Workampers.

Our plan is to head down to Florida in the fall of 2017. Hopefully the beginning of October. We will just have the truck at that point. We want to stop at Shenandoah, The Blue Ridge Parkway, The Smoky Mountains and Congaree National Parks on the way down. We would also like to see Charleston and Savannah since we have never been. Our cats Lotus and Bamboo have been on a road trip before from Florida to Massachusetts, and luckily several of the hotels are pet friendly.

We will stay the winter in Central Florida. My parents are there and Craig and I lived there for nearly six years. We hope to do some seasonal work at the parks and shop for an RV. 5-6 months should be plenty of time to find one we like (fingers crossed.) Towards the end of March/beginning of April we will head to Wyoming by way of Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado. We hope to see several of the National  Parks in those areas on the way. I would like to get to Wyoming towards the end of April, so we will tell them that in our interviews or add that info to our resumes. 

After working the summer in Yellowstone or Grand Teton (hopefully), we would like to head down to Utah or Arizona again.  Zion and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon are open year round. If we can, we would like to work a few months at one of these parks. Then we could head to San Diego for a month and up the coast to Yosemite! I am hoping we can work the summer season of 2019 (April-September) in Yosemite National Park. If they would let us leave mid September after Labor Day, we could see Lake Tahoe, Lassen, Redwoods and Crater Lake.  After that we will have to decide! 

Again, we are pretty flexible since we will have to see what job offers we get and what is posted next year. Craig and I have both worked in retail, merchandising, front desk and concierge at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, waited on tables, bartended, etc. in the past. We have worked in travel, banking, library/archiving, IT, web design, marketing, PR and owned several companies. Both of us are good with computers. We used to own a pet sitting company so we can help out on farms. In the next year and 1/2 we plan on taking several AMC classes on trail work and building, wilderness first aid and  map and compass info. We already volunteer for several local outdoor organizations helping with walks, trails, hiking, etc. I think we have well rounded backgrounds for Workamping!

Wheelingits blog posts on Planning RV Travels are a big help. I have bookmarked and Pinned so much info it will take me a year to get through it all! A trip to AAA is in order so we can pick up some paper maps. I will also buy Benchmark Maps so we have paper maps on hand. 

Stay tuned for more planning!