On March 20th we were camping at Falling Waters State Park in Florida and experiencing some of the best weather we had had all year. It had been a wet and somewhat cool winter in Southern California. Wet enough to end the drought there. We were booked for four nights at Falling Waters and then we were scheduled to start up the east coast. The weather on the coast was not looking anything like spring and we were not ready to leave this nice warm weather. We considered staying at Falling Waters a few more days. Our camping neighbors were scheduled to leave the same day as us and they were in a non-reservable site. We thought about grabbing that site for a few days when they left. Then we wondered if we should call Thousand Trails to see if we could get in to their resort in Orlando on a 2 day notice. It would add about 250 miles to our trip but there would be no other additional costs for camping. We laughed at the thought, figuring there would be no vacancies, but we decided to try anyways. I called and the lady asked if wanted 2 or 3 weeks. We opted for 2-weeks and just like that, we were making an unplanned trip to Orlando.
I am really glad that we decided to make this last minute detour to Orlando. Our plan for next year was to take a year off from traveling west and spend the winter in Florida. This will allow us to leave a little later in the fall and to save some money on fuel. We were both pleased with the Orlando Thousand Trails. It is a huge park and we were fortunate to get a great site in the “I” section. This area is a little more remote than some of the other sections, which is exactly what we were looking for. The sites in this area are spacious and very level. Our plan for next winter had been to rotate between Thousand Trails Orlando and Peace River. We decided to take a day while we were here in Florida to check out Peace River. This park is more remote than the Orlando resort and about 1/2 of the sites do not have sewer hook ups. The same is true of Pio Pico and we are fine with getting on a waiting list to get a full hook up site. The thing I did not like about this park is that many of the sites without sewer are not very level and many areas are prone to flooding. We decided to adjust our plans for next winter after this visit. We still plan on visiting Peace River, but we will only visit once. We feel we should “give this park a chance” and see how we feel about it after a stay here. We decided that next year we will spend our week out of Orlando Thousand Trails in one of the surrounding state parks. We loved the relaxed feel of the state parks we stayed in on our way east this year. I decided to go online and check out availability and quickly realized that if you want to stay in a state park in Florida on the water, you better book it at midnight on the day it becomes available, 11 months out. We were quickly learning that planning our winter in Florida was going to be a bit more challenging than what we had experienced with traveling west. We decided to spend the next couple of weeks checking out the state parks within 1-2 hours of the Orlando Park.
The first visit was to Lake Louisa State Park just 6 miles down the road. This state park has a great campground. It was a challenge but we were able to book a site here for February 2018, the last site available for the week! There are hiking trails and a lake to kayak in. This is the kind of place that you can just relax in nature for one week.
The next visit was to Lake Griffin State Park. We wanted to check out the campground and to see the 2nd largest live oak in Florida. We loved site #19 in this campground. It will be easy to back into and very easy to get to the dump station if we need to dump 1/2 way through the week.
The park has a very tropical feel with dense vegetation and we enjoyed walking through the trails that weave through the park. We spent some time walking around the park and were super impressed by the massive live oak trees.
On the recommendation of someone we met at the campground we decided to visit Blue Springs State Park. This park is the “winter home” to a large number of manatees. They migrate up here in the winter for the warmer waters of the spring. They had already left for the season but people were enjoying the spring and the river by floating on inner tubes and snorkeling in the clear water. We plan on two visits here next year. The first will be in the winter to see the manatees, and the 2nd time will be to camp. There is a very nice campground here with many sites that will accommodate a Class A RV. The sites have 50 amp power and water. We are hoping to camp here in March and take advantage of snorkeling and floating in the river.
The next blog will be about how two hikers with a dog plan on staying busy for a full winter in Florida.