I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is, the Florida State Parks are a fabulous place to spend the winter in an RV. The bad news is, every RVer on the planet knows it.

As our friend, Shannon, recently explained, getting a campground reservation in the Florida state park system during the winter requires a 34 step anxiety riddled process that begins at 4:00 a.m. exactly eleven months before your desired reservation date… but that’s because Shannon is really committed to staying in beautiful campsites in desirable locations for lengthy periods of time. I, on the other hand, am firmly committed to not ever having to wake up at 4:00 a.m. And it turns out, if your standards are “any Florida state park that has availability for my dates and which does not require me to wake up at 4:00 a.m. like Shannon does,” you might just get lucky.

In fact, this past winter, we stayed at ten Florida state parks, and I didn’t have to wake up at 4:00 a.m. for a single one of them (I still booked them 10 or 11 months out, but not at 4:00 a.m.). Now, the downside is none of the parks were in the Keys or right near West Palm Beach, none of our stays were 14 days long, and none of our sites were as idyllic as the ones Shannon gets, but, with the exception of one park we considered a dud, we truly enjoyed every one of our visits.

For the most part, we stuck to the interior of the state, and we stayed north of Tampa. The state parks in the interior are lush, vibrant, green, environments bursting with animals who are totally trying to kill you.

Warning sign about Alligators in the area But assuming you don’t get dragged to a watery grave by a prehistoric nightmare monster, you can look forward to long hikes through slash pine forests, peaceful kayak trips along crystalline rivers, and interesting visits to well maintained historic sites. And when you’re done with your adventures, you can relax in a large, private, quiet, campsite that usually looks something like this:

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But don’t relax too much because it’s still Florida…

Warning sign about bears in the area

Each of the state parks we visited was enjoyable in its own way, but in the interests of not boring everyone to tears, I’ll just hit a few highlights… (I’ll list all our parks at the bottom and link to reviews.)

Rainbow Springs State Park

This is a perfect place to kayak. The campground is located on the Rainbow River, just a mile or two from the head springs, so you can rent a kayak from the campground store, kayak to the springs, and then kayak back. The waters are crystal clear and, at times, feature all the colors of the Caribbean. As you paddle, you’ll see an enormous assortment of birds sunning themselves on protruding branches, turtles invading each other’s space on fallen logs, and no trace of alligators – who are definitely there, swimming around beneath you, waiting for you to screw up just *this* much…

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Once you get to the head springs, you can pull your kayak out of the water and wander around the rest of the park. (You can also swim at the springs, which release 400,000,000 gallons of 72 degree water each day, but the only thing between you and the alligators will be this ring of buoys:

Swimming area at Rainbow Springs State Park

…and if you actually read the sign that I posted above – a sign that is located just 30 yards from this swimming area – it specifically says: “Do not swim with alligators,” and since I’m reasonably sure they don’t teach “buoy awareness” at alligator school, I was having no part of that nonsense.)

The park is appealing not only because of the river’s natural beauty but because of its history. In the 1930’s, it was a privately owned theme park, and a number of the theme park’s man-made features, like waterfalls, still remain.

It’s a pretty place to wander, bring a picnic lunch, or take advantage of all the water-based activities (including tubing during the summer).

Silver Springs State Park

This park’s campground offers some of the biggest campsites we’ve seen (see photo in gallery above). Jump in the car and drive about 5 minutes down the road and you get to the rest of the park. This place feels like it belongs to a different time – because it does.

While visitors have been coming to the springs since the Civil War, the glass bottom boat tours that made the park famous began in the late 1800’s. The attractions surrounding the springs grew throughout the 20th century, with many of the park’s structures being built in the 1950’s.

The glass bottom boat tours are still the main draw. The regular 30 minute tour costs $12 and was a fun and different way to learn about this natural phenomenon. The tour guide told us about the park’s history, showed us several archaeological finds, pointed out various marine life, and even explained some relics that had been left behind from a James Bond movie that was filmed on site.

Once you finish with the boat tour, it’s worthwhile to wander through the rest of the park, which features meandering paths and large green spaces.

Paynes Prairie State Park

This is a peaceful, quiet park that is conveniently located just down the road from Gainesville, home to the University of Florida. It’s also home to whatever lives in algae covered swamps like this:

Swamp at Paynes Prairie State Park

The park’s proximity to the university means there are several interesting museums and cultural exhibits available as well as a thriving and active downtown. We headed into town several times and enjoyed our visits. It was a bit quieter than usual because the university was on break, but even then, there were still plenty of people around and it had a good university town feel.

Two “don’t miss” businesses: Swamp Head Brewery and Satchel’s Pizza

Winter Social Season

Speaking of pizza and breweries, another nice thing about spending the winter in Florida is you will not be alone.

We spent lots of time with friends, Eric and Laurel (Raven & Chickadee), first in St. Augustine and then at Paynes Prairie.

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Laurel is the one who told me about all these state parks and her blog is a treasure trove of information about Florida since she and Eric spend so much time in the state. So, if you’re looking for info on these parks, check out her site.

While at Anastastia with them, we all spent a fun afternoon/evening with Sue and Dave (Beluga’s Excellent Adventure) in St. Augustine. We also finally met Jeff and Debbie of We Are the Millers and Steve and Laura of The Wandering RVer. (Check out Laura’s online shop if you want a fun custom t-shirt or koozie featuring your own RV). As always, it was great to finally meet the folks we’ve communicated with online for all these years.

We also caught up with friends Shannon and Ken of ZamiaVentures (the same Shannon of magical campsites mentioned above,) and Sean and Julie of Chickerys Travels. We last saw all of these folks in Arizona last winter, so it was nice to catch up again. I didn’t take group pictures of either of these get togethers (Bad Blogger!!), though I did snap a picture of Sean playing with Thor…

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Unplanned Upgrades

We have a black tank rinsing system which runs water into our black (toilet) tank to clean it out. Just prior to our time in Florida, the rinsing mechanism stopped working (it just gets gunked up… Ewww). Anyway, Kevin couldn’t easily remove the old one cause Tiffin jammed it in behind the fresh water tank, so he started looking into other options. He soon learned that one method for clearing the crud is to use an air compressor to force compressed air into the system to clear it. Knowing that there is a black tank overflow valve on the roof of our RV, I asked what the likelihood of him creating a “poop volcano” was. Then, I decided I didn’t actually want to know and, as Kevin brought his compressor into the RV and got set up in our bathroom, I laid down in the fetal position, rocked back and forth, and became completely non-verbal.

For better or worse, the poop volcano method did not work.

The next option was to just ignore the original mechanism and start over with an entirely new one. This way, he wouldn’t have to go against Tiffin’s master plan to make life difficult. Sounded great. So Kevin ordered the parts, got all his supplies ready, and went to work doing what no human being wants to do – drilling a hole in an RV’s black tank.

Eeeeeek!!!!

A little while later came the moment of truth. While I watched the newly installed system for leaks, Kevin turned on the water.

Success! No leaks!

Me: “Great – I’ll be inside.”

5 minutes later:

Kevin: “Well, I have bad news and I have good news. The bad news is, the black tank flush still doesn’t work. The good news is, we now have a gray tank flush.”

That’s right, my – by all accounts – highly intelligent husband drilled a hole in the wrong tank.

And yes, to answer your question, he IS an engineer.

“Diagrams? Who needs diagrams? Drill baby, drill!!”

Sigh….

He made lemons into lemonade by drilling another hole in the actual black tank and then fashioning a fix that allows him to toggle between a gray tank rinse and a black tank rinse. He assures me lots of people like having a gray tank rinse and it will add value to the coach.

Our new combo black/gray tank rinsing system

Whatever. He’s ridiculous.

A New Sink

On one or two occasions, I may have mentioned (to anyone who would listen) my utter disdain for the divided sink our RV came with.

It was tough to find one with the right dimensions, but we finally found one that would work and Kevin switched it out. (Here’s a link for anyone with the same sink.)

I never knew a human being could want to hug a sink before, but I want to hug this thing every day of the week.

Seriously, if you’re considering whether or not to take on this project, do it!! It makes life so much easier. (And yes, the counter cover panels still fit.)

(Fun fact: the AirBnB we’re currently staying at in Austin has a divided sink. Seriously. WTH??)

The Xterra

Kevin also spent time replacing the headlight housings on the Xterra because they were completely yellowed from years of baking in the sun. While the new headlights looked fabulous, the process of replacing them was one of the reasons we later decided it was time to let the Xterra go.

The Xterra got her eyes done.

As he was working on removing one of old housings, a bolt broke off in his hand.ย The metal was so fatigued, it just snapped.

That’s not good.

That started discussions about the advisability of keeping our 18 year old truck. I’d kept records of all the repairs we’d done and, in the last 4 years, we’d spent as much on mechanics as we had in the prior 10 years. Turns out, there are no cheap repairs for an 18 year old car. Every bill was $500 or $600 or $1,000 – and those were for the things that Kevin couldn’t fix on his own. We started thinking about what we’d need to do to get it ready for Alaska and suddenly, the numbers really started adding up. And even if we did all those things, we had to wonder what else might break while we were up in the middle of nowhere. We just didn’t have confidence in it anymore.

We looked into a couple options for vehicles we could tow four down and the one we settled on was the 2014 Honda CR-V. We know several people who have them, we know they’re reliable, and we know they have good safety ratings, all of which are important to us. I found one that would work (CR-V’s were only flat towable until 2014) and, after wading through every cliche used car salesman tactic in the book, we walked away with our new (to us) car.

Nissan Xterra
Out with the old…
Honda CR-V
In with the new

We’ll miss the Xterra. It was a beast of a truck that never stranded us no matter how much we abused it. We never, ever worried about getting stuck in ice or sand or mud or anything else. Its high clearance allowed us to head out on unpaved roads and trails with confidence and we drove to all kinds of out of the way spots with zero concern.

I don’t expect we’ll be as free wheeling with the CR-V.

On the other hand, when I open the driver’s side door to exit the CR-V, it doesn’t come flying back full speed at my legs, the roof liner isn’t falling down on our heads, the dashboard warning lights don’t light up like the Manhattan skyline every three days, and we can actually drive more than 10 miles between gas fill ups. So, that’s nice.

Our new set-up

Coming Up…

Next up, we head to John F. Kennedy Space Center with my dad, we have an overly eventful drive across the panhandle, and we spend a fun but damp week on Pensacola Beach.

______________________________________________________________________

Where we stayed:

Here’s the list of the state parks we stayed at this winter and the number of nights we spent at each (in parentheses). I didn’t write individual reviews for most of them because it would take forever and, honestly, most of them would sound the same. Also, I’m lazy. For the ones I don’t have personal reviews for, I’m linking to Campendium.

Grayton Beach State Park, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida (12): My 2017 review

Suwannee River State Park, Live Oak, Florida (1): My 2017 review

Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, Florida (12): Campendium

Paynes Prairie State Park, Micanopy, Florida (13): Campendium

Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon, Florida (2): Campendium

Silver Springs State Park, Ocala, Florida (3): Campendium

Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka, Florida (10): Campendium

Hillsborough River State Park, Thonotosassa, Florida (5) (this was the only one we didn’t like – the sites were very haphazard, crunched together, and offered less privacy than the others.) Campendium

O’Leno State Park, High Springs, Florida (6): Campendium

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida (5): Campendium

32 COMMENTS

  1. We have stayed at several of those parks with Rainbow Springs probably being our favorite. Great upgrades and it is genius to combine the gray and black tank flushes, almost like he planned it all along!

  2. Those parks look really pretty, I love the turtle pictures! Congrats on the โ€œnewโ€ car. It was time…. glad you didnโ€™t really end up with a full fledged poop volcano, lol!

    • There were so many turtles! I should have taken more photos, but I was busy looking for alligators. ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, I, too, am quite glad there were no major poop related disasters.

  3. Hey, thanks for the shout out on your blog! But I can’t thank you for informing people that it’s possible to get reservations in Florida without the 34-step-begins-at-4-am process — now we’ll just have MORE people trying to get those precious spots. But seriously, I am so glad that you guys had the chance to explore and enjoy so many Florida parks. The state has a unique and beautiful environment that unfortunately gets overlooked by people who just think of Florida as the place to visit Disney World.

    Congratulations to Kevin on his upgrades to the rig. I can confirm that we are people who would welcome a grey tank flush. We have definitely found that our rig offers a wealth of “opportunities” to enhance our DIY skills. I can’t imagine how much it would cost to keep everything running if we paid for service every time something needed a repair or upgrade.

    • What we really need is some of these other southern states to up their state park game to compete with Florida. Texas has some good ones, but they don’t seem to prioritize state park spending (last I heard, they are STILL working on reopening a big chunk of Goose Island after damage from Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and when we were near Dallas that year, half our park was off limits because of storm damage from two years prior. If they would get their butts in gear and fix these places, snowbirds would have a lot more state park options.Not that anyone in Texas cares what I think….

      And yes, I am often thankful that Kevin is handy and we have access to the web and youtube. That has saved s a TON of money.

  4. Iโ€™m very glad to hear that Kevin didnโ€™t sacrifice you to the poop volcano, because thereโ€™s just not enough hand sanitizer in the world (at least right now ????)

  5. Certainly reservations are a must to camp at the popular parks during the popular times, but you’ve scored nicely without having to get up at 4 AM to make them. Too bad the black and gray tanks are the same color ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m sure Kevin will get it right next time.

    • I think you either need reservations way out, or you need to be willing to roll the dice on cancellations. I do think a lot of people double book or change their plans at the last minute, as we have seen lots of last minute site availability, but that creates another kind of stress….

      And yes, I don’t think Kevin will be making that mistake again. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I can vouch for Kevin, having a grey tank flush is needed, and if a nuclear engineer thinks it is a good idea then just accept his wise decision, I sure he secretly planed it that way. Congratulations on the new toad, it is a nice upgrade. Till the next time we meet up.

    • It makes perfect sense: a nuclear engineer and an electrical engineer get together and figure out how to best improve an RV’s plumbing system!! ๐Ÿ™‚ I do wonder how many of the higher end motorhomes have this installed as a standard feature. It does provide a nice benefit, really. Perhaps I should call Bob??

  7. Looks like you had a great time in Florida. Congrats on the new car! We decided to upgrade our vehicle recently too, and Iโ€™m sad about giving it up, but reviewing the repair history helped me get over that!

    • Yeah, it’s amazing how much clarity you can get when you actually run the numbers We knew we’d spent a lot recently, but looking at it all on paper was eye opening. And you’ve got the same issue we do with future Alaskan travels, so it makes sense for all of us to be a bit more proactive.

  8. Thank you for the links! We really enjoyed meeting you and Kevin. Looks like you scored some great sites! And without a 4am wake-up (Shannon must be truly dedicated)! We’ve been to Rainbow Springs and Silver Springs and loved them. I can’t believe you don’t think alligators can read. Maybe Kevin can patent the grey water flush system. Congrats on the new ride and sink!!

    • From what I hear, alligators have very tiny brains considering their size… but who knows? I guess anything is possible! Anyway, it was great meeting you guys, too! Hopefully we’ll cross paths again in the not too distant future!

  9. My sink is divided and much smaller than yours. Seriously, the right hand side is only about 4″ wide – what the hell can you do with a 4″ wide sink??? It’s totally useless. On my – the gray tank?? Too funny. But, I think we would welcome a gray tank flush as well. Hope you’re enjoying Austin.

    • I stand corrected, we do have a gray tank flush. ๐Ÿ˜‰ You can tell I never do that side of the chores. And, okay my sink may be 6″.

      • Either way – a 4 inch or 6 inch side is just pointless. I’ve seen those in regular houses where the small side has the disposal unit – so you use that side to get rid of the leftover food and then rinse on the big side. That kind of makes sense, but since none of us RVers have a disposal, I’m not sure I see the point. So weird. It’s times like this I am thoroughly convinced that the people who design RVs have never actually lived in one.

  10. This makes me feel SO much better looking at your photos and remembering that we had such a great time for our first few weeks in Florida…hanging out with you guys was a blast! Including having snuggle time with Thor. It has been downhill for us since then dealing with the parental vortex, LOL. Although our fine dining experiences have been limited since we’ve been in Eastpoint, I’ve been making liberal use of the F-bomb (OMG you are so hilarious, you are determined that one of these days I’m going to say FUCK on our blog, right? Baby steps…I’m saying it here…).

    So glad you enjoyed all of the Florida State Parks. Your photos really capture the beauty of the lush landscape and the springs. Those parks are some of our favorites…but we agree with you about Hillsborough…definitely not on our ‘return-to’ list. So funny, your story about Kevin’s repair on the gray/black tanks. That sounds exactly like something Eric would do.

    • I’m telling you – swearing is good, cheap therapy for whatever ails you. It just feels good to let it be known how you feel once in a while!!

      I do hope the vortex is coming to an end for you guys soon. I know it’s been a tough winter, but in a couple weeks, this will all hopefully be in the rear view mirror and you can move on with your lives…just in time for Spring! I’m glad we were able to hang out and have fun before all that started. It’s important to balance the tough stuff out with some good times.

      You were 100% right about Hillsborough. It’s really not THAT bad, but when compared to all the other Florida parks we stayed at, it’s just not as nice.

  11. Congrats on the new car! You’ll love it. I want to go to Florida in our rig. We’ve been there on vacation a couple of times and visited a couple of the parks you mentioned. Florida is so funky. Having lived in the west all my life, I find the flatness, all the water, the gators, the turtles, the springs, etc. all so fascinating. Your sink is fabulous! Those tiny RV size sinks are such a pain to work with. I hated mine, but instead of swapping out the sink, we just bought our new to us rig. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Haha! Yeah… “I don’t like this sink… Let’s buy a new RV!” That is why we don’t even “go look” at RV shows and dealers… nothing good can come from that. LOL. I am sure you are going to be appreciating many aspects of your new set up – all that room and storage space and dreamy cargo carrying capacity. Be still, my beating heart!!!

      You all should definitely head to Florida one winter. Just gotta plan it early, but it is a fabulous place to spend the colder months, and oh so different from the west.

  12. We have stayed at a few of those state parks. We also spent four days one January getting up a 4:00 a.m. using two lap tops and two iPads to try and get a reservation at Baja Honda SP for two weeks over Christmas … and we succeeded! We got a very nice spot right on the Atlantic ocean only to have to give it up in October when I had my cancer scare -:( I’m guessing someone got a nice last minute find, I sure hope they enjoyed it!

    I love your new CRV ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Oh man… that sucks! I didn’t even try to get into Bahia Honda because I know how impossible it is. It’s even tougher now because the other state park near there suffered hurricane damage and they closed it. So now there’s even more demand for fewer sites. Anyway, I am sure someone was very happy to take your site, but man… that is not cool for you. I’m glad things worked out. Hopefully you can get back there some day.

      So far, so good with the CRV. We like it so far, and we’re still finding fun new features to use!

  13. Love the new sink. I showed it to Mike and said that I would like one. He said that the one we have doesn’t leak and works fine. That doesn’t seem like an appropriate answer since my birthday is coming up. He reminded me that I just got a new showerhead.
    I like how your pictures change.

    • Hahaha! Sounds like SOMEONE is gonna be installing a new sink soon!! Trust me – if you complain about it often enough, he’ll eventually break down and do it. It took 3.5 years for me, but I bet you can get Mike to take care of it in much less time. Just need to engage in some sustained whining…. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Every time I read someone’s post on Florida State Parks, i think maybe we should have tried one. But…we never did and won’t be back. So we will just appreciate lovely photos like yours. Glad you had a great experience. Your sites were spectacular. I love the photos of Laurel and Eric with Thor…too cute. He was loving the attention, for sure. Wish we had been there to join you with Sue, Dave, Laurel, and Eric. John and I had a great laugh as you recalled Kevin with the black tank sprayer. Clever man you married there!!

    • I have to say, the Florida State Parks are some of the best we’ve been to, but they’re certainly a long way from where you are now and not worth the trek when there’s so much incredible scenery close by. At some point, I would love to have a big get together where we get all these RV bloggers together in one place. It’s tough with everyone on the move, but folks seem to be settling down a bit, so maybe it’s not too crazy to hope for?

  15. I’ve actually been on the glass-bottom boat in Silver Springs. My grandparents took us there when I was 10, which really isn’t all that long ago. HA. I’m jealous of the Thor snuggles R&C got. Oh, and of the time visiting with the two of you, of course ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I love my two-well sink. I use it all.the.time. but I’m not going to tell you what for. Ever. Not even for Thor snuggles.

    I think you’ll be surprised by where your CR-V can take you. You shoulda seen me in Death Valley in ours!

    • I mean, obviously, you being 10 was like 3 days ago, so… yeah…. Speaking of which, I just got an invite for my 25 year high school reunion. Not gonna lie….That stung. We’ll see about the CR-V. So far, we like it. I just appreciated the ability to be stupid reckless with the Xterra. Maybe I just need to convince myself that the CR-V is up for the challenge as well…

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