I am all about creating adventures and memories for my family. That’s why we’re working our way through all 177 Florida State Parks. I started this adventure during the pandemic (quarantine boredom), and it’s turned into an exciting project for us!
For Spring Break this year I decided to take a family road trip from Orlando up to the Florida panhandle and across the northern center of the state. It wasn’t exactly a relaxing, carefree, easy spring break, but we had a lot of fun and made some great memories.
Here are the parks we visited (and links to them all in case you want to visit them this summer):
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Eden Gardens State Park, Grayton Beach State Park, Rocky Bayou State Park, Henderson Beach State Park, Camp Helen State Park, St. Andrews State Park, Three Rivers State Park, Torreya State Park, Suwannee River State Park, Lake Talquin State Park, Letchworth-Love Mounds, Troy Springs State Park, Madison Blue Spring State Park, Lafayette Blue Springs State Park, St. Marks River State Park, Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park
…but that seems like A LOT
The headline is a bit deceiving. Yes, we did visit 17 state parks in 7 days, but some of these parks are very small and not worthy of more than a short walk and a photo op.
Take Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park for instance.
This park on the outskirts of Tallahassee has a couple of monuments and, I think, two picnic tables. We got out, read the monument, and moved on.
Some of the beach parks feel a bit repetitive. Each coastal park could be an entire day’s destination on its own if we pulled out the boogie boards and popped open the beach tent, but instead we opted to take a stroll on the beach in Saint Andrews State Park with a promise to come back and do a boat tour another time.
Meanwhile, other destinations, like Torreya State Park, got our full attention and we spent an entire day hiking and exploring.
…on a budget
I like road trips because they aren’t expensive. We already have the Florida State Park Annual Pass ($120), and then campsite hopped by choosing three state parks as our “home base” for various areas. Most state park campgrounds are around $16/night + reservation fees. My kids are comfortable camping, and my husband and I are both very experienced, so this is a no-fuss decision for us.
… The itinerary
I admit. I go a little crazy with planning. For this trip I used the Trello App to organize the state parks on our route. I included information on each of them inside the app so that I could easily pull up details on the fly. I made notes about what we’d like to do there: hiking, swimming, guided tours, etc. so that I could easily calculate what we’d have time for each day. My husband then pulls up my proposed itinerary in Google maps and maps us an actual route so that we don’t get lost or waste time driving when we could be sightseeing!
First, let me say that every single park – even the tiny ones – can be an adventure. In a way, they are all my favorite. But of course, we made more memories at some than others.
The Beaches near Destin: Topsail Hill Preserve, Grayton Beach, Henderson Beach
I don’t know how I’ve lived in Florida my whole life and haven’t spent more time in the panhandle. The emerald-colored waters that span from Destin to Panama City are simply beautiful. And the water is so clear! That definitely isn’t something we see further down the coast. Although, the water isn’t as impressive when it’s cold, cloudy, and windy – which is exactly what we experienced during Spring Break this year.
The sprawling sand dunes in the panhandle state parks give you a hint at what it must’ve been for Florida’s early tourists – the ones who didn’t hear live music blasting from multiple beachside bars simultaneously or see almost skyscraper like resorts and condos filling the space between the boardwalks. The Destin-area state parks give you all the glorious senses of Old Florida.
This one surprised me! I didn’t have any expectations going into this park. Eden Gardens features a historic home and curated gardens that include a beautiful oak and magnolia lined walkway shaded by draping leafy branches and moss. We spent about two hours exploring the grounds, which is a perfect amount of time for this park.
Suwannee River State Park
The Suwannee River area has some wonderful campgrounds, the State Park being one of them. It was a great home base for exploring the river and nearby springs. We enjoyed the many hiking trails and visiting a Florida “ghost town” via a short trail across from the river.
Madison Blue Springs
We saw a lot of rain during our spring break adventure. By the time we were ready to leave, the river levels had risen enough to “brown out” many of the Suwannee River and Santa Fe River springs. I imagine all of the area springs are beautiful under the right conditions, but for this trip, Madison Blue became our favorite because it was the only one that held its brilliant turquoise hue. The kids had fun in the shallow parts of the water, but they especially enjoyed it when Daddy took them to the deep part to see the turtles swimming around the springhead.
… where we camped
I mentioned that we campground hopped. We stayed in three state park campgrounds as home base for this trip. Topsail Hill Preserve, Torreya State Park, and Suwannee River State Park. As is the case with many Florida State Park campgrounds, the sites and facilities were all clean, well maintained, and felt safe for families. Note that the tent sites at Topsail Hill Preserve are walk-in, meaning you must park your car in a nearby parking lot and carry everything a hundred yards or so to the campsite. It isn’t terrible, but it might not work for everyone. Also note, some of the sites at Torreya State Park are tiny and they all lack privacy thanks to a hurricane that blew through a few years ago.
…would I do it again?
Absolutely. In a heartbeat. Sure, there were tears, plenty of discomfort from the cold and rain, and a few mishaps with packing and planning, but overall, I absolutely adore these kinds of adventures with my family. The kids seem to love it too. So, I’m going to soak up every minute of it because I know these moments are fleeting.