RVing Across the Florida Panhandle
The Suwanee River Divides the Florida Panhandle from the Peninsula of Florida
RVing the Forgotten Coast on the Florida Panhandle
One winter, while RVing in Florida, we decided to explore the Forgotten Coast of Florida, the Gulf Coast of the Florida Panhandle. Hoping to escape the bustling traffic and crowded campgrounds we had encountered on the Atlantic coast of Florida, we changed direction and headed to the Florida Panhandle. There we found some delightful campgrounds, beautiful scenery, out-of-the-way places and quaint towns that are often overlooked by winter tourists.
One of the first places we visited along the Gulf Coast was Cedar Key located on a cluster of islands just off the west coast of Florida. It is sometimes compared to Key West. Although it's much smaller and even more remote, when you finally reach Cedar Key, you'll find a tiny town with casual restaurants and a seaside vacation feel. Even the pelicans are laid back as they hang around the docks waiting for fish to fall into their beaks!
The quaint little village, once a prosperous a fishing village, is now home to several casual restaurants and shops. After a seafood lunch at one of the Gulf view restaurants, we headed out to the Wildlife preserve and came upon Shell Mound, a remote little campground run by the county. Unfortunately, we had already parked our RV at another campground, so could not spend the night here, but it definitely went on our list for future reference.
Pelicans are permanent residents of Cedar Key
The town of Cedar Key
Old Folks at Home
Suwanee River - Way down upon it...
The Suwanee River begins in Georgia's Okefenokee Swamp. For 246 miles, it makes its lazy way through Gerogia and into Florida until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico near the town of Suwanee, Florida. The river actually separates the Florida Panhandle from the peninsula of Florida, so it is a fitting place to begin this article.
Nearby are the Cedar Keys where visitors can visit the Suwanee River Wildlife Refuge, and sample the flavor of the Florida delta and Gulf Coast. There are dirt roads to explore, and those with a boat can meander through the water ways of the delta. While we did some exploring by of Cedar Keys by car and by foot, we camped at the Suwanee River Campground within walking distance of the river. After seeing the pretty little county park at Shell Mound, we would definitely make that one of our stops, too.
For northerners like me, the spelling "Suwanee" may seem wrong as we might know the river from Stephen Foster's song Old Folks At Home that contains the line, "Way down upon the Swanee River..." Well, old Stephen not only misspelled the name of the river, but he never actually saw the river that he made famous! Nevertheless, Florida fell in love with the song and made it the Florida state song in 1935! And who doesn't love that nostalgic old melody?
Walkway to Suwanee River from the Suwanee River Campground
Way Down Upon the Suwanee River on the Florida Panhandle
Walkway to the Suwanee River
Apalachicola - A quaint maritime town on The Forgotten Coast
The small town of Apalachicola, about 90 miles southwest of Tallahassee, is one of the gems of the Florida Panhandle's Forgotten Coast. Apalachicola is a small, quaint, historic town with a maritime culture. We enjoyed walking around the marina to see the many small fishing boats and strolling through the town visiting gift shops and restaurants. There are some beautifully restored homes and hotels in Apalachicola that make the town worth seeing by driving or walking tour.
Fishing boats in Apalachicola Florida
St. George Island State Park on the bay side
St. George Island State Park
Located at the end of the road on St. George Island, the state park encompasses 2,023 acres between the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. There are two campgrounds and many miles of white sand beaches as well as wooded areas which are host to an abundance of birds and wildlife. The beaches are usually almost deserted in the winter months because the water is generally too cool for swimming, but the state park is still very popular with RVers who are there to enjoy the mild weather and beautiful scenery. Be sure to make reservations if you intend to camp here!
St. George Island State Park has miles of white sand beaches.
Great Blue Heron with a fish at St. George Island State Park
Crooked River Lighthouse
We came across the Crooked River Lighthouse in Carrabelle, Florida as we made our way along the Gulf Coast of Florida's Panhandle. The lighthouse stands 100 feet tall, and has been restored to working order. Although it is open to the public, we did not climb the lighthouse, but chose to view it from the grounds below. Even though the structure is much different from the lighthouses along the Atlantic coast that we had visited, the lighthouse was a striking sight against the blue sky and framed by the green pines.
Crooked River Lighthouse
Crooked River Lighthouse Photograph
Sea Gulls flying over our heads try to steal our lunch
Apalachicola National Forest
The Apalachicola National forest in the Florida Panhandle is the largest forest in Florida at 571,088 acres. With many fresh water streams, rivers and lakes, it’s well known for its biological diversity and recreation opportunities.
Although it is definitely off the beaten path, one of the quietest and prettiest places we found to camp was Wright Lake Campground in the Apalachicola National Forest. There is a small lake with a swimming beach, pretty walking trails through the forest around the lake, and a quiet campground. The long leaf pine forest is home to a dwindling population of the red cockaded woodpecker which depends on the long leaf pine as its habitat.
Wright Lake Campground, Apalachicola National Forest is near Sumatra, Florida. The campground is very reasonably priced, and we loved the spacious campsites and the proximity to the lake.
Wright Lake in the Apalachicola National Forest
Apalachicola National Forest campsite at Wright Lake
Sunset in Panama City Florida
One of the most peaceful and beautiful times to walk on the beaches of Florida's Gulf coast is at sunset. The sun setting in the Gulf of Mexico reflects oranges and reds in the calm water, and even tints the white sand with its warm colors. When the fishing pier is silhouetted by the setting sun, the picture is irresistible.
This was one of our evenings on the Florida Panhandle, so finishing this article with one of the spectacular sunsets that we enjoyed along the Florida Gulf coast seems appropriate.
I hope you've enjoyed this small taste of the Forgotten Coast and Florida's Panhandle.
Copyright 2011©Stephanie Henkel
We came upon this fishing pier near Panama City Beach just at sunset.
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Links to Information About the Florida Panhandle
- Florida Lighthouses
Florida's Past. Some interesting fact and photos of Florida's lighthouses.
- Apalchicola National Forest - US Forest Service - Southern Region
The National Forest Service link to Apalachicola National Forest. More about the forest and its attractions.
- Apalachicola, St George Island, Eastpoint and the Forgotten Coast Information | Apalachicola Bay Cha
Apalachicola- The Official information source for Apalachicola, Florida, the Heart of the Forgotten Coast. Places to Stay, restaurants, things to do, shopping, weddings, pet friendly places, and events for Apalachicola, St George Island, Eastpoint o
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