Must-See Places for Your Florida RV Bucket List
By Kevin Mims
It’s no secret that Florida is a top destination for RVing and camping, and there’s no better place than the Sunshine State for RV nomads to explore.
Here’s a list of must-see places for your Florida RVing bucket list.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
What could be better than experiencing the country’s first undersea park, with its 70 nautical square miles of clear blue waters teeming sea life? Having all the comforts of home—and your home on wheels—right there with you while you do it. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must for any Florida traveler’s bucket list, especially for anyone traveling by RV. Kayak, scuba dive, snorkel, or just kick back and relax on a glass-bottom boat—the choice is yours. Spend time at John Pennekamp’s beaches and be sure to check out Cannon Beach, where you can snorkel around the remnants of a Spanish shipwreck 100 feet from the shore. The state park’s campground has sites to accommodate RVs big and small. Electricity, water, and bath houses are available.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite on the water, head out for fresh seafood. Try What The Fish Rolls & More, Hobo’s Cafe, and The Fish House. After dinner, take a walk to visit the African Queen—the boat from the classic 1951 movie by the same name—in its home port.
Key West and the Dry Tortugas
You’ve driven all the way through the upper, middle, and lower Florida Keys. You’ve found Key West and reached Mile Marker 1. You might think you’re almost done exploring here, but the adventure is just beginning.
While Key West is a bucket-list destination in itself, it’s also the jumping off point for a whole other adventure—one that’ll take you 70 miles over the water to a remote group of seven islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Once a home to only sea turtles, the largest island of the Dry Tortugas, Garden Key, became the site of a Civil War-era fort that visitors can see today. Getting to the islands requires a ferry or seaplane, and visitors can either go for the day or pack some camping gear and stay longer. Either way, you get to snorkel the clear tropical waters around Fort Jefferson, explore the fort, and see why the Dry Tortugas are a world-class birding destination. The ferry service also offers meals and snorkeling gear for day travelers.
Campground options include Boyd’s Key West Campground and Leo’s Campground. While on Key West, be sure to visit Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, the historic homes of Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, and the Key West Lighthouse & Keeper’s Quarters Museum. Unwind with a drink at Sloppy Joe’s and go to the famed Mallory Square for shopping and dining.
Rainbow River, Dunnellon
Tubing a river is a Florida summer rite of passage, and there are few tubing destinations that compare to the Rainbow River. Tucked away in North Central Florida southwest of Ocala, the crystal-clear river is locally famous for being a summer tubing hotspot, as well as the place to go for year-round boating, paddling, and swimming. Tube rentals and shuttles are available through KP Hole and the state park.
Aside from tubing, a visit to the main entrance of Rainbow Springs State Park is a must, where visitors can swim in the pristine headsprings, take in stunning views of the water from the park’s hilly, garden-like walking path, and rent a canoe. There is an RV and tent campground in a separate area of the park, and all sites have water and 30-, 40-, and 50-amp electric service. Canoe and kayak rentals are also available at the campground store, and campers can fish directly from the campground as well.
At night, grill your own dinner at the campground and sit around the campfire or go out and sample some of the local fare at The Blue Gator, The Front Porch Restaurant & Pie Shop, or Swampy’s Bar and Grille.
Fort Wilderness Resort, Lake Buena Vista
When you think of Walt Disney World, camping probably isn’t the first activity that comes to mind. But when it comes to family-friendly RVing, the campground at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort is a top destination for seasoned RVers and first-timers alike.
Splash in the pools and waterslide, dine at restaurants within walking distance of your campsite, and see some of your favorite Disney characters in action. The resort also offers canoeing and kayaking, archery, and horseback riding for guests. Rent a golf cart, bicycle, or motorized boat, or take a ride on a horse-drawn wagon.
When you’re ready to do some park hopping at Disney’s theme parks, catch a bus right from the Fort Wilderness Campground—no driving necessary. At night, watch Magic Kingdom fireworks right from the campground or take in an outdoor movie and roast marshmallows by the campfire.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
If there’s one place you can unplug and get away from it all, it’s Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, 30 miles north of Okeechobee. This is where birders flock and visitors can see the Milky Way like never before. Thanks to the park’s remote location and lack of light pollution, the night sky is dark enough to take in the Milky Way without the need for a telescope, although telescopes are a common sight around the campground at night.
The quiet and laid-back atmosphere of the campground lends itself to serene nights of star-watching and early mornings exploring the prairie that spans 54,000 acres and is home to a plethora of endangered and threatened species. Take a bike ride to see burrowing owls, swallow-tailed kites, alligators, and more.
The park’s remote location means you need to prepare ahead and shop for meals before you arrive or make the drive into Okeechobee for grocery shopping and dining options, which include Lightsey’s Seafood Restaurant and Parrot Island Bar & Grill.
Ocala National Forest
To stay in the Ocala National Forest in Central Florida is to experience Florida wilderness in all its natural glory. The national forest covers more than 600 acres and is home to some of the best freshwater springs in the state for swimming and snorkeling, including Silver Glen Springs, Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, and Salt Springs. This area offers more than a dozen day hikes and hundreds of miles of forest road for biking and a 22-mile mountain bike trail.
Choose from several RV campgrounds that offer partial hookups: Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, Big Bass, and Big Scrub. Salt Springs has the Ocala National Forest’s largest campground and is the only one with full hookups.
Must-do activities within the national forest include paddling Juniper Run and hiking the Yearling Trail at Silver Glen Springs. Depending on which part of the forest you’re in, expect to drive about half an hour for shopping and dining options, which include Old Crow Real Pit BBQ and The Mason Jar in Umatilla.
Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna
Florida is full of opportunities for adventures in the air and on the water, but the fun at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, northwest of Tallahassee, begins underground. Florida Caverns is the only Florida park that allows the public access to a dry cave system, and the park offers guided walking tours of the spectacular underground geological formations that make this place a Florida bucket-list item. Expect to see flowstones, stalactites, stalagmites, and even some of the cave’s live inhabitants, including bats and salamanders.
Stay at the campground at Florida Caverns or one of several other RV resorts in the area, including Florida Caverns RV Resort. When you get hungry and don’t feel like grilling at camp, head to Mashawy for Mediterranean-Greek-American fusion fine dining. For something more laid-back, try The Wharf Casual Seafood.
Blackwater River State Park
Its clear, tea-colored water, high bluffs, and white-sand beaches make the Blackwater River one of the most scenic outdoor destinations in Northwest Florida. East of Pensacola and about 25 miles south of the Alabama line, Blackwater River State Park is just the place to set up camp and enjoy all the river and surrounding areas have to offer, from tubing to paddling to hiking and fishing. At the end of the day, walk from your campsite to the water’s edge and take in stunning sunsets.
The relatively small campground has 30 campsites, all equipped with 20-, 30-, and 50-amp electric service and water and sewer connections, as well as picnic tables and fire rings. Grill outside in the evenings and hang out around the fire or go and check out some of the area’s restaurants, which include The Wild Olive and Emerald Isle Seafood in Crestview.
Blue Spring State Park, Orange City
Seeing manatees in the wild tops the Florida to-do list for many travelers, and there’s nowhere quite like Blue Spring State Park in Orange City for watching them. With a 51-site campground within walking distance of the spring, it’s the perfect place for RV nomads to enjoy manatees during manatee season, which runs from November to March. During this time, manatees come to the park’s freshwater springs, which stay a constant 72 degrees year-round, to escape the cold, and the springs are closed to in-water activities. The long boardwalk around the springs provides the ideal vantage point to watch these animals, which can number in the hundreds on very cold days, as they rest peacefully under the water.
Outside of manatee season, the springs and surrounding waters are open for swimming, diving, paddling, and more. While you’re there, be sure to check out the gift shop and the historic Thursby House on the park grounds.
Big Cypress National Preserve
No Florida bucket list would be complete without a stop in the Everglades. The country’s largest subtropical wilderness is one of the most ecologically important areas of the state and is home to endangered species. Camping, wildlife viewing, and boating top the list of things to do here. Big Cypress National Preserve, which encompasses 720,000 acres, offers an array of ranger-guided activities. Through Big Cypress Institute, visitors can book a swamp buggy, hiking, biking, and birding tours. Big Cypress National Preserve has several inexpensive RV campgrounds to choose from.
Jetty Park, Port Canaveral
Jetty Park covers 35 acres and has vendors on the beach so you can rent everything from beach chairs to kayaks and boogie boards. With a 1,200-foot fishing pier and opportunities for paddling, biking, and surfing, Jetty Park is enough to keep you busy, but a visit to Kennedy Space Center is a must during your stay. And if you have time, take a tour of the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse.
The campground at Jetty Park has a variety of RV campsites to choose from, including waterfront sites with views of the inlet.
Known for its relaxing vibe and ample supply of shark’s teeth and shells, Sanibel Island, on Florida’s west coast near Fort Myers, is somewhere RV nomads can slow down and unwind. Whether you want to golf, hop on a boat and go fishing, hit the spa, shop, or just collect shells at the beach, Sanibel is the place to be. Sanibel has everything from casual to fine dining. For a great view and drinks, try the Upper Deck Pool Bar.
Stay at the Periwinkle Park campground on Sanibel Island, which has full hookups and plenty of amenities, or San Carlos RV Resort & Marina in nearby Fort Myers Beach or Sugar Sand Beach RV Resort in Matlacha.
More than 450 years old and the longest continually occupied European-founded city in the United States, St. Augustine is rich in culture and history—and some even say parts of it are haunted. It’s not hard to find a good RV campground near or on the water in this city, and the campsites at Anastasia State Park are some of the most popular. There is so much to see and do here that it’s a good idea to book a trolley tour of the city to get yourself acquainted. Can’t-miss spots to visit include Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas, and the many beaches of St. Augustine.