Central Florida: The southwestern deserts are not the only snowbird destination

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October 25, 2010

By Bob Difley

highland_hammock_sp_floridaThough we western snowbirds tend to migrate in the winter months to the southwestern deserts, we should not forget that the migratory route for easterners is often to the Sunshine State of Florida, an entirely different climatic environment from the dry deserts.

Western nature lovers will appreciate the great amount of biodiversity of plants found in Florida’s mix of subtropical and tropical climates, especially the subtropical climate around Orlando and central Florida.

Unlike the endless sunny skies and arid terrain of the desert regions, Central Florida has a hot, often stormy climate, and instead of earthquakes, experiences many thunderstorms and some hurricanes.

Central Florida’s low-lying area is littered with hundreds of lakes surrounded by marshland, which favors a wide variety of plant and animal species. Its abundant gardens, parks, and wildlife offer a perfect opportunity to enjoy nature up close, including these unique garden settings where camping is available:

highland_hammock_sp_florida_2At Highlands Hammock State Park (photos) in Sebring white-tailed deer munch their way through the campsites, enjoying the scattering of acorns around the base of many oaks. Bobcat tracks are found each morning in the damp sands along the roadways, barred owls call as soon as the sun goes down, and alligators soak up the warm sun that follows the cool nighttime temperatures.

Lake Kissimmee State Park in Lake Wales features living history demonstrations of the early Florida cowboy camps, white-tailed deer, bald eagles, sandhill cranes, turkeys, and bobcats have been seen in the park, and boating, canoeing, and fishing is popular on Lakes Kissimmee, Tiger, and Rosalie. You can hike over 13 miles of trails to observe and study the abundant plant and animal life, and the park has full hookup campsites as well as primitive no hookup camping.

The 383,573 acres of Ocala National Forest in Silver Springs offers unique ecological sites, trails, natural springs, and hundreds of campsites throughout the forest offering everything from full hookup campgrounds to primitive sites. Hiking trails are located throughout the forest.

Though you may think of the Orlando area mostly for its big-thrill attractions and theme parks, nature lovers will find plenty of parks, gardens, wildernesses, and camping/boondocking opportunities as well.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar.

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  30. Norm Bowker

    We’ve stayed in the same park in Leesburg for the last 3 years. Love it there. 20 min. from The Villages, 45 min from Orlando. Not nearly as busy as other parts.

  31. Mary Cleet

    We live on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Went up to Ocala for the first time 3 weeks ago to Lake Waldena Campground, in Silver Springs. Loved it! Reminded me of back in New York State, except no mountains. The forest is beautiful. Ocala is only 20 minutes away. Lots of places to eat out and do. We’re leaving tomorrow for a long Thanksgiving weekend and dinner at the campground. Love it up there. It’s about
    3 1/2 hours from us up the interstate.

  32. John Wilson is right about the Ocala National Forest. And, since I live here, I can also tell you that it was the site of a serial murder event about two years ago. Some nutjob went hunting PEOPLE who were camping there. Since then, they has been a crackdown on rules…

    The good news is that there are lots of great places in and near Gainesville, FL to camp for cheap and lots of beautiful areas to visit. Take High Springs for instance. It’s 15 miles from Gainesville and has camping areas and 3 different springs you can visit. So, if you like scuba diving or the great outdoors, it’s the place. And, there’s other state parks and rails-to-trails trails galore.

    Plus, the weather is perfect this time of year. Just my two cents.

  33. Cape Codger

    Sounds great except what you out west for three months (elec .free at FOY) is less than one month in FL.
    Also no traffic like FL.

  34. Dick Burckhart

    My wife and I spent the last two winters (’08 & ’09) at Desert Trails RV Park just outside of Tucson, AZ. What a great old park, right on the edge of the desert with lots of trails to walk, and this park is out away from the city, yet only a 15 minute drive gets you to any kind of shopping and/or eating you’d want. Last year was a little damp and cool compared to the pleasant winter of ’08.

    This winter we are at Williston Crossings RV Resort in Williston, FL. We’ve only been here a month so far, but really like it so far. The sites are all paved (driveway & patio) and it is only 20 minutes or so to either Ocala or Gainesville.


  36. Hi Guys & Gals:
    We like Florida for our state of residence. No state income tax, no personal property tax, no vehicle inspection, $140 to tag a motor home and Jeep combined.

    $100 a month full coverage Geico insurance.

    Downside, my step-daughter could not be my representative for our will/trust, since I had two sons by a prior marriage.

    Happy Camping,
    Fred b.

  37. Jean

    We love Wekiwa Springs State Park north of Orlando–40 some thousand acres of wilderness are adjacent to the park, so the bustle of the city seems a world away. The tall long needle pines are just gorgeous as are the springs which are great for swimming. Wildlife abounds. The river is great for canoeing. Orlando has many miles of paved bike trails too. I don’t think I could handle the Southwest every year. I need trees for my soul.

  38. Tom Lohmann

    We have gone to Bushnell, just south of Ocala, for the past 3 years and love it! We are only an hour’s drive from Orlando, Tampa, Daytona Beach, etc., and don’t have any of the congestion of a metropolitan area. We enjoy great music jams and all of the other ‘snowbird’ activities available to us. Come on down!!

  39. I can’t agree more. When I bought an ’01 1 ton Chev Silverado and an ’02 38FT Newmar trailer in ’02 from a couple in NJ I took it to a beautiful RV park in Malabar FL on the Indian River in early ’05. My EAL Pilot retiree friend in Orlando said why not take a look at the East Lake Fish Camp near here in Kissimmee? I didn’t say. but thought, “There’s no way I’m taking my new, fantastic truck and trailer to a goddam FiSH camp.”
    However, I visited and fell in love. 2/1/05 I’d moved because of the unbelievably ancient oaks and lovely cypresses, and, of course, the East Lake Tohopokaliga. if you can pronounce it, Come on down. And meet the lovely managing pair, (not so much) Barry, and Marianne Barrows, the two managers. Equally. (Except I think she’s more than equal).

  40. ldbolen

    We spent one winter in Arz..Dust and darn near froze to death all winter.Thank god for warm Fl.

  41. Kenneth Lane

    Loud, crowded, dangerous, dirty, corrupt, over priced—–and that’s the good parts!

  42. Ron

    Don’t forget the 100’s of thousands of us in South Texas. Mary of us feel that this is the BEST snowbird destination.

  43. Ron

    Florida? No you don’t want to come here, way too crowded and hot, go to the SW. Who would want to know 3-5 days out a storm is coming and have time to prepare? Earth quakes and flash floods with no warning are much better to deal with. Besides, who would want to spoil all that sand in the SW with a beautiful beaches and warm water ocean with living coral reefs like Florida?

  44. catchesthewind

    I have been in central florida nigh unto 3 yrs now and havnt had a bit of problem weatherwise. Currently in St Cloud and loving it. As for the mouse you know what to do with a rodent.

  45. Gary Case

    I guess that if you live in the NE U.S. , that this may be an option. But if you live in the NW U.S. FORGET IT !! Nobody in their right mind would venture to a high humidity area with the wonder chance of a hurricane or lightning strikes at your door. Yes the SW is dry and overcrowded and the costs are too high, but the cool nights and warm, dry days more than make up for it. Thanks anyway, but we’ll stick to the southern, western U.S.

  46. Walter

    Orlando, the “City Beautiful”, was just that in the 50’s before the “Mouse” arrived. Like any small town we never locked our doors and by 9:00 PM the town was closed up. How sweet it was in those days. Still, a nice place to be.

  47. Thomas Becher

    No thanks, we went to ocala in 2007 and had a tornado nearby,destroyed the Villagesand then had a fiecre rainstorm that created a massive sinkhole that came very close to swallowing a large motorhome. And who needs the humidity?

  48. Earl

    Highlands Hammock has guided tours for not much cost that are well worth your time. The ecological diversity is astounding! The park campground is a nice place to hang out for a few days. We spend the winter months in Avon Park, FL and include a visit to Highlands Hammock SP each year.

  49. Satch

    The Orlando area was a true Garden of Eden when I arrived in the early 60’s; but then came the MOUSE and the ensuing progress has led to a far cry from it’s early days.

  50. Eli

    wow, looks beautiful. Thanks for sharing!