Finding the Views: Campgrounds from Maine to North Carolina

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

It was early, just before sunrise. I could see a line of light at the horizon as the night sky gave up its reign. I dropped my phone into my robe pocket and carefully opened the door so as not to wake Jim, then closed it, oh so softly, behind me. It was cool, and a soft breeze stirred the air as I walked to the water’s edge to catch the sunrise on my phone camera. I knew Jim would be up soon since we leave today, but I wanted to spend a few quiet moments enjoying this priceless view of Penobscot Bay.

Penobscot Bay campsite

View from our campsite on the Penobscot Bay

We were parked at the seawall, which is one of a handful of campsites that looked directly onto the bay. The tide was changing, and the sea grass waved in the current just below the water’s surface. A rock labyrinth laid out on the bay floor would be visible in just a few hours. What a curious surprise it was that first day I saw it at low tide – and somewhat surreal as I walked the spiral of rocks to its center and then back to the beach. I sat down at the picnic table and took in the scene. We had launched our kayaks off the beach just steps from the campsite and paddled down the coastline spotting an otter, then an eagle. It had been a terrific day with sunshine and warm temperatures. It was a big difference from August back in Georgia, where daily temperatures soar into the 90s and the humidity with it.

Searsport Oceanside Campground was a surprise right from the start. When we arrived, we were greeted by a large group of musicians rehearsing for an “Old Time” music concert to be held over the weekend. If you have a uke, fiddle, guitar, banjo, or whatever, you can join in with the other members! The camper on the site next to us played banjo, so we enjoyed hearing him practice in the afternoon. The buildings are eclectically decorated in bright colors, and a decidedly laid-back, hippy vibe surrounds the whole place. In all, a fun and unexpected “second-choice” campground!

Rock labyrinth on Penobscot Bay

Labyrinth on the Bay floor

This was our first trip to Acadia National Park, and we found the campground by default since the campgrounds around Acadia were full. It was an hour’s drive from the Park and offered a different view. A tranquil scene overlooking Penobscot Bay, a pebble beach, offers wonderful kayaking. Facing the Atlantic, Acadia’s coastline is all rocks and crashing surf. It is a spectacular view, and we enjoyed it while hiking. We found so many “Instagram” moments in Maine that I had to upload the photos from my phone camera to make room for more photos.

Rocky coast and surf through tree branches

The rocky shore of Acadia from the Ocean Trail

Bay with sailboats at anchor in Belfast, Maine

Belfast, Maine, has a lovely harbor

We had planned to take a one-month east coast tour, just stopping a day or two in towns along the way. But the views we encountered made us throw away the timeline. For years our vacation travel was hurried, the time measured out in two-week intervals. There was little room for side trips and serendipity – we had a schedule to keep. Now retired, time was no longer a task-master, so why not slow down to soak in the scenery?

So many beautiful views. But that is why we travel by RV – to take in the beautiful landscapes, quaint towns, and coastlines. And this is the trip we began to say, “Let’s stay longer” – maybe another day or two. All for a beautiful view. And for us, the views we appreciate most are ones at well-located campgrounds. If you have traveled by RV for long, you know most campgrounds are tucked away. Some are in a lovely wooded setting or convenient to the local towns or attractions, but the ones we keep on our “favorites” list are those with a scenic view or a perfect location near a scenic view.

A brief list of our favorite coastal campsites includes the one described above in Searsport, Maine. But not all of our favorites have such a spectacular view. Dune’s Edge Campground, further south, on the Cape Cod National Seashore, is run by the Trustees who monitor development on the Cape that might infringe on the wildlife or the natural setting. The Campground, set in a coastal forest, is small and rough, but its proximity to the National Seashore and lovely Provincetown cannot be overstated. Take a bike because in this area cars are not an asset. And with that bike, you can access the maritime forest at the campground’s entrance, ride to the National Seashore,  or go into Provincetown to enjoy its art galleries, shops, restaurants, and attractions. It’s the proximity that makes this campground unique. There are others nearby Truro, but Dune’s Edge is at the National Seashore.

Dune walkover at Cape Cod National Seashore

The dune walkover at Cape Cod National Seashore

We have also enjoyed a few “corporate” campgrounds, like the KOA in Mystic, Connecticut. This area is busy but still retains its small towns and greenery. The KOA is located on what used to be a farm, and the white fencing still lines the road to the campground. This is a KOA tucked into the countryside with many trees and open spaces rather than the “parking lot” arrangement we found in other areas, and it is a large campground with spacious sites and all the amenities you might expect. Its proximity to downtown Mystic and the Mystic Seaport Village was its initial draw for us. When we visited, the leaves were just starting to turn their autumn colors, and the sunsets were amazing with the high vantage point overlooking a nearby meadow. We spent our days exploring Mystic and returned to camp to enjoy campfires and sunsets!

Mystic Seaport Museum sign

A delightful trip into the past at this living museum and art gallery.

New Jersey is a tough nut to crack when it comes to RV campgrounds. There isn’t much along the coast other than Seashore Campground and RV Resort in Cape May. We took a ferry from Lewes, Delaware, to reach Cape May and found the campground in just a few minutes. The campground is large, with seasonal “park models” as well as RVs. Each site is paved with white gravel, making it look clean and bright among the tall pines. Though we were disappointed it was not on the water, the beach was a short drive away. It faces Lewes, Delaware, and a World War II bunker on the sand – a twin to the one in Lewes. The two towns, Cape May and Lewes, each kept watch over the channel during the war, ready to defend from those bunkers. Now, half-buried in the sand, they are monuments to history.

World War II bunker on Cape May beach

World War II bunker half-buried in the sand at Cape May beach.

A walk through downtown Cape May is all Victorian charm, with dozens of restored homes turned into bed and breakfasts. Their cheery colors and fancy gingerbread trim make them look like a line of doll houses. On the way back to the campground, we discovered Cape May Winery – complete with a vineyard, tasting room, and restaurant. Their award-winning Chardonnay was added to our cellar! All of this is within easy reach of a terrific campground.

Row of victorian homes

Downtown Cape May is filled with charming Victorian homes.

Camping close to a city can be quite challenging, but we found a little waterfront haven just 30 minutes north of Baltimore, Maryland. Set on the Chesapeake Bay, Bar Harbor RV Resort and Marina in Abingdon, Maryland, offers bay-side campsites. It is situated at the end of a residential neighborhood with campsites well-positioned for great views over the Chesapeake Bay. Because it sits on the northern tip of the Chesapeake that means it provides a direct route to the Eastern Shore – avoiding the city traffic. On the Eastern Shore, we visited St. Michaels, Oxford, and Easton – probably the most picturesque harbor towns in the country. So, in all, Bar Harbor RV Resort is a pretty convenient option to explore the area as well as offer beautiful bay views.

Trees and sundown views over Chesapeake Bay

Our campsite on the Chesapeake Bay provided wonderful sunset views.

We discovered the Outer Banks in North Carolina a little further down the east coast. We have stayed with friends at a beach house in Kitty Hawk and even camped in their driveway with the RV on one trip. The beaches in this area are protected by tall sand dunes, but the sea is relentless, and in Kitty Hawk, we watched a massive beach reclamation effort. A barge offshore brings sand pulled from the ocean bottom a few miles away and then pumps it through a pipeline to the beach, where it spewed out like a fountain. Specially-outfitted bulldozers move the new sand into dunes along the shore and then smooth and stretch it down to the water’s edge.

Bulldozers shaping the sand dunes

The beach reclamation project at Kitty Hawk

We fell asleep to the sound of heavy surf and bulldozers. It turns out the bulldozers and barge work in tandem 24 hours a day. The next morning, I walked down the beach to watch at close range and talked with one of the homeowners there. They were grateful for the work and didn’t mind the night’s noise and bright lights. That “noise” meant their home was being secured against the tide. The noise and lights didn’t bother us a bit either. It was good to know that this favorite beach spot would live on for a few more seasons.

beach with gentle waves

Gentle surf today at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore

For a more tranquil OBX experience, we drove just a little bit further south to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Although there are a number of campgrounds in the area, we stayed at the Cape Hatteras RV Campground. Our LTV group – The Carolina LTVers, held a Rally there, making it that much more of an enjoyable stay. The campground offers views of the Sound on one side and ocean-side campsites tucked behind the dunes. The Sound side is flat and open, so the views are expansive. We watched, mesmerized by kite surfers whose colorful sails dotted the water and sky throughout our visit. It is close to many attractions, including several lighthouses, the Wright Brothers Monument, and a herd of wild horses on the beach. The National Park also has a wonderful exhibit on the Hatteras Light, which was moved inland from its original location on the beach when the rising sea threatened to claim it. The whole process of how it was moved is documented in the exhibit, and the lighthouse stands proudly at the center of the property. This is a campground with a great view, access to the National Seashore, some very interesting attractions, and it could be a vacation in itself.

Lighthouse and visitors center

Fascinating story about how the lighthouse was moved!

I have only scratched the surface – there are many more great campgrounds along the coast. What makes a campsite a place to linger longer is more than just a beautiful view. It’s a combination of elements – from the view (probably the most important) to the campground itself, its convenience to attractions and restaurants, and access to outdoor activities like kayaking or hiking. That ” package ” draws you in and holds you there.

We have always kept a list of the campgrounds we visit and rate them according to their beauty and their convenience factor. Sometimes convenience wins out over beauty, depending on our agenda for each trip. But we always put a star by the ones we want to re-visit and stay a little longer next time.

Three Favorite Beach Get Aways

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Beaches are some of the most relaxing places we visit. The scene is so familiar that it replays like a movie in my imagination: the road overlooking the bay, and then the four-mile-long bridge comes into view. We turn in East Point onto the bridge. The gulls swoop and dive all around us while oyster boats bob in the shallow bay. Then just ahead, the Gulf comes into view, and I feel myself exhale – all the stress and worries of the year seem to drain away at the beach.

boardwalk with beach beyond

View of Huntington Beach from the State Park walkway

A lot of other people think the same way. So, finding a lovely, quiet beach with an RV campsite within walking distance can be challenging, and though I have found a few on the Gulf coast, my mission was to find a few quiet sandy strands on the Atlantic coast within a short drive from our Atlanta home. After several years of travel, I have found three great beaches, and all of them are nestled in State Parks. Protected from development and offering good RV camping facilities, all three of my favorites are within a six-hour drive from home: Jekyll Island, Edisto Beach, and Huntington Beach. The three have a lot in common and yet are unique in their own right.

I was in Savannah on business and mentioned to a colleague that I wanted to find a nice beach with an RV park nearby. She asked if I had been to Jekyll Island. I knew about the convention center there but hadn’t visited. After doing a little research online, I found Jekyll Island Campground and made a three-day reservation to check it out with my husband the following week, and what I found surprised me.

Jekyll Island Club hotel

Now a hotel, the Jekyll Island Club is still elegant

As a vacation destination, Jekyll Island has a long history. Originally it was purchased by two men who wanted to develop an exclusive hunting club for wealthy gentlemen. The club was a rousing success. So much so that the island was purchased by a group of investors calling themselves the Jekyll Island Club. The group included some of the wealthiest families in the country, like J.P. Morgan, William Vanderbilt, Joseph Pulitzer, and Marshall Field. Together, they numbered over 50 members/investors and built expansive “cottages” around the clubhouse for the members’ families.

Opening in 1888, the luxurious clubhouse played host to many extravagant parties and social events. All that power and prestige in one place made the Jekyll Island Club a hub for important meetings among the powerful members. The foundation for the Federal Reserve – the Aldrich plan, was formulated by members of the Jekyll Island Club.

Mansion across lawns

One of the summer “cottages” from Jekyll’s heyday

As times changed, the Club’s prominence began to wane, and it drifted into obscurity. The State of Georgia purchased the island for a mere $675,000 in 1947 and turned it into a state park. The Jekyll Island Club still stands, now a hotel, and is a part of the Jekyll Island National Historic District. It is surrounded by a group of renovated mansion-museums. These are the “summer cottages” that once were home to the millionaire club members and their families.

Although Jekyll may have been introduced to polite society through its financially wealthy members, today, it’s home to a wealth of a different type. As a rich natural environment, Jekyll introduces visitors to its barrier island beauty and the wildlife that shelters here. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on the island’s western side is dedicated to research, education, and rescuing injured sea turtles. A valuable resource for the area, the Center takes in injured turtles for rehabilitation and then releases them back into the wild after they’ve healed. The center has a wonderful exhibit and guides visitors through the importance of habitat and conservation.

sign for Jekyll Island Campground

Set among beautiful trees, the campground is convenient to everything by bike path

A haven among the trees, Jekyll Island Campground is large and wooded. It offers all the amenities needed in a more rustic atmosphere – and just about a mile walk, or a quick bike ride, to the beach. The road to the busy fishing pier is opposite the campground, making it an easy trek to get a line in the water.

There are a number of beach areas on Jekyll, but the most memorable is Driftwood Beach. Both spectacular and haunting, the sun-bleached branches and trunks of dead trees litter the sand. Some uprooted and twisted into weird shapes, and some stood straight and tall where they died in the salt water. Hurricanes wash away some of the trees from the beach each year, but the contingent that remains is still quite a spectacle. The sand is firm and makes bike riding on the beach a popular activity, weaving around the trees and splashing in the gentle surf.

Tree on beach killed by salt water

Dramatic and haunting, Driftwood Beach.

In fact, we found biking is the ideal mode of transportation all over the island. The island-wide bike path system leads almost everywhere you might want to go, including the beach, Historic District, shops, and restaurants. We also loved visiting nearby St. Simons Island for the lovely beach, a cute downtown shopping area as well as a lighthouse. If you go, stop at Southern Soul Barbeque – you’ll be glad you did! From Jekyll Island, you can reach St. Simons over the spectacular Sidney Lanier Bridge with its suspension cables resembling unfurled sails as they shimmer in the sunlight. That makes a trip to Jekyll an easy two-for-one kind of vacation destination!

Just a few hours up the coast from Jekyll, we discovered a gem most South Carolinians know well: Edisto Beach State Park. Its natural, undeveloped beach is a shell collector’s treasure trove. There are two campgrounds at Edisto Beach State Park: one in the woods and the other tucked into the sand dunes next to the beach. The site we reserved was in the beach campground next to the dunes. We could hear the surf from our RV – even on the inside. The campground is spacious with a lot of very tall Palmetto Palms, and the wind rustling through them is a lovely sound.

Palmetto Palm trees in campground

So many palms on the campground!

Although none of these beachside sites have a view of the beach, they are all just steps from the beach access – a walkway cut through the dunes. One of our campground neighbors mentioned that they come here frequently, and it is booked almost every weekend. That seems to be true for most beach and lakeside campgrounds. The best time to reserve a site is during the week. We made the trip in late January, and even then, the campground had quite a few bookings!

A quick walk over the dunes, and you’ll be standing on a stretch of narrow beach strewn with shells. Although the beach is narrow right at the entrance, it is very long And, just a bit further from the dune entrance, the beach seems to spread out offering a wider expanse for beach umbrellas and volleyball games.

Driftwood tree branch decorated with shells and feathers

Like a beach Christmas tree!

There are some large driftwood pieces on the beach – even small trees buried in the sand. Unlike Jekyll’s Driftwood beach, these trees have been washed ashore rather than dying in the saltwater where they stood. On our trip there, right after COVID, I gazed down the beach and saw, to my delight, a driftwood branch standing upright in the sand and fully decorated with shells and seagull feathers! The shells clacked together in the breeze while the feathers, held onto the branches with string, danced and twirled.

Sunset on beach

When the sun finally came out, the beach was lovely!

Edisto Beach State Park is more than just a beach, it is part of a buffer zone for the 350,000-acre Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto Basin System (ACE Basin). The ACE Basin represents one of the largest undeveloped wetland ecosystems on the Atlantic Coast, offering shelter and breeding grounds for wildlife. I wondered how much sanctuary it provides during hurricane season. This coast seems to take a beating during a storm, but I know wetlands absorb a lot of wave energy, so perhaps it also offers some protection for the surrounding area.

During our stay at Edisto Beach, the clouds blocked the sun most of the time, but even under cloud cover, the beach is lovely and a perfect setting for long, casual walks and shell-collecting adventures. The beach took on a different character when the sun peeked from behind the overcast skies. Awash in the sunshine, the sand is brilliant, and the reflection on the water’s surface sparkles. Adding to the idyllic image, a squadron of pelicans fly so close to the water they seem to skim it with their feathers. I take a few photos, stare at the sea for a few moments, and then return to camp. Jim is in the driver’s seat waiting for my return, and with the click of my seat belt, we are on our way.

Another special State Park is one we have visited several times: Huntington Beach State Park near Murrell’s Inlet in South Carolina. On our first visit there, we were fascinated by the ruins of a mansion that was once the winter retreat of Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington. Atalaya Castle, named for the Spanish term for watchtower, was designed in the Moorish style and, indeed, has a 40-foot square tower in the center of the inner courtyard. Originally a 30-room mansion, the castle also served as a studio for Mrs. Huntington’s sculpture work.

Palm trees and brick building courtyard

The watch tower at Atalaya Castle

The studio featured a 25-foot skylight and opened onto a small courtyard where she worked, often using animals as her subjects. Her studios included stables, a kennel, and a bear pen to house the animals she was sculpting. You can still view Mrs. Huntington’s sculptures at Brookgreen Botanical Garden across the road from the State Park, where they display the largest collection of American Figurative sculptures in the country.

But the real legacy of the Huntington’s is the gift of their beach estate to the State of South Carolina to be used as a park and preserve. The 2,500-acre estate includes a beach, salt marsh, backwater ponds, and maritime forests. The park ranger pointed out that there are over 300 bird species in the area, including double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans, ruddy turnstones, and purple sandpipers. In fact, we watched cormorants diving in the salt marsh and saw them stand on pilings with wings outspread to dry.

Cormorant with outspread wings drying in the sun

After diving for fish, Cormorants spread their wings to dry.

The campground is divided into two segments, and we chose the one to the left of the entrance. The sites are large, with grass, sand, and trees. The path to the beach from the campground leads through a maritime forest and is about a two-minute walk on a path that is sometimes sandy and sometimes a boardwalk. The beach is lovely, with wide stretches that invite a leisurely stroll. The dunes protecting the campground are topped with grasses, waving in the Atlantic breeze. In late spring, you might find sea turtle nests burrowed into the dunes, or, later in the summer, you could be one of the very lucky few to see a nest of turtles hatch. Yes, it looks as inviting as it sounds. The history and wildlife make this a great destination, and the beach is a keeper too!

gentle surf washing up the beach

Gentle surf washing over the beach at Huntington.

These three beach state parks are within easy reach of home for us, and though we love other beaches from the Gulf coast to the Keys to the coast of Maine, these are familiar and often our default for a quick getaway. For those who are further from the Atlantic coast, these three State Parks are good stops as you work your way up the coast from Florida. You’ll find good RV camping facilities, lovely beaches, and something interesting to explore beyond the beach!

From Beach to Beach

Editor’s Note: This post is written by a member of LTV’s sponsored content team, The Leisure Explorers. Do you own a Leisure Travel Van and enjoy writing? Learn more about joining the team.

Sitting in the RV at the end of the driveway, Jim asked, “Where to?” This has been a dream come true. For so many years, we longed for a way to travel comfortably and at our own pace. An RV was the perfect choice to make that happen, and when we retired, time became an ally instead of an enemy! Over the past six years, we have covered a lot of asphalt between Maine, the Keys, and west to Idaho. We have experienced remarkable landscapes from prairies and mountains to coastal cities, and though there is so much more to see, the seaside always beckons us home.

Raised on the Jersey Shore, Jim and I have great affection for the coast. So, when we purchased our Unity, our plan was to enjoy beach after beach along the Eastern and Gulf coasts. It is a continuing quest in our RV travel. So when Jim asks, “Where to?” I inevitably answer – “The coast.” Now, you may think that is rather mundane or unimaginative, but if you are a beach person, you are already picturing the sea, sand, and the sunny breeze of a summer’s day. While beaches all seem the same to some, we have found that each sandy stretch has something unique to offer. After sampling dozens of beaches, we have a few favorites, so buckle up and join us on a winter trip to explore some of our favorite beaches.

Winter is cold in Atlanta, where we call home these days. Not “northern cold” like in our original home of New Jersey, but cold nonetheless. Natives tell us that our blood has thinned after 35 years in the South, so we feel the cold more intensely than we once did. I don’t know if there is any truth, but a cold rainy day in January is not pleasant, no matter how thick or thin your blood is. We needed some warmer weather, so we planned a trip to the Keys.

The Keys are a pretty fair distance from Atlanta, so we needed to find a few coastal stops along the way. That meant this would be a beach trip! The only “hiccup” is that it is snowbird season in Florida, and every RV campground is packed with folks fleeing the cold. We’ll have to rely on cancellations and good luck in finding campsites. To ensure better luck, we started on the Florida Panhandle. February and March have “iffy” weather on the Gulf. It can be freezing and windy or absolutely balmy. It’s a roll of the dice we were willing to risk, so we pointed the RV southwest to Pensacola.

Bay at Navarre Florida at sunrise

View of the bay from our campsite at Emerald Beach in Navarre

I scored a campground in Navarre, just about an hour from Pensacola, that served as home base for this western-most part of the trip. Emerald Beach is a small private campground that sits on the bay. It has a small beach, a fishing pier, and wonderful sites overlooking the water – they even have decks! Navarre Beach and the Gulf Islands National Seashore were situated near the bridge to the barrier island. We were just a short drive away from these beautiful white sands, and this was our primary destination for this stop.

The next morning we set out for Navarre Beach. The road along the beach is flanked by hotels, condos, and beach house rentals for several miles, but as you come to the end of Navarre Beach, all the development disappears. The road is narrowed by sand, and a sign announces the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Beyond is nothing but sand dunes spiked with beach grass and beautiful turquoise waters. The sand is fine and white – “sugar sand,” as our host put it, and indeed it has that same texture. The waters are clean and clear turquoise in color when the sun is bright and seem to hold their color even as the clouds move in.

Beach and ocean at Gulf Island National Seashore Santa Rosa Day Use Area

Beautiful white sand beach at Gulf Islands National Seashore at the Santa Rosa Day Use Area 

After a night of storms, mobs of jellyfish are washed up on the beach. They were quite large – about the size of a grapefruit, with multi-colored sails and tentacles. A few young seabirds picked at smaller jellies but stepped gingerly around the larger specimens – as did we! Quite an unusual “litter” problem. At this time of year, the National Seashore is deserted. We found a parking lot next to the beach with views of the water and set out our camp chairs to enjoy the winter sun – alternating between long walks collecting shells and reading in our chairs.

Conveniently, Pensacola Beach is just on the other end of the road that runs through the National Seashore; after deciding we wanted an early dinner, we headed to a popular restaurant there. I made a mental note to ensure we returned before sundown since that marks the National Seashore’s gates closing. Otherwise, we would have to take the longer route over a bridge and through town to reach our RV campground.

After exploring the National Seashore and visiting the Pensacola area for a week or so, we headed east about 130 miles to Cape San Blas. Our camping destination was T.H Stone Memorial State Park, situated at the end of the Cape. The far-reaching tip of the peninsula hosts a nature reserve, and the RV campgrounds are nestled nearby between the Gulf and the Bay. We reserved a site on the beach side near a wooden boardwalk that crosses the dunes to the beach. As you reach the top of the dunes, what greets your eye is a wide expanse of white sand and blue water – and nothing else. It is devoid of development. No buildings, no lifeguard towers, no people. It is a rare gift to find a beach of such beauty where you can walk until you drop and hardly meet another soul!

dune walk over at cape san blas

Walking over the dunes and seeing the Gulf is a breathtaking experience.

But there is wildlife everywhere. The marsh cozies up to the campground, so you’ll see cotton rats scurrying around the edges of the marsh, as well as herons and seagulls. As deserted as the beach was, the campground was full. This is a popular spot for both travelers and locals. Cape San Blas is beautiful; the weather was spectacular with blue skies, sea breezes, and warm sunshine. The whole area is quite laid back – not a lot of development, just lots of beach houses to rent. Situated on a peninsula that curves close to the mainland, the water is lovely, and the surf is quite gentle. You’ll enjoy white sand similar to Gulf Islands National Seashore, but the dunes are bordered by a maritime forest that threads from the mainland to the tip of the peninsula.

St George dunes with grasses and water beyond

St George island is fringed with grasses and small palmettos, protecting the dunes from erosion.

After a lingering stay enjoying this beautiful beach, we headed about 35 miles to St. George Island, just east of Apalachicola. St. George is almost like home to us and has been our favorite family vacation destination for the past twenty years. The barrier island is reached by a four-mile bridge that makes a wide arc as it crosses the bay dotted with oyster boats which is why St. George is unique. As a barrier island, it sits out in the Gulf. The water surrounding it is active with marine life like dolphins, sharks, fish, crabs, and rays. Sea birds such as terns, gulls, sandpipers, pelicans, and herons are evident across the island, and it is common to see squadrons of pelicans skim the Gulf waters while pods of dolphin romp up and down the island’s shoreline. It also is fringed on the bay side with maritime forest while the Gulf side has stunningly beautiful beaches. The old lighthouse, a distinguishing feature of this barrier island, now stands as a visitor center where the bridge meets the island.

St George Lighthouse

Now welcoming visitors, the St. George light once warned ships to avoid this barrier island.

On the island’s east end, you will find RV accommodations at the Dr. Julian G. Bruce State Park, which offers RV campsites in the maritime forest. The state park end of the island is beautiful, wild, and vast, with wide, shell-strewn beaches. Like Cape San Blas, it is quiet, but the east end of St. George beyond the State Park gate feels wilder. It is subject to more wave action and wind as a barrier island. Indeed, the memory of our walks along the beach floods my mind with the sound of wind and surf. We could stay here for a year, but it is time to move on too soon – there are more beaches to visit!

Driving east, we reach the big bend area where beaches are overtaken by salt marsh. There is a long stretch where there is no apparent beach at all but dozens of more remote vacation spots like Alligator Point and Cedar Key. The first inkling you are returning to beach life is almost 300 miles away, just north of St. Petersburg.

The St. Pete Beach area is quite different from the Panhandle. Although this was not on our list of destinations, it is hard to overlook the beach here. It is wide and lovely with beautiful Gulf views, but the area is far more developed. Boardwalks are lined with shops, hotels, and restaurants. The hum of the area is a pure vacation vibe. There are a lot of places to have fun, eat, drink, and be merry. Nearby Tampa hosts several RV parks for accommodations, perfect for an overnight stop or to act as a home base for a busy vacation.

But we don’t stop for long in St. Pete, as our next destination is 130 miles south, where we find ourselves in Fort Meyers. The city wraps around you with tall buildings and the “hurry” of a thriving metropolis. Then you come to a bridge that transports you with a more tranquil view. Boats bobbing in the bay, seagulls soaring on the wind and that beautiful blue water. Our destination (one recommended by friends) was Sanibel Island. Sanibel is a lovely respite from city life with remarkably turquoise waters, soft sand beaches, sun, and still lots to do. Many little village areas populate the main thoroughfare, each with a selection of shops and restaurants. This is a walkable/bikeable island with paved bike paths along every major street and lots of places to rent bikes. The RV park where we had reservations, Periwinkle Park and Campground, was the perfect setting for biking to the beach or into the nearby villages. Leave your car parked, hop on your bike and spend your vacation peddling around the island; there is a lot of peddling to do! The lighthouse is on one end of the island, and the nature preserve is on the other. In between, there are dozens of beach access points to sample the sand, sea, and sky.

Pastel colors at a Sanibel Island sundown

Amazing pastel-colored sky on Sanibel Island – every sundown looks like this!

As we walked around the campground on our first evening, we thought we could hear the sounds of macaws and monkeys. Turns out, the campground owner rescues parrots and has expanded his menagerie to include a number of other species. Very interesting walking down a dark, sandy road, palm trees waving in the breeze, stars twinkling brightly in the night sky, and hearing the sounds of the jungle coming from the end of the street! Just one more reason to enjoy Sanibel Island.

Sanible island beach littered with seashells

Shelling is taken seriously on Sanibel Island, where the shell collectors’ pose is dubbed the “Sanibel Stoop.”

Our final five-hour push for this trip would take us down the coast, across the Everglades, and onto the Overseas Highway to reach Key West. This was one place we had to make campground reservations well in advance of our arrival. Like everyone else, we were looking for a great RV site with a water view and convenient access to downtown Key West. But Key West is not well suited for RV traffic. Narrow streets and minimal parking can create a gauntlet for even our small RV. But the weather, the entertainment value, the history, and the sheer romance of Key West made it an irresistible destination.

All that said, the area does provide accommodation for RV life. There are at least two good-sized campgrounds on Stock Island just before crossing over U.S.1 to Key West, and there are many others scattered throughout the upper and middle keys. Most provide access to water activities, and some offer remarkable water views from your RV campsite. But don’t get the image in your head of RV solitude on a palm-strewn beach.

Campsite on seawall near Key West

A tight fit at the campsite near Key West but wonderful views of the bay and harbor

When we arrived at Boyd’s Key West RV Campground, we were shocked at just how close the sites were to one another. Mere feet separated RVs, with little more than a picket fence to delineate one site from the next. That said, Boyd’s is a really great campground with excellent facilities, a pool, a boat ramp, and great water views. We found our campsite next to all the tent sites at the end of a peninsula overlooking the bay and harbor. A hard coral surface made leveling the unit easy. The rear of the site had a picnic table that kept us from backing into the water (we actually had about six feet from the back of the unit to the seawall’s edge.) We set up the camp chairs and table at the back of the unit, grabbed a bottle of wine, some cheese, and crackers, and sat down to watch the sunset and plan our day in downtown Key West.

We discovered a more laid-back experience at Bahia Honda State Park several days into our trip. Located on Big Pine Key, the state park turned out to be a terrific place to kayak and camp. Its name is Spanish for “Deep Bay,” and that depth provides fuel for its swift currents during tidal changes in the channel at the end of the island. Surprisingly, the waters off the state park beach were tranquil and shallow on the Atlantic side. The beaches, though narrow and lined with yellow flowering shrubs, were wide enough to sit and enjoy the sunshine – even if we had to clear a spot of dried seaweed. It was easy to launch the kayak, and the protected lagoon made for an enjoyable paddle. I think the real surprise was the RV campground. Located on the water, larger sites faced the U.S. 1 Bridge, but smaller, less equipped sites on the opposite side faced the peaceful Atlantic. A much less crowded and laid-back way to enjoy the Keys!

Beach at Bahia Honda with seaweed

Yes, lots of seaweed, but the kayak paddling is wonderful at Bahia Honda.

In all, we truly enjoyed every beach we visited on this trip. From the Gulf Islands National Seashore to the exciting whirlwind of activity in Key West, this adventure of exploring a variety of great beaches felt successful. We found quiet beaches like Cape San Blas, Navarre, and St. George and beaches surrounded by activity on Sanibel Island, St. Pete Beach, and Key West. Sampling so many beaches in one go helped us to see how each one is unique.

A final sunset over the harbor on Stock Island signaled the end of this beach hunt and inspired another journey to find more lovely beaches going north, up the East Coast – But that is a story for another day.

Sunset at Key West

At the end of our trip to Key West, looking over the harbor at sunset.