Winter in Florida - 2006
By John Kobak

We bought a new motorhome this Fall and decided to break it in by touring Florida along with our canoe and mountain bikes. I decided not to write my usual chronological type story but to give you some general impressions, recommendations and tips.

First of all we are different than the general Florida tourist who heads to the beaches somewhere South of Tampa to get to summer like weather. We prefer cooler weather because we are very physically active and we prefer wilderness and wildlife to RV neighbors and full hookups. The ideal daytime temperature for us is between 55-75oF, with lows in the 30-40's which make sleeping great. We never used our A/C but needed to use our furnace or radiant heater on many mornings.

We have been paddling various rivers in Florida for over 40 years and have some favorites but always like to try exploring new ones including tiny creeks and larger bays and estuaries. One universal fact when paddling is: If it is a really nice river, there are probably crowds on the weekends, so save those sections for midweek paddling.

We use a 17' canoe but noticed that outside of liveries most people have been switching to kayaks. They do offer some advantages, however I still feel the canoe is the ideal Florida watercraft. It will go anywhere; it's easy for me to carry by myself with the padded center thwart and best of all I can pop my bike into the center, which I use as our shuttle vehicle. I drive to the put-in, leave Peggy with our canoe and paddles, take RV to take-out, peddle back, pop off the front wheel and put the bike into the canoe.

When we get to a take-out, we are all done, there is no going back to pickup a vehicle. Sometimes, if I'm not sure how far we may get, we throw the bike into the canoe at the start and then peddle back when we finish to get the RV. It's pretty hard to out paddle what you can bike since rivers usually meander while roads are straight. Also, I get two kinds of exercise for one trip.

We like paddling by ourselves and find that we have better opportunity for viewing wildlife by being quiet and moving downstream quickly. On this trip we actually saw a rare Florida Panther lying on a tree overhanging the river. There are less than 200 left in Florida. We saw hundreds of alligators, turtles and birds. We saw a few eagles and a screech owl and family of Manatees.

Northern Florida from the Ga. line to about Ocala has many crystal clear spring fed rivers. Our favorites are Silver River, Juniper Springs and Ichetucknee Springs. One of the big rivers that we cannot recommend is the Suwannee. It starts out as a full size river right out of the Okefenokee swamp and continues over 150 miles to the Gulf. Every year we try a different section of the Suwannee , hoping to find one we will enjoy, but we find ourselves disappointed year after year. There is very little wildlife, high banks and smelly motor traffic. 

If you want to see more gators than any other place else in Florida head to the Myakka river East of Sarasota. One really scenic river that we paddled this year for the first time is Alafia river upstream of Lithia Springs, near Tampa. The water level was high from a heavy rain and in mid-week no one else was around.

Campgrounds - Basically 4 types are available. 

    Private parks, usually with full hookups, activities for seniors or kids, very crowded and priced between $20-35/night
    State Parks, class A, larger campsites, $15-$25/night with the Northern Parks being the least expensive and crowded
    State Forests, primitive to class A, $5 to $20 with 50% discount for even out-of-state seniors
    National Forests - Primitive to class A, free to $20 with 50% discount for any seniors.
    County Parks- Class A & B, $10 to $20 and 50% senior discounts.

One problem for us is advanced reservations. We travel with no plan other than if we like it and are having fun we stay, if the weather turns bad or there is not much to occupy our time we move on. So, we never make any reservations. The problem is that the further South you go in Florida, the more likely that the campgrounds will be full from persons making advance reservations, especially on weekends. So if you are staying over a weekend you need to select a campground that does not accept reservations like the State & National Forests or County Parks. And if it is a popular destination get there on Thursday or early in the morning on Friday.

This year we spent about 7 weeks hiking, pedaling and paddling. I biked over 300 miles and we paddled about 125 miles on 14 different river sections. We really lucked out on the weather. In January, we were in Northern FL and they set records for warm temperatures and no rain. When we got to Tampa we had a 100 year rain which brought the rivers up for better paddling and when we got as far South as Ft Myers we experienced our first frost. When it warmed back up we headed North again. You really don't have to move that far in FL to experience a big change in the weather.

How does this compare with going to Mexico you may ask? Well Florida has better canoeing and cleaner rivers and supper markets are easier to find. There are many more campers and campgrounds in Florida. Florida is half the distance from Ohio. However Mexico offers different kinds of adventure and cultural experiences. They are very different but you can have fun in either.

If you want to read a Blog of this year's Florida trip, follow the link.

If you want to read about our previous experiences in Florida (2002)Report or our last two Mexico reports, Mexico 2005 Trip Report or Mexico 2004 Trip Report follow those links.

Some other useful links:
Description of Florida's SpringsFlorida's Canoe Trails. Florida's State Parks 

Central FL Kayak trips , Kayak & Canoeing in Florida
Withlacoochee State Forest

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