Coming here, after weeks in RV parks, was like exiting a mall on a sunny day and realizing what you’ve been missing. RV parks have their pluses. Full hook-ups, pools, laundry rooms… And for us, with our Thousand Trails membership, it’s an affordable way to spend the winter in Florida. But god how I miss real campgrounds. With a natural setting, hiking and biking trails, campfires, some space between sites, and campers who like to be outside. It’s a whole different ball game.
When our new friends from Panacea emailed us with their Florida itinerary, we checked it against ours. The closest overlap was Wekiwa Springs State Park, halfway between where we were in Wildwood and our next stop at Ormond Beach. If we shaved off a day of each reservation, we could meet them for the weekend.
Florida State Parks are really hard to get into in the winter. They book up months in advance. The weekend was full, but I kept checking back, and on the tenth time I searched on Reserve America, I nabbed a site that had been released.
I was so focused on seeing our friends again that I hadn’t even looked at the park we were going to. It’s north of Orlando, not far from Winter Park, and it’s a beautiful place. It’s got a temperate spring (72°) that’s been turned into a giant natural swimming pool. On warm days, it’s packed full of bathers, but when we saw it, at the end of a winter day, it was deserted.
The spring connects to Wekiwa River, which is slow and scenic and great for paddling. At a sandy beach launch, there were over a hundred rental canoes and kayaks stacked up, so you can imagine what a busy place this is on a warm day. There was a sign warning about alligators, but I guess that’s not too big a concern if they rent that many boats.
There are miles of hiking and biking trails, boardwalks through jungle-like bush, and even a lake. This place deserved more than a two-night stay. Like so many great places we’ve been, I wished we had more time there. We would go for a swim, blow up the canoe, hike some trails… But we were meeting my sister and brother-in-law on Sunday, and I’d been looking forward to that for some time.
We were warned about bear activity when we checked into the park, but in all our travels through bear country this year, we’ve never seen one. After we’d set up in our site, we drove around the park to check it out before dark. We were in a remote stretch when a large black bear darted across the road in front of us. S/he moved so quickly that we barely had time to register that it was a bear before s/he was swallowed by the brush, but we both were taken by its size and the velvet sheen of its healthy coat.
Our friends, Barbara Ann and William, didn’t get to the park till late, but we met up the next morning and followed them into Winter Park to go to a Saturday Market they love. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the place was festive and crowded. We filled our bags with fresh vegies and went to a patio café for coffee and a catch-up. They are just one week into their own year (or more) on the road, and we had so much to talk about.
We split up after that and took advantage of the metropolitan area to do a little shopping at Trader Joe’s and Costco. Also the Winter Park Goodwill Boutique (really called that), which Barbara Ann had pointed out as place of great deals, given the wealth in the area. She was right. I found brand new Levi’s, Lee’s painter pants, and American Outfitter shorts, all for $18.
It was late afternoon before we got back and I had that exiting-a-mall feeling again, rueful of spending our one park-day in town, but we sat outside and appreciated the time we had. Gypsy was especially happy to be out in the “wild,” watching squirrels and pouncing on bugs.
Dinner with Friends
We had planned on an outdoor meal, with a campfire and twinkly lights, taking full advantage of our spacious site in the pine forest. But at dusk, it started to rain. Bessie is big enough for entertaining, so we moved indoors and we stir-fried vegies to go with the steak William had grilled. We sat at the dinette and talked for hours, and I’m so glad we got to connect with these new friends again. I hope to see them back in Oregon when they explore the Northwest (assuming we get there before they do).