Thursday, November 28, 2013

Grayton Beach State Park, Florida

Our visit to Grayton Beach State Park was unplanned. We were going to stay a full week along Florida's Gulf coast at another popular park, but discovered our original park was not the natural paradise we thought it would be. A camper there suggested we might be happier at Grayton. After a quick check, we found that we could check out of the first park and move to Grayton Beach State Park.
Grayton Beach State Park

Within moments of arriving, I knew that this park was much better suited for us. The main attraction at Grayton is nature and not the park itself, although the park is excellent. We had a site with shade and it had bushes on the sides of our spot, meaning we were not staring at our neighbors. We felt we were in the woods along the Gulf coast.
Rosie in the Grayton Beach State Park

Our moods immediately changed as we started setting up Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer. Instead of parking on a level concrete pad as we did at our last campground, we had to use our levelers because our site was gravel and dirt. While some people love concrete pads, we are OK with a natural site.
One of the trails in this park

As we were pulling in the park, we noticed that there were several other Airstream trailers there. During our stay, 11 different Airstreams visited the park. We first thought we stumbled into an Airstream rally. It turns out that we are not the only Airstreamers who enjoy Grayton Beach State Park.
One of the views from Grayton Beach State Park
Park literature claims that Grayton Beach is consistently ranked among the most beautiful beaches in the United States. While our ability to compare all of America's beaches is limited, it is difficult to imagine too many other beaches better than this one. If you like beautiful beaches, you will love Grayton Beach.
The beach area
The Gulf shore

We noticed that we were not finding sea shells along this beach. We were told that an offshore reef keeps the shells from washing ashore. That is interesting because we have camped along the Florida Gulf coast less than 50 miles away and found lots of shells.
While there are some good bicycle trails in the park, we enjoyed following the bike trails a mile or two outside the park to the Seaside Beach area. If you are wondering about what Seaside is, think up-scale tourist beach. For example, the Seaside community invited about a dozen artists there to paint during the week then had an art show and sold their work over the weekend. A spare couple thousand dollars could have landed you some amazing paintings created in the area that week. We ended up munching on the food served at the art showing and enjoying the paintings without taking one home.
Artist at work in Seaside

There are two camping loops in Grayton Beach State Park. One has sewer connections and the other one doesn't. We noticed that the side with sewer connections didn't have the amount of shade found in the other loop. When adding the sewer connections, the construction team clear-cut the camping sites in that loop. While the trees are starting to grow back, it will take a few years before they can start providing the needed shade in that loop. Sadly, sewer service is going to be added to the second loop one day at the cost of the trees there. We will miss the shade in that loop when the State of Florida decides it has enough money to complete this project.
Make sure you bring your water filtration system to this park. We have a water filter on the main water connection plus another water filter on the kitchen sink. With the dual filters, the water tasted fine, unfiltered water didn't.
Both camping loops had well-maintained bath houses. These were located in the center of each loop.
The one element of the park that didn't make sense to us was the dump station. There is only one and it is in a strange location. Anyone using the dump station blocks the road so that no one can pass. If you are caught by another camper using the dump station, you simply need to be patient and wait until they finish.
Campers know that this has been a banner year for ants in many parks. We had legendary battles in some of the parks we visited trying to keep the ants outside Rosie. We lost the battle in a couple of parks and held our own in others.
As soon as we started setting up, I walked over to our neighbors and asked them about the ant problem only to find out that they had not seen any ants at this park. It was nice to not worry about ants while camping at this park.
Some specifics about this park:
  • Electrical connections in our loop were 20 and 30 amps. We didn't have 50 amp connections.
  • AT&T provided stong 4G service over the campground.
  • There is no WiFi service in the park.
  • There is no WiFi service close to the park. If you need WiFi, plan to travel 20 minutes to find a restuarant with free WiFi.
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC TV stations from our antenna. We also saw ME-TV and CW digital signals while in the park.
  • While you feel as though you are in the woods when camping here, you are very close to shopping. We were able to ride our bikes to several shopping areas.
Painting by Becky while at Grayton Beach
Grayton Beach was not the park we planned to camp at on this trip. In fact, we hadn't heard that much about Grayton Beach. As it turned out, Grayton Beach was a great find and a park that we will return to in the future.
Here are some additional photos from Grayton Beach State Park:
A trail in the park

The famous pines
Prayer of the Woods

Friday, November 15, 2013

Topsail Hill State Park, Florida

For more than a year, we planned our trip to Topsail. While sharing favorite parks with other campers on our many adventures, Topsail kept coming up as a "must see" park.
First, Topsail is along Florida's Gulf coast and is located near Destin Beach. This is a beautiful area of Florida and we love camping on the Gulf.
The campsites in Topsail are not on the water, but there is a tram that moves campers to the beach. You cannot be in a hurry because the tram only runs every hour.
While speaking about the beach, you need to know it is beautiful. Of course, most of Florida's and Alabama's Gulf coastline areas qualify as beautiful.
Arriving at the park, we commented on the major "theme park" quality there. The park is amazingly well manicured. Every bush in the park is well groomed. The park is spotless and it looks like they must mow the grass daily.
The other thing we noticed was how many campers they can squeeze into a small space. We were going to be next to other campers on all sides of Rosie, our 25 foot Airstream trailer.
The closeness of the trailers became apparent when we started backing into our site. One of our neighbors had to move his children's bicycles from along the front of their site because there was no way we could maneuver into our site without our neighbors moving their stuff.
I was able to repay our camping community back later that evening when a huge fifth wheel arrived after dark and several campers had to help that young family navigate into their site.
Once we parked Rosie, I started the outside set up and Becky started getting the inside ready. After a few minutes, Becky asked if the power was on because she wanted to switch on the air conditioner.
When I replied that we were connected to the AC, Becky informed me that there was no power inside Rosie. A quick check confirmed that we were connected to the camp's power source, but power was not making its way into Rosie.
While I was getting out my tools ready to play Mr. Fix-it, Becky went looking for a Park Ranger to check our power connection box. Quickly, several rangers converged on our site to start working on our problem. Sadly, they determined that it was OUR problem. Our electrical cord was broken.
To set the stage, it is 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. If we don't find a power cord, we will be spending the night without power and that means no AC. Once again, the Rangers came through by telling us where the closest Wal-Mart was plus they mentioned that a new Camping World just opened in Panama City, which was about 50 minutes down the road.
We jumped into the car and headed to Wal-Mart. While Becky was driving there, I used my iPhone to find and call Camping World to confirm that they had the cord. We stopped at Wal-Mart and quickly looked over their camping supplies. They didn't have the power cord. Immediately, we changed directions and started heading to Panama City.
Another wrinkle in the mix was that Camping World closed at 5 p.m. and that was 90 minutes away. If you have ever driven through Panama City, you know that traffic can be an issue there. We were fortunate in that there were no traffic delays and we arrived before the store closed.
Camping World had the power cord we needed plus it was on sale for the store's grand opening. We ended up buying two power cords and started back to Rosie because the next issue was that it was starting to get dark and we didn't want to complete our setup after sunset.
The new cord confirmed that our old cable was the problem and Rosie was back on the power grid.
That was the easy problem to fix at Topsail. The next probelm was a doozey.
After we completed setting up Rosie, we went for a walk around the park, There are two loops in this park. The first, the one we were in, seemed to have campers packed in as tight as possible. The second also had a high number of RVs, but that loop had a little more space between campers.
We were not happy at Topsail.
We felt as if we were in a fishbowl because campers were packed in all around us.
We were not happy at Topsail.
They call Topsail an RV resort and we cannot argue with that. The park was well maintained and nothing was out of place, except us. We prefer more of a "back to nature" atmosphere at our campground, not the world of a resort.
We were not happy at Topsail.
Another camper told us about Grayton Beach State Park. It sounded better to us because it was a state park focused on nature and not on providing a resort atmosphere.
We called Grayton and the ranger said that they had one of their non-reserved sites open that morning and he would hold it for us for two hours.
We had two hours to tear down our campsite at Topsail, hitch up Rosie and travel up the road to Grayton Beach. Needless to say, we were in our "get on the road as quickly as possible" mode.
It took about 30 minutes to completely tear down and hitch Rosie up to our truck. We quickly checked out of Topsail and set our sights on Grayton Beach.
We will talk about Grayton Beach in our next posting.
Here are some specifics about Topsail Hill State Park:
  • If you like well maintained parks, Topsail is for you.
  • The park offers 20, 30 and 50 amp electrical service to the RVs.
  • The restrooms and showers are not at the level you would expect for this type of park. Maybe these facilities haven't been updated because all of the camp sites have sewer connections.
  • The park has TV Cable service. Our cable connection wasn't working, so we ended up watching over-the-air TV.
  • We were able to watch ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox plus ME-TV and THIS digital channels while in this park.
  • The camping pads were concrete and they were level.
  • AT&T had good 4G service in this park.
  • Half of the park has WiFi and the other half has to go to the camp store to use WiFi.
  • If you have a problem, the camp volunteers and rangers will quickly come to your rescue.
  • There is lots of shopping near this park.
Many people love this park and it is easy to see why. It is a very nice park. It just isn't the style of park we enjoy.