Spring break had finally arrived, and we were ready to camp! As we pulled back the cover on on our Jayco, affectionately named "Trailer Swift", we felt like we were lifting the weight of winter off our backs. Opening her doors and drinking in the smell of adventures past, I envisioned our first outing to be equally exciting. It was time to load her up and get her on the road to Branson... or so we thought.
Missouri's weather in March is as unpredictable as Trump's tweets. You never know what you're going to get. We reasoned that a conservative trip close to home was a wise choice, knowing that our summer plans were ambitious. We really weren't conceding; living near the Ozark Mountains means we've got a stunning place to enjoy a plethora of outdoor activities practically at our back door. The forecast called for mild temps and sunshine, but that all changed the day we were set to begin our trip.
We were nearly finished packing when I decided to give another glance at Branson's weather. Cloud and rain icons replaced the little yellow sunshines that had once lined the weekly weather report. I approached my husband with another crazy idea.
"Sooooo, what would you think about changing our travel plans?" I asked.
"Whadda ya thinking?"
After 20 years together, he knows me well enough to know how often I change my mind. While he's normally the one to keep me grounded, when it comes to travel, he shares the same spirit.
"Well, we could spend a cold week in Branson... or we could head down to the Gulf and get a little sand and sun."
After a brutal winter (for us wimpy Missourians), it didn't take much to convince him to ditch Branson and head south. We quickly grabbed a few pairs of shorts and our swimming suits, and threw them in the camper. We were Alabama bound!
While a previous visit to a Florida State Park left a lot to be desired, Topsail Hill Preserve proved to be the most idealistic beach camping experience one could hope for, short of being right on the sand.
Our first campsite was a little disappointing. While Foley seemed a reasonable place to base ourselves for some beach R&R, the campsite itself lacked any beachy-appeal. After one night, we decided to look around for another option.
Last-minute camping may work out west where public lands are plentiful, but spring break in Florida meant choices were incredibly limited. Privately owned campgrounds that did have that miraculous opening were charging premium rates. We took a chance, and called the campground at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
The ranger offered us a glimmer of hope, stating that there were newly renovated sites that the park system was supposed to be making available. In a world of automated reservations systems, it was refreshing to speak with a pleasant person who seemed knowledgeable and genuine. We broke camp and headed for Santa Rosa Beach, praying that one site might still be available.
The hospitality of the rangers continued as I made my way into the park's office. Each member of their staff was friendly and courteous. We were given a site, parking passes, and two dog biscuits from "Auntie Bonnie", the ranger who insisted she was our dog's new aunt.
While a previous visit to a Florida State Park left a lot to be desired, Topsail Hill Preserve proved to be the most idealistic beach camping experience one could hope for, short of being right on the sand. Our site offered full hook-ups, ample shade from towering pines, and a lovely gravel pad that leveled nicely.
Of course we hadn't driven 12 hours to lounge camper-side... it was time to get our toes in the sand! While the beach was one mile from the campground, the park offered a tram to shuttle guests back and forth. We opted to walk, wanting to take in the wilderness that sat between our site and the emerald waters that beckoned us.
The trail leading to the waters is accessible only by tram, walkers, and bicyclists. My recommendation would be to either bike or pack a decent pair of shoes. Walking a mile in flimsy flip-flops down an asphalt road isn't as fun as it sounds. Because of the protected dunes buffering the beach from the trail, elevated boardwalks take beach-goers from trail to shore.
In comparison to much of Florida's coastline, the beaches of Topsail Hill Preserve State Park are unspoiled and natural. Three miles of the shore are shadowed only by people and wildlife, not high rises. While the beach-front views and dining are part of what make Florida a desirable place to vacation, the park seemed to transport us to a time where the ocean, not the opulence, was the star attraction.
Overall, we found Topsail Hill Preserve State Park to be the ideal spot to setup camp when vacationing to the Emerald Coast. We hope to return soon. This time, with bikes!
Born with a severe case of wanderlust, I'm always searching for new adventures and sharing those stories here.