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I think it’s high time I make a giant ultimate Florida road trip post. It’s going to be just like my Utah road trip one, but for Florida.
This is where you’ll find everything you need to know to plan a Florida road trip from what kind of car you’ll need to what to bring and best hikes to where to stay.
It’s going to be outdoor focused but will include other activities like visiting lighthouses, Disney, Universal, and more.
I’m going to break this down by boring stuff, like logistics, and fun stuff, like activities. For all of the activities, there is a picture you can click on that will open in a new tab for easy browsing.
If there is a picture you can’t click on, it means a post is coming soon. As I do new things in Florida I’ll update this as much as possible.
This isn’t necessarily a Florida road trip itinerary, but it will hopefully help you plan the best Florida road trip ever and give you tons of ideas of what to do, how long to go, when to go, and more.
Logistics of a Florida road trip
We’re going to get the boring stuff out of the way first, then get to the fun stuff: states parks, national parks, and more. The stuff you’ll actually be doing on your trip. But first, we’ve got things like cars, hotels, packing, weather and all that.
What kind of car do you need for a Florida road trip
Florida is pretty easy road wise compared to Utah so there probably isn’t much reason to need a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle unless you plan on doing some driving way back in national forests or something, so for this, I’m just going to cover regular cars, campervans, and RV’s.
This is going to be the easiest and most popular choice. If you’re going to be staying in hotels and on the main roads, this is really all you’ll need. If you’re renting a car, check what it says about driving on dirt roads.
Most say you can’t and there aren’t tons that I’ll be covering in this, but there are some and you want to make sure it’s ok with the rental company before driving on them. If it’s your own car, perfect, you can go wherever.
This is also a good option if you’ll be tent camping or have a shorter trip.
I haven’t seen many of these in Florida, but you can rent campervans in Miami, so if you’re doing a camping road trip, this could be a great option to help you save on hotels and cooking.
This would be best for one or two people. This is also a good, more budget-friendly option, for longer trips. Even though you have to pay for camping (free camping isn’t much of a thing here) it’s going to be less than hotels.
If there will be more than two of you and you want to camp, but not totally rough it, an RV is a great option. This will help cut down on hotel costs, which let’s be real, aren’t the most affordable in Florida.
You will also be able to cook so you don’t have to eat at restaurants for every meal. This is also great for longer trips.
How long do you need for a Florida road trip
It definitely depends on how much you want to see and where those things are. If you’re doing a full Florida road trip, I would say probably two weeks at least.
If you’re just doing the panhandle, central, or south, a week should be ok, but if you can go longer I will always say go longer.
So, if you’re limited on time, one week. If you’re sort of limited, ten days. If you’re a little less limited, two weeks. If you’ve got all the time in the world, and a pretty ok budget, three to four weeks.
What to pack for a Florida road trip
This isn’t everything you need to bring, it doesn’t really include clothes unless it’s something specific or something you may not think of right away.
I’ve also included things that you probably know you need but just for emphasis, like bug spray and sunscreen. There is also a camping gear section.
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are in water, which if you’re in the Everglades or Big Cypress, you may come across.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Light Jacket – Because you just never know. Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’re going to be in the north and south, mostly in winter, you’ll want this. I usually use my rain jacket for this.
Long sleeve shirt – A long sleeve shirt will help protect you from mosquitos. This is a must for a summer visit, but not 100% necessary for January and February, but it would be helpful.
Hiking poles – These will help keep you steady if you’re walking through water. They’re not totally necessary, but will be helpful.
Dry bag – This is a must if you’re kayaking or canoeing. You’ll want to keep your phone and camera dry while you’re on the water. This small dry bag is perfect for little electronics. Here is a bigger one if you want to keep everything in it.
Pants – If you’re walking through water, you’ll want to wear pants so your legs don’t get cut up by the sawgrass.
Good hiking shoes – If you’re sticking to boardwalks and other dry trails, Chacos will be good. If you want to go in the water or flooded areas, you’ll want closed toe shoes so you don’t get cut by sawgrass.
Bear Spray – While it’s no Yellowstone, there are still bears in central/south Florida so it may give you some peace of mind. I haven’t seen one here, but know they were seen in Big Cypress when we were there. Also, this is used like pepper spray for bears, not like bug spray. And do not spray it indoors. Read more about bear safety here.
Sleeping pad – Gotta make the tent comfy! The one I have isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. It’s self-inflating and just needs a little help filling all the way. Buy the sleeping pad here.
Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow. This is a good non-inflatible option. Here is a good inflatable option.
Lantern – I love having a lantern for in the tent at night, reading in the dark, or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The LuminAID is my favorite and you can charge your phone on it. Buy the LuminAID lantern here.
Where to stay on a Florida road trip
One thing that’s for sure is that you’re going to have a loooot of options on places to stay on your Florida road trip.
There is accommodations for all budgets but I would recommend booking popular places that are small (Key West, Marco Island, Everglades City, Key Largo) as far in advance as you can. These places fill up and you don’t want to get stuck with a $500 per night hotel on a budget.
There are so many hotels in Florida, it’s unreal. I love hotels but haven’t actually staying in that many here. While there are budget(ish) friendly options, most tend to be over $150 per night, especially in south Florida.
Of course this can vary and in places like Orlando, Tampa, or Miami there will be a much bigger selection in general plus more variation in price. Places like Naples, Marco Island, and Key West are going to be on the pricier side in general.
Miami, Orlando, Key West, Fort Lauderdale, and Kissimmee all have at least one hostel, so there are options.
Prices seem to be a little all over the place on here, but if you’re traveling on your own or with friends and don’t mind a shared dorm, this is a great option if you’re traveling on a budget. If you want a private room, those tend to be pricier and can sometimes even cost as much as a hotel.
There are tons of Airbnb’s in Florida, but like hotels, in the smaller towns they can fill up fast, so if you know where you’ll be going, booking ahead may be a good idea.
There is always Vrbo and Homeaway, too. This can be a good option if you’re on a budget and don’t mind having a room instead of a whole house or apartment. We stayed in one in Everglades City and liked it.
This is the best budget option and great for getting to stay in the parks. Campgrounds here are pretty nice (from what I’ve seen) and very popular so these definitely need to be booked way ahead. Like, as soon as reservations open.
Last year I looked for January camping spots in the Keys (I looked in like, August) and almost everything was full. Well, everything you didn’t need a boat to get to. Reservations open up six months in advance.
Weather in Florida and the best time to visit
It’s hard to pick one best time to go to Florida because it all depends on where you’re going and what you want to do. Generally, big holidays are going to be summer busy.
Summer and winter will have higher accommodation prices. I’ll try and break it down by season but will get more specific with months in each section.
This is a great time to visit Florida. The weather will still be good and accommodation prices will be lower. April and May are perfect for that. March is still on the pricier side but it is a great time to go, too. It won’t be too hot but not too cold either.
June-October is hurricane season, so if you don’t want to visit during that, skip it and go between November and May. This will be the busiest time in Northern Florida (June-September) so if you want to avoid those crowds, consider a winter visit. If you’re going to south Florida, this would be a slower time to go. It will be hotter and more humid though.
Like spring, September, October, and November are going to be pretty good weather-wise (more so for November) but will have lower hotel prices. This will be the tail end of hurricane season though, so keep that in mind if you want to avoid that.
This is the busy season for south Florida (December to March) and a lot of things you want to do here during this time will be expensive and probably need to be booked in advance. It usually rains less in the winter.
Inland areas may be hotter than coastal areas since they have the sea breeze. It will be a little cooler up north, but still warm in the south, and a little less humid, but still kind of humid.
How to get to Florida
This is pretty self-explanatory, but the flying part may help you decide where to at least fly in and out of for what you want to see.
If you’re more limited on time, flying is going to be your best bet. Where you fly in to will depend on where you want to go. There are tons of airports, so you’ve got plenty to choose from.
If you want to visit the panhandle, definitely Tallahassee. For north Florida (like Gainesville or the springs) Jacksonville is a good option. Orlando is a good option, just an extra half hour.
If you want to visit Disney, Universal, or anything in central Florida, then Orlando will be your best bet. It’s also great for getting to Cocoa Beach and Daytona. Tampa will be good if you want to see the St. Pete area.
Miami will be best for south Florida like the Everglades, Big Cypress, and the Keys. Naples and Fort Myers have airports as well if you will just be in that area, but Miami or Fort Lauderdale will be best for the south.
If you live close to Florida or, well in the US or Canada I suppose and want to make it a giant road trip, consider just driving to Florida.
This is also a good option if you have a car and aren’t old enough to rent one yet. I would do this myself, but I don’t like flying that much, though know it is necessary sometimes.
Other important things for a Florida road trip:
- If you’re planning on visiting Dry Tortugas, you’ll probably need to book that months (even a year) in advance, especially if you’re camping.
- If you’re planning on camping, you also probably need to book that months in advance, like probably as soon as camping reservations open up.
- While you’re at it, if there’s a particular hotel you want to stay at or a small town (like Everglades City) or you’re on a budget, you should book that way in advance, too. I’m writing this as of May 21 and for January 2021, Marco Island is almost totally booked.
- Get a national park pass if you plan on going to any of the national parks or monuments. It will pay for itself in like, three stops. The only thing it won’t work on is the ferry or plane to Dry Tortugas. You can buy them online or at the parks.
- Unlike out west, you’ll have phone service in most places. Of course, way out in the glades you may not have it, but it’s more likely you will than won’t here. But I would still load up maps and anything else you need if you’re going somewhere a little remote while you do have service.
- It gets so hot and soooo humid in Florida. Make sure to drink plenty of water and don’t push yourself too hard on hikes. If you need to rest, rest. No shame in that.
- Like everywhere else, don’t touch or feed the wildlife.
- Florida is expensive. Like, so expensive. Admission to things like lighthouses, theme parks, and museums really adds up, especially if you’re paying for more than one person. Hotels aren’t the most affordable, though there are options but if you book last minute, they might be full. So basically, make sure you have a budget you’re comfortable with and definitely check prices for things you want to do ahead of time to plan that budget out.
My favorite coffee shops and restaurants in Florida
- The Top (Gainesville)
- Mojos BBQ (Gainesville)
- The Talented Cookie (High Springs)
- Maudes (Gainesville)
- Boca Fiesta (Gainesville)
- True Food Kitchen (Naples)
- Brooks Burgers (Naples)
- Delicious Raw Juice Bar (Naples)
- Joe Mamas (Port St. Joe)
- Provisions (Port St. Joe)
- The Sand Bucket Smoke (Cape San Blas)
My Florida road trip map
This is actually a map of things from my Florida bucket list, but it’s perfect for this since it’s pretty much all outdoorsy, with a few exceptions.
It can give you an idea of where everything is and may help in narrowing down where you want to go based on what you want to do. It’s split between what I have and haven’t done.
Since this post is more about logistics, you can find every post I have about things to do in Florida here.
Hopefully this helps you plan your Florida road trip a little easier and gets you even more excited about going! No matter when you go, there will be tons of awesome things to see and do no matter what you’re interested in.
What is your favorite thing to see/do in Florida? Anything else you would like to know or see added now or in the future?