Corkscrew Swamp Florida

Everything You Need To Know To Plan An Outdoorsy Florida Road Trip

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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.

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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.

Passenger car

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.

Campervan

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.

RV

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.

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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.

Myakka state park canopy walk

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.

General

NatGeo National Parks Book – This is one of the best national park guidebooks and I take it on all my park trips.  Plus, it’s got the nice glossy pages.  Buy the book here.

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.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Corkscrew Swamp Florida

Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the strong desert sun.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

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.

Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking.  This isn’t the exact one I have, but it’s similar and if I needed to replace mine, I’d probably get this one.

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.

Bug spray – You’ll want to bring this no matter when you visit, but especially if you want to go in the summer.  I like the Ben’s bug spray as well as the Off! Deep Woods.

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.

Fakahatchee Boardwalk Florida

For camping

Tent – I love the REI Passage 2 tent for one or two people.  It’s small and fairly light.  If you need a four-person tent, I’d go with this one, the REI Half DomeYou can check out my tent 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.

Sleeping Bag – I have the Nemo Viola 35 and love it because it’s not as restrictive as the mummy bags.  It has ventilation slits for those warmer nights.  Check out my sleeping bag here.

Puffy quilt – If you’re a really warm sleeper and visiting in the summer, a puffy quilt might be a better option.  I prefer this for hotter nights.  Check out the Rumpl camp quilts 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.

Camp chairs – If you plan on doing a lot of camping outside of this trip, and backpacking especially, the REI Flexlite chairs are great choices.  Check out the camp chairs here.

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.

Big Cypress national preserve Florida

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.

Hotels

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.

Hostels

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.

Airbnb

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.

Camping

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.

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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.

Spring

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.

Summer

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.

Fall

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.

Winter

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.

Fakahatchee Boardwalk Florida

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.

Fly

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.

Drive

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.

Fire Prairie Trail Florida

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.

Fakahatchee Boardwalk Florida

My favorite coffee shops and restaurants in Florida

  • Civilization (Gainesville)
  • The Top (Gainesville)
  • Mojos BBQ (Gainesville)
  • Emilianos (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)

Corkscrew Swamp Florida

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.

National parks and monuments in Florida

There are three national parks in Florida and a handful of national monuments, seashore, wildlife refuges and preserves.  They all make great stops on a Florida road trip and are spread out all over, except for the three national parks.  These are also only the ones I have been to so far, but keep checking back every six months or so to see if I’ve added more.

This is the section where you’ll find all of my posts about these.  Each picture will take you to the post or category depending on how many posts I have for each place.

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State parks in Florida

Florida has the best state parks.  There.  I said it.  They are all really cool and so well maintained, it’s hard to beat them, plus there are tons of them so no matter where you go on a Florida road trip, you’ll be able to see some.  There are springs, hiking trails, museums, forts, beaches, and more.

This is the section where you’ll find all of my posts about these.  Each picture will take you to the post or category depending on how many posts I have for each place.

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Other hikes in Florida

This is where you’ll find the other hikes and outdoor activities in Florida like shelling and visiting springs that aren’t in state parks and whatever else I happen upon in the future like kayaking or paddling.

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Non-hiking activities in Florida

This is where you’ll find all the other random stuff I’ve done in Florida like Disney, Harry Potter world, lighthouses, ghost tours, city guides, and things like that.  It’s all the non-outdoorsy stuff that is still awesome and should be done but doesn’t fit above.

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Other posts you may find helpful

Here we’vee got the more general road trip posts that aren’t necessarily Florida specific that may be helpful to you in some part of your planning phase.  The Florida bucket list here is what you’ll see on the map above.  That also gets updated quite frequently.

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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?

4 thoughts on “Everything You Need To Know To Plan An Outdoorsy Florida Road Trip

  1. I love your idea to rent an RV so that you can camp, without roughing it too much. My family wants to take a trip to FL this summer so that we can experience the outdoor areas there. I’ll try to plan things out now so that we know where the good places to camp and eat are at.

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