Why head to Florida’s state parks when there are almost 1,200 miles of coastline to visit? The answer is, because you will find nature everywhere, an uncrowded atmosphere, and excellent facilities for camping. We had no intention of exploring the state parks before we arrived in Florida last week, but an unexpected visit to Lake Kissimmee State Park changed all that.
Lake Kissimmee Park is a short 35 mile drive from where we’re currently staying (visiting my mom). We’re still pretty worn out from packing up our house and driving 900 miles with 3 cats so we’re keeping our road trips short for now. The history behind the park and many opportunities for viewing wildlife also intrigued us enough to visit.
Why is it that state parks always seem so empty? I noticed the same thing when I was stationed in South Carolina. It seems like people hardly pay any attention to state parks. When we first arrived at Lake Kissimmee Park, it was so empty that we thought it was closed. There were exactly three cars in the parking lot and probably 20% of the campsites were full. I love the beaches just as much as anyone but the constant noise and fighting the crowds can get old. Florida’s state parks are an excellent place to get away from all that and enjoy the sounds of nature.
A Whole Day of Fun for $5 (Free For Disabled Veterans)
The entrance fee to this park is only $5. We’re definitely watching our dollars now since we both just quit our jobs. When we were leaving I found out that military Veterans get a discount. Veterans with disabilities get a free lifetime pass to ALL of the Florida state parks. So on the way out I produced my DD-214 (military discharge papers) and added the Florida pass to the one I have for all the U.S. national parks.
State and national parks are an excellent travel option for military Veterans because admission is often discounted or free. I am going to miss my free entry into Busch Gardens now that I’m no longer on active duty, but I have all the state and national parks to look forward to. If you add free flights on Space-A military aircraft, paired with discounted lodging on base, and free admission to all state and national parks, Veterans can have a memorable travel experience without breaking the bank.
Wildlife You Won’t See at Crowded Beaches
Be sure and watch out for the wildlife. We saw a Gopher Tortoise crossing the road before we even made it to the ranger station. It’s a good thing we were paying attention, because I later found out they are a protected species (although I don’t think the man in the RV knew about that because we had to stop him from running one over in the campsite area).
Speaking of wildlife, I haven’t seen a Bald Eagle’s nest since I was on an archaeological excavation in Jamestown Virginia. Lake Kissimmee State Park has not one but ELEVEN Bald Eagle’s nests. The nest in the photograph above is the only one we saw this trip, but it was awesome. This nest is only .50 miles down the trail in front of the camp store and kayak rental area.
Cheap Camping With Facilities
Although we just walked around this first visit, we’re definitely going to return to camp, which is only $22/night. Just imagine the wildlife that’s going to come out in the late evening and early morning. Also, kayak and canoe rentals are available, as well as guided ranger tours on a kayak or Segway. We stopped and checked out the camping area to see what kind of facilities they have, and we were pleasantly surprised to find an entire air-conditioned building with locking shower stalls (photographs next time!)
What’s absolutely fascinating about this park is that it is also a historic site, once serving as a 1890’s cowboy camp. The nearby cattle ranches supplied cattle to the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Unfortunately, the cowboy camp is closed during the summer and re-opens in late October.
The highlight of the trip was observing an Osprey in his (or her) nest and suddenly flying off. We only stayed a few hours, but we are definitely planning a return trip to see if we’re lucky enough to see more wildlife.
Lake Kissimmee Park is absolutely gorgeous, but where was everyone? Maybe everyone was at the beach one last time before the impending tropical storm.