Site # 28; W/E; Waterfront, back-in site; Strong cellular; Many over the air TV channels.
The campground has many waterfront sites; small but active nature areas (pond and marsh); kayaking possible in bay, large fishing pier, protected kid-friendly ocean-side cove for families; seasonal kayak and boat rentals to shell island. Easy/safe bike riding through the campground, (which is pretty enough be enjoyable), and to the beach, nature areas, and fishing pier.
Our site, with the site to our right unoccupied. Our PA friends to the left.
Unfortunately, access to the campground from the east or north is through Panama City, a sprawling car-dealership and shopping area. Once over the bridge to the beaches, travel is still busy, but not aggravating and is visually more pleasant.
The campground is quite long, paralleling the Lower Grand Laggon with two loops forming a figure eight. Our site in the first loop was a pleasant surprise. It was possibly available due to being in the middle of three wide open sites. However, these sites also had the largest area between the sites and the road so there was actually a nice feeling of isolation. Also, our trailer sat within about 50 feet of the water – our gravity chairs sat about 10 feet from the water.
All set for cocktail hour - later that same evening.
Like all campgrounds, sites varied widely. The further into the park, particularly the second loop, were more wooded providing some beautiful looking sites, but also some very tight sites. A few were so short as to be usable only for a van or Class B trailer. We liked where we were and wouldn't have changed it.
Bath facilities were large and clean. Cleaning was regularly scheduled in loop 1 at 7:30 AM for an hour (not a good time as having coffee in the morning had to be scheduled – best to get up early!). It was a bike ride to the other loop facilities if needed.
Great Blue Heron at our campsite.
Deer were very common in the campground at dusk. One night we saw several standing in front of the camp store. Another night, Sandy called some over while sitting in her chair at our campsite. Apparently they like kettle corn!
View from our campsite towards Panama City with a storm approaching. Reading day!
Boat rental area of the campground.
We put our kayak in at our campsite, which was great. The contour of the land through me off, as I underestimated the distance we could go southeast before reaching the channel from Saint Joseph Bay to the ocean. We did not want to go near it as the current could be swift. So, we traveled only as far as the boat rental docks one late afternoon, watching the cormorants and pelicans on the piers. One cormorant showed us his displeasure by lifting his tail and firing digested fish in our direction.
On a better day we kayaked in the opposite direction in the lagoon up to a marina and back. Going further meant going under the Thomas Drive bridge, with the possibility of heavy boat traffic. The heavy wind was also a deterrent as we had to return into it.
I really wanted to get to Shell Island after reading about it in brochures and talking to a woman running the camp store, but it was not practical in a small boat and the boat rentals were not available this time of year. Even most of the private boat trip businesses didn't go in the winter. Of note, there were still some sight seeing and fishing trips available, most of which seemed to be at or near Captain Anderson's Marina on the Panama City site of the Thomas Drive Bridge.
There is a small parking area and short walk around the alligator pond within the park. This is a very popular spot with its easy access between the beach and campground. On our first visit, we saw an alligator resting in the muck just beyond the platform at the end of the short boardwalk. The center of the small pond had an island covered in nesting egrets. A good pair of binoculars help.
The gator below the boardwalk.
The trail around the pond.
Herons roosting on the island.
Great Blue landing to roost for a while.
Pelican at the boat docks.
More spectacular than the alligator pond is the much larger swamp located just across the road from the alligator pond. Why this is not mentioned in the park literature is a mystery as it really was a highlight of the park. Photos tell the story, but on our first night, we saw a spectacular sunset reflecting in the many spots of open water. Great egrets, great blue herons, and even deer highlighted our views. For the rest of our stay we either walked, rode bikes, or drove past this area to see the views, always changing with the light.
Just as the sunlight was disappearing and we were walking home, we saw a deer walking through the water just behind a great blue. Sandy was wishing the deer to get out of there, because of the potential of alligators.r
There is a larger nature trail that begins at the large parking lot near the boat rentals. We did not find this until our last day. At the trailhead there is also the well-preserved remains of an old turpentine mill. The well-marked trail enters trees, through open fields, to a sand bluff overlooking the inlet and Seashell Island. A nice hour walk.
The end of the nature trail. The family beach is in the background.
The beach was not up to par measured against any of the beaches on this trip – including St. George, St. Joe, Gulf Shores/Destin, Fort Pickens etc. The beach just wasn't very deep from water to land and was steep enough that walking wasn't that easy. It did provide some nice surf however, and one afternoon we stood on the top of access stairs to enjoy watching many surfers arriving one after another apparently after work.
Late afternoon when the surfers arrived.
The kid-friendly cove on the inlet.
The park's Fishing Pier and the hotels and condos of Panama City Beach.
There is an exceptionally long fishing pier with some nice benches from which you can look down the beach. This is about a mile from the day-use beach area and is a nice bike ride. At the end of the pier, we were enjoying watching the turtle swim while the fishermen were cursing under their breaths – hoping it would get away from their lines. There is actually a large rescue net on the pier with instructions for capturing, holding, and calling for help, if you catch a turtle on your line.
View from the fishing pier.
Dining, Views and Mayhem.
Schooners. This looked like our kind of place for lunch. Yelp 4.4* food and drink on the beach! Ya, well try to get there. We drove into the tiny parking lot and halted abruptly. The three lanes were crammed so tight in the sand lot, that I did not think I could fit. Before I could back out, three cars pulled behind me! I actually started to panic. I went forward to go down one lane and it just got tighter. Two pickup trucks were parked opposite each other making a tight squeeze.
Wait! A young woman with a child and another young woman were just leaving one of the trucks. I quickly rolled down my window and shouted, “Excuse me! Excuse me, is there any way you can move your truck up a little?”, She responded with a defiant “No,” turned away and continued walking. Grrrrrrr.
Even with cameras on every side of my truck, I still had Sandy stick her head outside her window as I navigated past the two trucks. I literally only had a hand's width between vehicles and I pulled in my side mirrors to get past. Going to the next side street, I saw a much larger parking lot that was also full. There was one one-street spot left, but by this time Sandy had it. She was probably right in saying we would have trouble getting a place to sit. As I pulled out on Thomas Drive, I saw another even larger parking lot across the street. This was nearly empty, but by this time we had made up our minds, and I was still hyperventilating.
Instead we went to Sisters of the Sea. This was a cute place with a decent menu on the lagoon – or so we thought. We pulled in behind a huge marina building just as we did in Port Canaveral, only this time, even though we sat outside, our view was still within the marina, looking at boats in the air and the tops of masts. No water view. That aside, we enjoyed our meal. I had a crawfish po boy!
A much better option was dinner on another night at The Grand Marlin of Panama City Beach (we later came upon another Grand Marlin near Pensacola Beach). This, while a splurge, had a terrific lagoon side view, great atmosphere and great food. A winner.
Triple J Steaks & Seafood. Without waterfront (on busy Thomas Drive), and not an enticing name, yet good reviews on-line had us try this for lunch on our last day. This is the epitome of a family restaurant with a bland dark interior and a menu that is all over the place. However, it was always busy when we drove buy so we thought it was worth a try, and it was. I had lox on a fresh made bagel of all things and it hit the spot.
More and more, the people we meet are what are making this trip special. When traveling on vacation you meet people, but with RVing, everyone has something in common, and most everyone has something to share. Our license plate spurs an immediate “What part of Massachusetts are you from?” (People never use the shortened “Mass” as we do at home). Invariably they have a child who either went to school there, married someone from there, or they went there themselves on their way to Maine.
When conversation identifies us as “newbies" we immediately get tips (“leave a little water in the black tank” is getting old) and campground recommendations (welcomed).
But generally it is simply the friendliness – just finding good/nice people - that is so enjoyable.
At Saint Andrew our neighbors on one side were from Paradise, Pennsylvania in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch area. Little did we know that we would be scheduling a campground in the same town for our return trip.
They were replaced by a trio of bike riders sharing a tent from the Atlanta area. We didn't talk much until they were ready to depart a day later. They were really excited and happy for us to hear about our trip and the reasons for it. When I told them of our blog, Stephen took down our blog address and sent me a link to the app he has developed called Here (www.getHERE.co). This app lets you post a photo to a map pinned to your location when you take the photo. It is meant to be a live transaction and does not allow you to post photos from your camera roll, though you can save the photo you take to your camera roll. The app is intended to let you document you travels with photos on a map. I began using it and I like it and hope to link it to this blog at some point. The app is young and Stephen is improving it. I look forward to it.
Other nice neighbors we met were a couple from Rhode Island with two small kayaks, and a couple from New Hampshire who bought a couple houses and apartments in Florida and are managing those for their income.
On to Live Oak Landing in Freeport, Fl next ...