Camping and Thanksgiving just Go Together in Florida. If you ever want to experience this, you want to plan ahead and make a reservation somewhere because it is a popular time. Or, if you want to risk it and be spontaneous, just show up somewhere and you may get lucky. Our plan was to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at home and then OptOutside for the rest of the weekend. We returned to one of Florida’s oldest state parks, Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, Florida and luckily secured the LAST primitive site as a walk-in. We were happy to have it and as we drove in we saw a deer in an open field. The main campground was so full that we enjoyed the peacefulness of the primitive camp area. These sites were not the type you have to hike to so we were able to drive right up. They did not have electricity or running water and the bathroom was a composting toilet/hand sanitizer combo but we did have use of the main campground bathroom when we needed to shower. These bathrooms also have a dishwashing station with a sink and counter which feels like a luxury. They even have laundry machines because this park is favored for long term RV stays.
Back to Thanksgiving and camping, one thing that was really great was the food planning was a breeze. We simply packed up a lot of our turkey day leftovers in foil pouches to reheat at camp. It was delicious and easy. For those that are camping for Thanksgiving dinner, you see some elaborate cooking set ups. Some bring smokers to cook their turkey which is quite tasty. Something else that makes for an easier time is doing food prep at home ahead of time and heating the dish up at camp. Many campers really get into the holiday spirit by decorating their sites; we saw pumpkins and mums. Some people even finished the weekend with some Christmas decorations!
This park has nine great nature trails. They all spur off of this scenic one-way paved loop that is great for biking as well. Most of the trail heads have a bike rack and a lot of the trails also have boardwalks. We arrived in time to have lunch at our site and then set up camp. We headed out to explore the trails. We first decided to check out a couple we have not been on before. They have some very impressive old oak trees at this park and they are now at the point of decline even after preservation attempts. Still a sight to behold though. We love trees; this park is know for its old growth hammocks and some of the oaks are pushing 1,000 years. One of the trails is called Big Oak trail as it features one of these majestic trees.
That evening we cooked at our site but the mosquitos were relentless at sundown. IF we had those mosquito face nets, we would have definitely used them. Probably the worst mosquito inundation we have ever experienced but fortunately they let up after the sun completely set and what a beautiful sunset it was! We did formulate a plan that we would go into town for dinner the next night to not relive that experience. The weather was really great for camping and usually is during Thanksgiving in Florida so we totally understand the draw.
We were treated to a spectacular sunrise with the moon also in view. After breakfast of day 2, we set out to explore more trails/boardwalks. We saw a lot of armadillos which were visible along the paved loop and in open fields. Our favorite trail in the park is the Cypress Swamp Trail. It is a boardwalk that forms a one-way loop taking you out over the tannic water and among the large cypress trees and knees. This is a great spot for bird viewing. For a good section of the boardwalk it narrows to what is known as “the catwalk” with railing on only one side. On our way back to the campsite we did see one alligator in some shallow water beside the road and stopped to observe it. There are also bears in this area of Florida; we did not see any this trip but saw one the first time we camped here. Their internal clocks lead them to the campground area around check out time on Sundays to scavenge. Leave no trace, please.
Morning of Day 3 we had breakfast and got our camp packed up. We decided that since it was on our way home, we would stop off at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales to have a picnic. It was a great way to get into the holiday spirit with their gorgeous botanical displays. The weather was beautiful and the carillon concert was festive. We may have found our new Thanksgiving family tradition.