Best Campgrounds of the year – 2016

Welcome to our third annual “Wandering Dawgs best campgrounds of the year” list.

Our 2016 wandering took us on a short trips to Florida, Georgia,  Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi.

We prefer staying in state and federal parks and this year our top three all fall into one of those categories.

Number 3: Oak Mountain State Park, Pelham, Alabama

Early Morning at Tranquility Lake
Tranquility Lake was just a short walk from our campsite

We stopped at Oak Mountain on our way to Mississippi and enjoyed it so much we returned to the same site (A28) on our way back home to Georgia.

Our site was spacious with full hook ups and nothing but woods behind us. This large state park has a golf course, archery range, equestrian camping and horse stables, nature and hiking trails, lake front beach, mountain bike trails, and scenic drives. The road through the park is a popular place for bicyclists. Nearby Pelham and Birmingham have restaurants and shopping.

View from Peavine Falls Road Overlook
View from Peavine Falls Road Overlook

Read more about our stay at First Stop on our Fall Football Road Trip .

 

Number 2: Stephen C. Foster State Park in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Fargo, Georgia

Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?
Do you see the alligator behind the Cypress tree?

We love this place so much we have camped here numerous times in past 10 years. Our most recent trip was in March, 2016.

Just getting to the campground is an adventure. After turning off the highway, seventeen miles of driving through pine forests and palmettos takes you into the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It is remote, quiet, and wild.

We camp in one of the large premium pull through sites. It is a short walk or bike ride from the campground to the marina where you can go on a guided tour of the Okefenokee Swamp, rent a boat or canoe, launch your own boat, or take a walk on the nature trail through the swamp. Alligators are often seen around the marina but we’ve never seen one in the campground.

Sophie the Mama Gator
Sophie the Mama Gator

You can read more about our stay at Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Number 1: Fort Pickens Campground, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Florida

Ready for Beach Chair Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico
Ready for Beach Chair Sitting on the Gulf of Mexico

Miles of white sugar sand beach in Gulf Islands National Seashore within walking distance from our campsite, an historic fort to explore, a nice campsite, nature trails, beautiful sunsets, fresh seafood, fishing pier, museums and a lighthouse nearby – what’s not to love?

Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico
Sunset over the Gulf of Mexico

Read more about our stay at Gulf Islands National Seashore .

Honorable Mention:

  • We returned to Mississippi River State Park in Marianna, Arkansas, our “Best Campground of the Year – 2014“. I left it out of the top three to make room for three new campgrounds
  • Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center, White Springs, Florida
  • Eastbank Corps of Engineers  Campground, Bainbridge, Georgia

Where do you think we will wander next year? Stay tuned…

More Adventures Around the Florida Gulf Coast

Great Blue Heron

Our week at Fort Pickens Campground in the Gulf Islands National Seashore sped by. When we weren’t walking on the pure white sand at the beach, exploring Fort Pickens and the batteries, or visiting the National Naval Aviation Museum we were wandering around the Florida Gulf Coast.

One day we took Blondie outside of the National Seashore to go to the Pensacola Beach Dog Beach. A small section of beach has been set aside to allow dogs on a leash to enjoy the beach.

Blondie went for a swim at the Pensacola Beach Dog Beach
Blondie went for a swim at the Pensacola Beach Dog Beach
A Legendary Beach Bar

One day we took a drive along the Gulf to the Florida-Alabama state line to visit the famous Flora-Bama Bar. The bar has been called the “Last Great American Roadhouse” and ranks among the “Best Beach Bars” in the world. The wooden building is located on the beach between high rises and we almost missed it as we drove along the Gulf road. Originally built in 1964, it has survived fires and hurricanes. After suffering a direct hit from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, the building was restored.

Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar

It was quiet the day we went. Their busy season starts with spring break.  Their “Interstate Mullet Toss and Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party” brings huge crowds in April.

Besides the famous beach bar, there are two restaurants, a liquor store, a marina, and plenty of parking across the road on the bay. We enjoyed a lunch of shrimp po’boys at their Old River Bar and Grill overlooking the bay before heading back to our campground.

Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar
Flora Bama Bar beach side view
Gulf Coast Good Eats

For us, no trip to the Gulf Coast would be complete without a trip to a seafood market. In our quest for Stone Crab Claws we stopped at Joe Patti’s Seafood Market in Pensacola. The huge seafood market has been in business in Pensacola for many years and sells every kind of fresh seafood and related items you can imagine. Iced down in the display cases were fresh grouper, redfish, snapper, other fish, gulf shrimp, scallops, stone crab claws, oysters, and seafood of every kind. Also available are made in house shrimp and other salads, smoked mullet dip, seafood spreads, seafood chowder and other specialty items. Then there were smoked sausages and other specialty meats along with many Cajun specialties. In another room were sauces, condiments, and kitchen items to help prepare and eat the seafood.

The place was packed but we were served quickly and left happy with Jumbo Stone Crab Claws, shrimp salad and smoked mullet dip for dinner.  Best meal we had on the entire trip.

Joe Patti Seafood in Pensacola
Joe Patti Seafood in Pensacola

Located just a short drive from the entrance to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola Beach was recommended to us by several of our friends so of course we had to give it a try. Our friends didn’t steer us wrong. The Cajun fried shrimp appetizer and Grouper Sandwiches were excellent.

Peg Leg Pete's in Pensacola Beach, Florida
Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola Beach, Florida
Wildlife and Sunset Vewing

Even sitting in our own campsite we were entertained. One day an armidillo walked into our campsite driving Blondie wild.

Armadillo in our campsite
Armadillo in our campsite

We walked out on the fishing pier at Fort Pickens to see what the fishermen were catching. One fisherman was reeling in a stingray as we arrived and we saw another catching Drum in a cast net. As we walked along the pier a Great Blue Heron walked right in front of me before hopping up on the railing to put on a show. There were actually two herons on the pier and when the first one flew off, another took his place on the railing.

We enjoyed more beautiful sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunset over the Gulf
Sunset over the Gulf
Evacuating the Campground

As the week went on the winds picked up and the waves got bigger.

The seas were getting rough
The seas were getting rough

When you check into the campground at Fort Pickens, you are taking a chance that you may have to leave early because of the road flooding. There is a low section of the road between the campground and the entrance to the park that is subject to flooding. During big storms, the campground has been known to flood. The winds had been picking up all week and storms were forecast starting on Thursday, March 10, our departure date.

On Wednesday afternoon we returned from our wanderings to find a notice on the door to our RV that the campground was closing at noon on Thursday. Several campers left that afternoon while everyone else (like us) started packing up and getting ready for an early morning departure. The luck of the Irish was with us since we were scheduled to leave anyway.

After leaving the campground we drove through a section of the Fort Pickens Road that was underwater.

My review of Fort Pickens Campground can be found on Campendium.