Miami, FL is the largest city in south Florida and acts as the area's cultural and economic hub. The city's proximity to Cuba and the Caribbean can be seen in the culture of the area which is heavily slanted in that direction. The cruise industry is also a key part of the economy which draws in a large variety of international travelers. This further adds to the cultural diversity you'll find here. Finally, Miami acts as the gateway to the Florida Keys, which also sees large volumes of foreign and domestic travelers, particularly during the colder winter months.
The weather here is nearly ideal year around. There is an average of 248 days of sunshine here per year, and the high temperatures even in the winter rarely dip below 70 degrees. With all that great weather, you would guess that outdoor activities and beach time are big here, and you would be right. Miami Beach and South Beach are the two iconic beaches in the area and both are worth a visit. Other outdoor activities include boating, sport fishing and more. There are a number of charter companies that operate out of the area that offer great packages to get you out on the water.
Miami is home to several major professional sports teams. Between football, baseball, basketball, and hockey there are opportunities to catch a professional sports game regardless of when you visit. If you're interested in seeing some different sports then try visiting a Jai Alai court. This is a high energy sport was brought to the Latin American countries from Europe and has found its way into Miami. This is one of the only places in the US where the game is played regularly, let alone this seriously.
The food scene in Miami is also fantastic. As you might expect, the food here is heavily influenced by the Cuban and Carribean populations that have immigrated here. While here, it's almost required to dive to into a Cubano, or Cuban Sandwich. The key to a great cubano is the balance between the meat, condiments and perfectly pressed fresh Cuban bread. There are several great places in town to try including Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop, Islas Canarias, and Sanguich de Miami. After picking up a great tan, and topping off the tank with a great Cubano, it's time to head north to Montgomery.
The trip to Montgomery, AL is pretty easy. You'll head out of Miami on I-95 north. Through the Miami area, I-95 is the Florida Turnpike. This toll road no longer accepts cash payments. Instead, there are two options. First, they'll just scan your license plate and send you a bill. Be careful with this option because late payment for any reason results in crazy penalties.
The other option is to order a SunPass, or stop in someplace that sells them like the Publix Supermarkets in the area. You register the SunPass with their website and deposit some cash in there. When you pass the gates, they scan the card and deduct it from your account. This is the best way to go because you can monitor the account and only use what you need. You'll stay on the Florida Turnpike until you hit I-75 just south of Orlando. Take I-75 north to Tifton, GA, where you'll switch to RT-82 west. 82 will take you through Albany, GA and Eufaula, AL. Just past Union Springs, AL, switch from RT-82 to RT-110, which will take you I-85. I-85 west leads into Montgomery.
Everglades National Park is located west and south of downtown Miami. The vast area of generally flat swampland is actually a broad, slow-moving freshwater river. The water is heading south toward the keys at a rate of a little over three feet an hour. The Everglades used to reach as far north as Orlando, but development and road construction have dried a large portion of the area up. There is currently a huge project underway in the area to restore as much of the habitat as possible.
The Everglades National Park protects a large portion of the remaining Everglades environment along the southern tip of Florida. The park itself has two access points. The Shark Valley area is off of US-41 in the north-central edge of the park. Here you'll find a visitor center and a 15-mile loop trail that can be hiked, biked or traveled by a ranger-guided trolley. At the far end of the trail is a tall observation deck that provides panoramic views of the Everglades.
The southern entrance is along RT-9336 just west of Florida City. There is another visitor center here that is worth a stop. The road here is much longer, ending at the Flamingo Visitors Center and campground on the southern coast. Along the road, there are several pull-offs for hiking and paddling trails. Two of the best hiking trails here are the Anhinga Trail and Gumbo Limbo Trail located right next to the Royal Palms Visitor center which is just a short drive from the main entrance gate.
If you want to get an up-close and personal view of the Everglades with a guide who has spent their life in the area, Down South Airboat Tours is the place to go. These are personal airboat tours for groups of up to six passengers. Tour lengths range from one to two hours, and the more time you have, the more you'll get to see. It's advisable to at least do the one and half hour tour.
Unlike the cheaper bulk tours offered by others in the area, these tours cover up to three different ecosystems within the Everglades and your exceptionally knowledgable pilot will provide a wealth of information about those environments through two-way headsets as you travel. If you have an opportunity to do this, don't pass it up.
Biscayne National Park is located just south of Miami and is an unusual national park in that it is more water than land. Here you'll find mangrove swamps and coral reefs where you can participate in all sorts of water-based activities like snorkeling, lobstering, fishing, paddling, boating, and more. The mainland visitors center is located on the coast just east of Homestead, FL.
The visitor center provides great information on how to access the activities available within the park. Next door to the visitor center is a marina with a boat launch. From here you can launch your own boat or pick up a charter to take you out on a park adventure. There is no RV campground within the park, but you can primitive camp on Elliot or Boca Chita Keys. Access to those campgrounds is by boat only so staying at them provides a rare camping experience in the national park system.
Florida is home to some very unique geology. Throughout the state, there are thousands of fresh water springs, many of them large enough to allow divers to explore them. After years of exploration, there are many who believe these springs are all part of a vast underground freshwater cave network.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a great place to visit to see these springs and play in the water they produce first hand. At the north end of the park is the Ichetucknee Spring. This is a large blue spring from which thousands of gallons of crystal clear water flows every minute. The runoff from the main springs forms the Ichetucknee River. The river flows through the park for about five miles, with several other springs pouring more crystal clear water into it along the way.
During the summer months, this is an extremely popular tubing river where you can rent a tube and float down the clear waters to a takeout point downriver. During the winter months, you can kayak or canoe the river. During that time, you can rent a boat at the north entrance or use your own. Regardless of which boat you use, the outfitter at the north end offers both shuttle and reverse shuttle services from the south entrance take out point. This is an amazing place to see wildlife and experience the extensive spring system that is unique to Florida.
Ichetucknee Springs Campground is located just east of the park north entrance road. This rustic wooded campground provides a good place to spend the night in the area.
Albany, GA is a great small southern Georgia city located on the Flint River. The excellent Flint RiverQuarium provides over 50,000 square feet of space full of displays which follow the flow of the Flint River through southern Georgia. This aquarium includes many interactive exhibits and living examples of the critters that inhabit the waters of the region. There is also an aviary with several local birds and the blue hole spring which houses over 120 critters including fish and turtles. The spring is set up so you can view it and the animals within it from several different vantage points. It is a unique feature of this aquarium.
The Aquarium also hosts several events throughout the year. From birthday parties and sleepovers with the fish to the annual Water, Wings and Wildlife and the Halloween Tricks and Treats events there is always something exciting going on here.
The Albany RV Resort is located just south of town. This is a beautiful place to stay in the area. It's convenient to downtown and easy to access right off of US-19
Providence Canyon State Park is affectionally known by the locals as Georgia's “Little Grand Canyon”. This beautiful area covers a hair over 1,000 acres in Lumpkin, GA. This area is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of Georgia. Oddly, the beautiful 150 foot deep canyons here are not completely natural. They are the result of hundreds of years of bad farming practices in the area. Even so, the end result was the creation of an area so beautiful that it ranks as one of the most photographed areas in Georgia. There are many hiking trails throughout the area and you can easily spend a day here exploring. If you're lucky enough to visit during July or August you may be able to witness the blooming of the rare Plumleaf Azaleas. This rare plant species has gorgeous flowers and is only known to grow in this region.
See the Shorter Mansion description below for a place to stay. Eufaula is close enough that this is an easy day trip and there really isn't a better place to stay any closer.
The Walter F George Reservoir, known locally as Lake Eufaula, is a large reservoir created by the Walter F George Dam and Lock on the Chattahoochee River. The lake extends roughly 85 miles to the north of the dam and is known to be one of the best Largemouth Bass fisheries in the country. Crappie, sunfish and large catfish are also pulled from these waters in good numbers. The bass fishing is so good here that it draws tournament fishermen from around the country for tournaments almost every weekend throughout the year. Most of these events are based out of the marina at Lakepoint State Park on the north end of the lake. This is also where most of the weigh-ins are held during the competitions. These can be exciting events and worth a stop to see some huge fish.
In addition to the fishing, there is also plenty of pleasure boating and watersports like jetskiing, water skiing and tubing.
The city of Eufaula is located on the west-central coast of Lake Eufaula in Alabama. This is a prototypical southern city that had its heyday during the mid to late 1800s. During this time, Eufaula was the farthest point north that barges could travel the Chattahoochee River. Here, those barges were loaded with locally grown cotton and other goods for the trip down to the Gulf. This made Eufaula an economic hub and the benefits of that can be seen in the houses along US-431 on the north side of town. This beautiful tree-lined stretch of road is lined with gorgeous southern victorian homes dating back to that time period.
The Shorter Mansion is one of those homes. While most of the homes here are still privately owned and occupied, the Shorter Mansion is opened for public tours. This Greek Revival Mansion was originally constructed in 1884 and extensively renovated between 1901 and 1906 to create the home as it stands today. Touring the mansion provides great insight into what life was like in this area during its peak times.
During Christmas and April, many of the other homes in the area open up to visitors. They call these days the 'pilgrimage days' which provide an excellent opportunity to see more great homes in the area. If you're here at other times, you can walk the neighborhood sidewalks to check out the homes from the street. While you're out, you can also check out “The Tree that Owns Itself” which is located about a block north of the Shorter Mansion. It's a unique fixture of the neighborhood backed up by an equally unique story.
A great place to stay in Eufaula is the Lake Eufaula Campground. This campground is easy to access, is quite and is run by a great group of people. It also has lake access via the river that runs along the back of the facility.
Montgomery is the capital city of Alabama which is located in the south central part of the state. As the capital, this city is a busy economic hub with lots of things to do. Many of the biggest tourist draws to the area are the excellent museums the city has to offer. As a major city in the deep south, Montgomery played a major role in the civil rights movements. One of the best museums to explore that time in American history is the Rosa Parks Library and Museum. This museum is dedicated to teaching visitors about the actions of Rosa Parks in 1955 which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
For more general Alabama history consider heading over to the Alabama State Archives and History Museum. This outstanding facility covers the history of Alabama from early American times to the present. They have numerous exhibits on display with thousands of artifacts that tell the story of how Alabama developed over the past 300 years.
Whenever visiting a new area or town, it's always a good idea to sample the local food and after a long day in the city, there is no better place to do that then at Martin's Restaurant. With entrees like fried catfish, BBQ pork ribs, fried chicken and country fried steak, this highly-rated standout is the go-to place for classic southern home cooking. Eating here is like being at home in the south.
The Woods RV Park located on the southwest side of town is a good place to stay while in the area. It is conveniently located off I-65 just a few minutes from downtown.