Vacations in Orlando, Florida are nothing new. Chances are if you ask children or thrill-seeking adults where they want to go, this city will top their list. As the closest major city to the magic of Disney and the epicenter of amusement and theme parks, Orlando seemingly has it all. Add it to the excellent weather, and you'll see why an RV road trip from Orlando to Panama City should be on everyone's travel itinerary.
The sheer excitement of trips to Universal Orlando and Disney World's Epcot and Magic Kingdom will have the whole family pumped for days. After enjoying Orlando's attractions, start your journey towards Panama City for a little relaxation and quality family time. Once you escape the delightful chaos of Orlando, the route is full of outdoor adventure. Spend your time exploring state parks, photographing local wildlife, and visiting world-class museums.
The total actual drive time for this weekend RV road trip is a little over five hours on RV-friendly roads. The temperate climate generally provides fair road conditions, but beware of travel to Florida from June to November when hurricanes and tropical storms can bring an abrupt end to your journey.
The Florida interior has many options along the route for overnight RV camping and once you make it to Panama City, the beach, the zoo, and mini-golf await.
About an hour northwest of Orlando sits the city of Ocala, home to Silver Springs State Park. It's the site of the annual Springsfest celebration, which encourages the restoration and protection of all of Florida's waterways and springs.
A unique feature of this small state park is the option to take a tour of America's largest spring on a glass-bottom boat. Travel the Silver River while enjoying a rare glimpse at underwater life. You'll be surprised at how much goes on under the surface. Don't forget to experience what lies above the water as well. Sandhills and dense forest create the river's picturesque backdrop.
Kayakers can paddle the Silver River for some quiet exploration, and on land, there are 15 miles of trails to stretch your legs by hiking, biking, or horseback riding.
After all the day's excitement, if you're ready to stop for the night, Silver Springs State Park offers accommodation for rigs up to 50 feet with both electric and water hookups.
Continuing north, in the city of Gainesville, is the Florida Museum of Natural History. A fun experience for the whole family, this museum celebrates the natural world from prehistoric times to present with a focus on animals, people, and habitat.
The kids will have a good time getting their hands dirty at one of the interactive activities and exhibits. See life-size dinosaur bones, interesting fossils, and a living butterfly rainforest. The museum also displays artifacts from Florida's indigenous tribes.
Step outside without leaving the expansive building complex and journey through the exhibit of the habitats of northwest Florida. Replicas of caves, rivers, waterfalls, and bogs let you explore the diverse local environments in this part of the country.
You can venture outdoors (truly this time) onto the museum's grounds and tour the fossil plant garden or the Florida Wildflower and Butterfly Garden. Take a serene walk through the teaching trails to complete your visit.
The small city of Lake City is a worthy stop for its rich history and Alligator Lake Park. The city itself, previously called Alligator, Florida, was originally named for the great Seminole chief, Alligator Warrior. If you are in the area in October, the city hosts the annual Alligator Warrior Festival over three days. Experience a reenactment of the Battle of San Felasco Hammock. The event celebrates the years between 1800 and 1859 when Lake City was still called Alligator.
While the main activities at Alligator Lake Park include hiking and biking, and fishing is also a popular pastime. Anglers can expect to catch largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish in the lake's 800 acres. As for the hikers, the Possum Trot Trail leads to the Montgomery Trail for a walk through marshes, open fields, and oak trees. Watch out for the local green herons as you navigate through the park. Just don't step off the dikes and into the water; there are real alligators waiting for you.
For a quick meal, the park has a picnic area, and there is a playground to amuse the younger ones. The park's wetlands can also be explored by canoe or kayak with the chance of an up-close view of heron rookeries.
As you continue on your way, Florida's capital city, Tallahassee, will be in your sights. Consider a stop at the St. Marks Lighthouse in the St. Marks Wildlife Refuge. There are many intriguing pools, ponds, and bridges on the eight mile journey by car from the Visitor Center to the Lighthouse.
The lighthouse, one of the oldest in Florida, has survived two wars and is listed on the National Historic Registry. The lighthouse keeper's house permits visitors, and limited tours are available of the tower.
The refuge is an important habitat for amphibians, mammals, and reptiles including lizards, snakes, turtles, white-tailed deer, and Florida's famous alligators.
Explore the refuge on foot, by bike or by boat. There are extensive wildlife spotting opportunities so make sure you're carrying binoculars and a camera. No matter how you enjoy the refuge, just remember to minimize your impact since the wildlife comes first.
Arriving in Panama City, you'll be struck by the view of the ocean and coastline. Escape the RV for a few hours and hit one of the world-famous beaches, like the one at St. Andrews State Park. If the kids need another amusement park fix, head to Coconut Creek Family Fun Park for a round of mini-golf and an exhilarating trip through the huge maze.
Family-friendly outdoor activities, interactive museums, and amazing natural scenery will encourage you to embark on this road trip from Orlando to Panama City. The trip will only take a weekend, but the family memories will last a lifetime.