Corbin Laurel Lake KOA: Corbin Kentucky

Corbin Laurel Lake KOA is typical of the KOA parks we have encountered in the southeast: pretty, well run, and a little expensive.

We Paid: $42 per night for X nights
Discounts Used: KOA Membership
Address (GPS Link): 171 East City Dam Road  Corbin, KY 40701
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/corbin/
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Camp Store, Games Room, Pool,  Playground, Field Games, Wireless, Cable TV, Bathrooms, Showers, Laundry, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane, Hiking

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Pretty grounds
  • Cute Cabins

Worst Features

  • Price

Sometimes the south feels like you are in a swimming pool just walking around. Its so humid!

The Details

We have had better luck with KOA campgrounds in the east than in the west, and that’s a good thing since there are tons of them in this part of the country. Our last 4 have been at KOA and we’ve got more booked down the road. Corbin Laurel Lake is pretty classic for the brand. It has gravel pads, slightly older hook ups, lovely trees, and smallish but adequate facilities and amenities. Like others we have visited, management seem on the ball and the place is both clean and orderly.

One nice feature about this park is it has direct access trails to the nearby Laurel Lake which is great for all kinds of recreation. I like parks that are connected to the wilderness such that you can go for a hike without having to drive anywhere. It is somewhat uncommon outside of actual state parks. I was also pleased that the internet here worked fairly well. It was not fast, but it was reliable, though partly that is no doubt to the park being fairly empty while we were here. The cable TV was especially robust with lots of channels.

Their pool isn’t quite big enough for swimming, but if you just want to cool off or float about in the water it will do the trick. Like many KOAs, they spend extra attention on the kid’s playground compared to many other parks. All in all, it is a very decent park but comes at a higher than average price. Even with our membership discount, it wasn’t cheap. So not a bargain, but a very decent place to camp.

Here we are at the park. Those national park stickers are piling up! We visited the Cumberland Gap while staying here.

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Smokey Mountain KOA

The Smokey Mountains are the most visited national park in the US. As a result of this, RV park prices are sky high here. Smokey Mountain KOA proved to be a nice choice and a better value than offerings a bit closer to the national park.

We Paid: $47 per night for 14 nights
Discounts Used:
Address (GPS Link):
Website:
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Camp Store, Games Room, Rec Room, Pool, Jacuzzi, Playground, Field Games, Wireless, Cable TV, Bathrooms, Showers, Laundry, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Quiet Location
  • Nice Clubhouse
  • Perfect Bathrooms

Worst Features

  • Sloped and bumpy roads

Gravel and trees are the order of the day at Smokey Mountain KOA.

The Details

To fully enjoy the Smokey Mountains we booked two weeks at Smokey Mountain KOA. According to the signs, they had only recently joined the KOA network and indeed, they had a different vibe than the usual KOA. Unlike most of the chain, they didn’t have a jumping pillow or extensive playgrounds for the kids. This park is located on a wooded hillside about 20-30 minutes from the national park.

All the lots and roads are course gravel. The lots themselves are good and level, but the roads are all uphill and have a fair number of humps in them. Talking with the proprietor, these are necessary to channel rainwater so that it doesn’t build up on the sites or wash away the road beds. This is a park where you really want to follow the suggested speed limit or risk bouncing your RV on your way in and out of the park.

We enjoyed the large and comfy clubhouse which is attached to the camp store and office. It wasn’t fancy but it felt like a big living room and campers could be found hanging out there more often than in most parks we have visited. The bathrooms were great. They had 10 private rooms with toilets and showers, all kept very clean and with modern fixtures. The laundry was small but it is in the same building as the clubhouse so there is a nice place to hang out while washing and drying. 

You get Cable and Wireless internet for free and there is a pool available seasonally. The staff were very frindly and helpful while we were here, often offering to take firewood up to our site and inquire to our comfort whenever they saw us.

While Smokey Mountain had less playground equipment than most KOA parks, what they did have was very nice.

And then this happened

We had something of a harrowing experience here. On our third day, a serious wind storm swept through. Before long, trees started snapping and toppling over in and around the campground. Hundred-year-old oaks toppled over as guests hit up to 80 miles per hour. Thankfully they had recently had tree trimmers in to take out much of the dead wood. As a result, while there were many close calls, only one trailer in the park suffered any damage, and it was fairly minor. The park staff wasted no time in getting things cleaned up and ensuring the safety of their guests.

I can’t quite give Smokey Mountain KOA 5 stars due to the price, but I do recommend it if you are in the area and don’t mind a little bit of a drive to get out to the park. The setting is nice, quiet, and the staff clearly cares about their park and their customers. 

One site over and we’d have had some serious trouble. This was one of the smaller trees that came down in and around the park.

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Sweetwater Valley KOA

Sweetwater Valley KOA is easily the nicest park in the network that we have visited. Every aspect of the park was pleasant and I found myself wishing we could linger a while longer and enjoy its hospitality.

We Paid: $42 per night for 3 nights
Discounts Used: KOA Membership
Address (GPS Link): 269 Murray’s Chapel Road  Sweetwater, TN 37874
Website: http://koa.com/campgrounds/sweetwater/
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Camp Store, Games Room, Pool, Playground, Shuffleboard, Water Wars, Basketball, Jump Pillow, Dog Run, Wireless, Cable TV, Bathrooms, Showers, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane, Events Field

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Beautiful Grounds
  • Quiet Campground

Worst Features

  • Uneven terrain

This is what you want an RV park to look like. This part of the country has some fantastic forests.

The Details

We visited Sweetwater KOA in the spring and the setting for the park couldn’t have been prettier. Large oaks and maples shining in the sun gave the park an idyllic appearance. The park was immaculately maintained with lush lawns and well-maintained buildings. Everything about this place gave off an “exactly what an RV park should be” vibe. A lot of KOA parks we have visited were disappointing, but not this one.

Like many KOAs, there was a focus on things for kids to do here. They had the usual inflatable jumping platform and for the first time I popped off my shoes and tried it out. They also had a strange contraption called Water Wars, which was designed specifically for water balloon fights including a filling station. They also had many nice lawns and grassy hills for playing field games and you could rent peddle cars and other amusements.

Free Cable and Wifi also helped make the somewhat elevated price seem a reasonable ask. We had one of the deluxe pull through sites and it had plenty of room for our rig and tow vehicle. While all the sites looked level and well groomed many of them were arrayed on sloping hills which can make getting in and out of them a bit challenging. We didn’t have any problems but a truly huge rig might find it problematic.

Our previous KOA visit had some remarkably ugly bathrooms, but here, the owners had done a nice job setting them up. The men’s room had a cute “Dad’s Garage” theme going on. Curiously, the building design was exactly the same as the last park. KOA seems to offer an office plan that some parks use to set up their park. They also seem to consistently have lackluster camp stores that focus more on tourist do-dads than the essentials of food and camp equipment.

All said I give Sweetwater KOA a big thumbs up for its well-maintained facilities, numerous amenities, and almost peerless setting. The price is a bit too high to deem it a bargain, but I felt I got my money’s worth here.

The one thing I’ve found most consistent with KOA parks is that they cater well to families with children.

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Exploring New Orleans

New Orleans makes a strong impression. Its history, architecture, and culture are all unique and powerful. It is a city that was shaped by its many residents, and in turn, shapes those who live there. Neither nature, war, politics, fire, commercialism, nor the change of national allegiance has managed to overcome the spirit of the city. They all left their mark and it is a place forever changing, but it remains unique to a degree few other American cities can claim. 

New Orleans was founded in 1718 by a French trading company, then ceded to the Spanish in 1763. The French regained it in 1803 and promptly sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. The Brittish tried to take it in the war of 1812 but were repulsed. It has been savaged by many storms including Katrina in 2005 which left much of the city flooded. Throughout its history, it has been a city of trade and immigrants with wave after wave of new cultures and traditions pouring in, a process that continues to this day.

I’ve no idea who this gentleman is, but I found him watching over the french quarter and though he personified the spirit of the neighborhood.

Getting started

You could spend a lifetime exploring the city, but we spent only a single day here. Normally we take things slow, but due to the costs of coming into the city and our desire to partake of its culinary offerings, we packed our visit into a single day, starting early and ending late. To make things easy, we bought tickets for the Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus service. These double decker buses run a circuit through key areas of the city. As the name implies, if you have a ticket you can board and depart at any of the 18 stops. Each bus has a tour guide who talks about the locations the bus passes through while you ride. Some of the stops also feature guided walking tours either included in the price or discounted with your ticket.

We arrived early in the French Quarter to ensure we could find parking. This is not a city you want to drive around in during the busy parts of the day. The streets are a maze of narrow one-way passages clogged with pedestrians and other vehicles. Navigating our big truck through the crowded streets was no easy enterprise. If you don’t want to take a tour bus around the city as we did, I recommend using the two streetcar lines in the city. One runs by the riverside, while the other is more uptown. If your ride up one and back on the other you will cover most of the key areas of the city with very little expense.

There are three main tourist districts in New Orleans. There is the French Quarter which is chock full of tourist attractions, retail shops, and historical landmarks. On the other side of town is the Garden District which is the residential counterpart to the French Quarter. It also has shops and the like but caters a bit more to the local residents of the city. Between them, you have the modern commercial district where you will find all the big hotels, casinos, and the like. While it was not a district on our tour map, I’d say the river side is its own entity featuring a mix of parks, river boat tours, and local industry along the banks of the Mississippi river.

This is the tour map from our bus service. It does a nice job showing the main city districts.

The French Quarter

Our first stop was the french quarter. It really is a unique and magical place among American cities. While it caters to tourism, it has a very nice mix of crass commercialism, authentic local artisanship, and a rich history maintained in its architecture and traditions. We started out near Jackson Square, which is a walled garden and park adjacent to two historic hotels and a large catholic cathedral. Street musicians and buskers of all sorts were plying their trade on the modest crowd of tourists wandering about. We were there just after Mardi Gras so the vibe was fairly low key as the city digested the aftermath of the massive festivities.

We wandered our way into the lovely Saint Louis cathedral where folks were gathering for late morning services and then down the maze of twisting back streets. A collection of slumbering cats drew us into a rug shop where the owners were hand looming wool rugs. We stopped to ask them about their shop, their cats and the city at large and they, in turn, were curious about our travel adventures. After petting some very aged but happy cats, we wandered back out into the streets to check out other curious establishments including a vintage soda shop and a store selling European toys.

It’s Andrew Jackson in Jackson Square. He utterly crushed a British attack on the city in the war of 1812 and became a famous hero as a result.

To the Bus!

To check out the rest of the city we found the office for our tour bus, picked up our pre-paid tickets, and jumped on. The buses are double deckers so we headed for the top front seats to get the best view as we rolled around town. Each bus includes a tour guide who talks about the landmarks and history of the city. We got to ride with three different guides in our trip. The best was a retired gentleman who did it once a week for fun and had lived in the city since he was a child. Trail and I took advantage of the slow roll to play some Pokemon Go. If you like playing, city tour buses are perhaps the ultimate way to play the game.

The bus wound its way through the french quarter and into the Business District. This is the modern part of the city and is not markedly different than other major city centers. Office towers, hotels, and the Superdome dominate the skyline, but you can find historic theaters and other older institutions along the main drag. This district is also home to the official WW II museum of the United States. You might wonder, what does New Orleans have to do with WW II. It turns out, many of the landing craft used in D-Day were manufactured here. That gave rise to a D-Day museum which eventually was expanded to encompass the whole of the war. We didn’t have time to explore it on this day, our goal was the Garden District.

Inside the St. Luis Cathedral in the french quarter of New Orleans.

The Garden District

The garden district was named for the private gardens kept by the wealthy residents of the city who made their home here. Whereas the french quarter is the retail heart of the city, the Garden District is its residential heart. While there is plenty of tourism here, it is also where the locals tend to live, dine and shop for ordinary goods. We had three missions here: take a walking tour offered by the bus company, check out the graveyard, and grab something to eat.

First up was our walking tour. We met up with our somewhat wry guide and followed him through the garden district’s most affluent areas. While the highlight of the tour was supposed to be the homes of famous stars, I was more interested in the history and architecture of the neighborhood. Happily, our guide delivered on all accounts. He did a nice job introducing how the neighborhood was formed and dug into detail about the different styles of homes and how they came to be built. We started out with narrow row houses, packed in tight, and moved to the large mansions that occupied whole blocks. Despite the multi-million dollar homes here, the streets are some of the worst I’ve seen. The soft soil and huge oak trees turn the narrow lanes and sidewalks into undulating waves of assault and cracked concrete.

This mansion is valued at near $8 million. The most expensive in the city. And here is the road running in front of it. Trent Reznor once lived here.

After the walking tour, we headed to the above ground cemetery to explore the mausoleums. Despite occupying only a single city block, this necropolis houses the remains of tens of thousands of city residents extending back hundreds of years. Bodies are interred above ground inside the stone monuments where the warm and humid air allows bacteria to dissolve even the bones. After a time, the remains are swept into a pit under the tomb and another is laid to rest above. Wandering among the stone memorials is a surreal experience. Some are crumbling and covered with moss, while others look as if they were very recently carved. Wandering lanes and byways criss-cross between them creating a maze of passages and plazas. It truly is a miniature city of the dead.

On our way to find lunch, we stopped off at a photographic gallery that caught our eye. It featured large black and white images of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Catrina. Yachts sitting in the middle of debris strewn streets, toppled tombs, and people seeking refuge on rooftops spoke to a city devastated by nature. Yet here we were, with hardly a trace remaining of the devastation so far as our un-informed eyes could see. I was moved by the resiliency and industry of Americans in the face of great challenge and the ability of the city to preserve its character no matter what comes.

Spooky and cute! This was one of my favorite tombs thanks to someone’s inspired offering.

Time to eat

Going to New Orleans without partaking of its cuisine would be a sin I could not abide. We hit up a local spot recommended by one of the tour guides. Unfortunately, we failed to get a recommendation on what to order. I went for the shrimp and artichoke pasta while Trail ordered chicken parmesan. While both were decent, neither was outstanding. On the other hand, the bean soup that Trail had ordered as an appetizer was the best of its kind I’d ever had. Judging by our neighbor’s orders, we should have gone for po’boy sandwiches and soup, the sandwiches looked awesome! Lesson learned, always ask what to order if you get a restaurant recommendation or spend some time eyeballing what comes out of the kitchen.

But we were not done yet. While we were in the French Quarter we’d drooled a bit over the beignets being served at one of the cafes. The lines were around the block so we resolved to come back later. Now was the time. We caught the last tour bus of the day back to the french quarter, completing our loop of the entire route. By the time we arrived the crowds had thinned and there was no wait at the cafe. We each ordered a plate of beignets drenched in powdered sugar along with a nice hot chocolate to dip them in. The food and the setting were a perfect pairing.

But we were not quite done with New Orleans. A little daylight remained so we made our way to the riverside to stroll in the park and watch the sun set over the Mississippi river. We found a lovely park along the river, perfect for the evening stroll. We watched paddle boats and container ships navigate the river as we walked hand in hand. Nearing a docked riverboat we heard the sounds of a live band playing 1920’s period jazz. Apparently, they were having a themed costume ball and we found ourselves wishing we could jump aboard. We contended ourselves with a dance on the docks and the thought of “next time.” As the sun dipped below the horizon and the city readied itself for the revels of the night, we made our way back to our chariot and bid the big easy adieu.

The Mississippi at dusk. You can see the more modern aspects of the city.

Trail (Anne) poses with a street named after her name saint.

A city of the dead.

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Cartersville KOA: Cartersville Georgia

Cartersville was our first stopover coming into Georgia. It tended towards being unremarkable as KOAs go, but the price is decent enough to recommend it.

We Paid: $35 per night for 2 nights
Discounts Used: KOA Membership
Address (GPS Link): 800 Cassville-White Road NW  Cartersville, GA 30121
Website: koa.com/campgrounds/cartersville
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Camp Store, Pool, Playground, Shuffleboard, Basketball, Dog Run, Wireless, Cable TV, Bathrooms, Showers, Laundry, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Clean
  • Large Sites

Worst Features

  • Hilarious bathroom decor

I forgot to take pictures at this park. Be glad because those restrooms are not meant for the eyes of mankind.

Cartersville is an RV park that checks off all the basics you want from a park without standing out as being exceptional or poor. Everything about our parking spot was satisfactory. The lots are gravel, level, and reasonably sized. The hook ups all worked just fine. They have both free Cable and Wireless internet, which is a very nice change from Florida where they tend to charge extra for both. 

The most remarkable think about Cartersville KOA are the bathrooms. They are amply sized for the park and feature fairly new fixtures. The shower and toilet stalls are on the small side, but manageable. But the decor… oh my lord the decor. Someone decided to paint them in the KOA colors which means screaming yellow walls with fire engine red trim. It is both garish and ugly. Topping things off they painted all the stalls black with popcorn texturing. It’s like if Ronald McDonald ran a fly by night dance club. None of that really matters for this review, but it is far and away the most memorable aspect of this park. I suspect it is where sinful interior designers are sent for eternal torment.

The rest of the park is fine. It is located in the Georgia forests which are plush and lovely. There are quite a few trees in the park proper and there are some large laws for play or taking the dogs for a walk. Considering the price, which is good for a KOA, I’d give this park a mild recommendation as a decent but unremarkable place to camp.

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Twin Oaks RV Park: Elko, Georgia

Twin Oaks RV Park is a genuine bargain, especially if you happen to be a Passport America member. For just $20 a night, we loved this charming and whimsical park.


We Paid: $20 per night for 2 nights
Discounts Used: Passport America
Address (GPS Link): 305 GA Highway 26 East Elko, Georgia 31025 
Website: twinoaksrvpark.com
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Rec Room, Pool, Jacuzzi, Playground, Field Games, Dog Run, Free Wireless, Bathrooms, Showers, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Whimsical decorations
  • Price

Worst Features

  • None

The Details

Twin Oaks RV Park is the sort of place where I can tell the owners and operators care about the park. The facilities are well maintained and the park is loaded with whimsical, handmade decorations. The more you walk around and keep your eyes open, the more little decorations you will discover hiding in the trees. The club house is cozy and comfy and well supplied with games and books. It isn’t fancy, but it is earnest and very pleasant. It should come as no surprise that the staff is also very friendly and accommodating. We felt right at home for our short stay.

It is a small park but it has a pretty full selection of amenities including a decent pool and covered hot tub. Someone took the time to make a number of curious field games you can play, many of which I’ve never seen before. Exactly what you are supposed to do with them is not always clear, but experimenting is part of the fun.

While we were at the park, one of the bathrooms was being renovated, but the remaining restrooms were sufficiently large to accommodate a park of this size. The showers were much larger than what you find in most parks. While the facilities were on the older side, they seemed fairly well cared for and I suspect the remodeled versions will be much improved in appearance. The pads are gravel, with concrete patios and ours was nice and level.

The regular price of $40 a night is not the best, but Twin Oaks accepts a number of discount clubs including the ever awesome Passport America. After our discount, our stay was only $20 a night, and at that price, I’d say it’s a great bargain.

Chandlers in the trees? Why not. There were all kinds of crazy folk art pieces scattered around the park.

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The Best Sink Strainer for your Airstream (or any other kitchen)

Sometimes you start using a product and think, “Why the heck don’t they all work like this?” For those of you who have not had that experience with a sink strainer, I present to you The OXO Good Grips Silicone Sink Strainer. Or as I think it should be called: The Sink Dominator Nine Thousand, SD9K for short.

RV plumbing is such that the less solid material that goes down the sink drain the better. Thus, having a good sink strainer is important. The one that comes with the airstream is pretty much your typical sink strainer and stopper. It has a serious flaw in its design. It sits down inside the drain with its exterior walls almost touching the drain walls. While most of the food that goes down the drain catches in its metal basket, a fair bit of it sticks into the cracks between the strainer and the drain wall. When you try to pull it out to clean it, that food falls into the drain, even if you are trying to be very careful.

The SD9K, on the other hand, sits on top of the drain, completely covering it. Water flows over the lip of the strainer and then through its basket. There is no way for the food to get under or around the strainer with this design. When you lift it up to empty it, all the food stays in the silicone basket. The fact it is silicone is the other big win. The metal strainer likes to hold on to the food that gets in there. You have to give it some good tapping in the garbage to try and get it out, often causing some of the food to fly about and often without complete success. The silicone basket of the SD9K can be easily inverted over the garbage and all the food falls out very nicely with minimal shaking or tapping.

To top it all off, it just looks nicer in the sink. It’s also less likely to scratch the sink, weighs less, is easier to clean, and makes less of a racket if you drop it in the sink. It only has one weakness, it is not a stopper. If you need to fill the sink, it won’t do you much good and you will have to use the old, and now much-hated old one. OXO makes a silicon strainer with a stopper feature, but the reviews cast doubt on its reliability as a stopper. 

On the left is the traditional and on the right the SD9K. The outer ring on the left is the sink, the outer ring on the right is part of the strainer.

For around $8 I think it’s a great deal, and well worth the expense. Every time I empty it out I remark at how much easier it is to work with and how much better it works. You can order one or more up on Amazon or hit up wherever you shop for kitchen gear. 

 

 

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Lake City RV Resort: Lake City, Florida

Lake City RV resort doesn’t quite live up to the “resort” part of its name, but it is a very cozy little RV park that we both quite enjoyed in northern Florida. It also heralded relief from the sky-high prices found in southern Florida.


We Paid: $36 per night for 2 nights
Discounts Used: Good Sam
Address (GPS Link): 3864 North US Highway 441  Lake City, Florida 32055
Website: lakecityrvresort.com
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Rec Room, Wireless, Cable TV, Bathrooms, Showers, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane, Horseshoes

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Pretty grounds
  • Comfortable facilities

Worst Features

  • Mosquitoes

The Details

We found Lake City RV Resort to be big on charm. It is a small park with a lot of greenery including many large trees, lush lawns, and small lily ponds. The overall feeling is that of a cozy little camping spot secreted away in the suburbs. There is just a bit of road noise from a nearby highway but not so much that you can hear it from inside your RV.

Lake City doesn’t live up to the resort name in my estimation since it has no pool or other premium amenities. A horseshoe pit is about as deluxe as it gets here. The clubhouse, bath, and showers are very nice, however. They clearly did a remodel recently and the results are very warm and inviting. The pads are mostly dirt or grass, but we found them to be fairly level. The parking spots are pretty close to one another. We didn’t run into any problems but set between two large motorhomes with pull outs, there was not a lot of room to spare on either side.

We didn’t try out the wireless here but unlike much of Florida it is free and so is the Cable TV. Considering their price is also down to earth compared to most of the places we have camped, I’d say they qualify as something of a bargain by Florida standards. That is likely because their location is not near any significant tourist attractions. That said, there is a national forest near by which includes a historic civil war battlefield so there are things to do.

At night, the ponds play host to a number of frogs and insects that sing quite melodiously as the sun sets. The only down side is that to enjoy their serenade you must brave the brazen mosquitoes here. My attempt at evening exploration earned me quite a few bites.

All said and done, I give Lake City RV Resort a solid recommendation. I would absolutely stay here again.

Pretty much every Florida park has one of these. We did see one small gator hanging out by the pond during our stay.

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Padre Island National Seashore

Off the coast of Texas lies the longest stretch of undeveloped barrier island in the world: Padre Island National Seashore. Just over 70 miles long with over 65 miles Gulf beach, much of this massive island hosts a variety of untouched beach, dune, and tidal flat environments. Over 380 bird species can be found on this island depending upon the seasons, thanks to the Central Flyway, a major migratory route for birds.

Among this incredible scenery is Laguna Madre, one of the most significant and pure lagoon ecosystems in Texas. This rare hypersaline lagoon protects the coastline and provides a safe nesting grounds for nesting sea turtles, resting areas for migrating birds, and a watery home for dozens of finfish species.

Padre Island National Seashore Sign

Padre Island National Seashore Sign

Malaquite Beach

We only had time for a day trip, so from Corpus Christi, we drove south for about an hour to the only visitor center within the park. We took a quick turn around the small museum and bookstore, before taking a hike on Malaquite Beach. Near the island’s north end, Malaquite Beach is rarely crowded, and we could walk southward unhindered for 65 miles to the end of the island if we wanted to. We encounter brown pelicans on the wing, cowardly little ghost crabs escaping into their little sand burrows, and the occasionally beached Portuguese Man-of-War. A genuinely peaceful setting tempt any weary soul into giving it all up just to stay here.

Ghost Crab - Takes a bit of patience to spot one!

Ghost Crab – Takes a bit of patience to spot one!

South Beach Drive

We make our way back to the visitor center and to our truck for a drive on South Beach. I’m surprised to learn that you can camp right on the beach. There are a few RVs parked along the grass line. It’s primitive camping, so no sewer, electricity or water hookups. Cellular reception is non-existant, so folks camping out here will truly getting away from it all. For about five miles, driving on the beach is easygoing and smooth.

We spot a number of folks enjoying themselves with ocean fishing, sunning, and even kite flying. One activity that caught my interest is beachcombing. Padre Island is the first national park unit I’ve been to where they allow people gather and take home items found on the beach. Natural and cultural resources are protected at the National Seashore, but you are allowed to keep up to a five-gallon bucket filled with treasures that you find so long as they do not contain any endangered animal parts, actual live animals, or historical artifacts. I’m told by a local that the best beachcombing sites are at Small Shell Beach (10-mile marker) and Big Shell beach (20-mile marker), which you need 4×4 wheel drive to get to by land. I would suggest checking with the ranger before you go.

Shells from Small Shell Beach

Shells from Small Shell Beach

Missed the Sea Turtles

All five of the sea turtle species found in the Gulf of Mexico find something they need at Padre Island National Seashore and in its adjacent waters. When we arrived at Padre Island, we were about a month too soon to witness sea turtles nesting and two or three months out from watching a hatchling run. When they happen isn’t exact, but according to the rangers, sea turtle season can happen between April to September. They also have a Facebook page and Hatchling Hotline to get info on sea turtle activities.

If you do get a chance, you find that Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest here more than at any other location in the U.S. Juvenile green sea turtles live in the waters here year-round, and adults nest on Padre Island in low numbers. Loggerhead sea turtles also nest in the park in low numbers and forage offshore. Leatherback sea turtles travel through the Gulf and historically nested here. Hawksbill sea turtles also travel through the area, finding food and rest along the way. All of these species are federally listed as either endangered or threatened. Padre Island National Seashore is the only location in Texas where nests from all five of these species have been found.

Kemp's ridley hatchling - courtesy of the NPS site

Kemp’s ridley hatchling – courtesy of the NPS site

Fun in the Sun

On the Laguna Madre side, we saw kayakers, canoers, and windsurfers enjoying themselves. Folks looked pretty happy fishing from their boats. November to April is peak birdwatching season on the island. There are also plenty of birdwatching tours that will take the avid birder to the hot spots. One bird I was hoping to see was the White-tailed Hawk. But alas, I think we were too late to see them soaring above the grasslands and nest on the island. That alone makes this destination worthy of a re-visit for me!

Portuguese Man of War - They sting! so watch out for signs before swimming Cowfish on the Beach So many shorebirds! American White Pelican - there are brown ones too Wake up to the sun when camping on the beach Plenty of Shore Birds

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Thousand Trails Orlando RV Resort

Thousand Trails, Orlando is only the second time we’ve been able to book a free stay with tour Thousand Trails membership. While it was a rather nice park overall, we are having a hard time getting good value from the membership.


We Paid: $0 per night for 4 nights
Discounts Used: Thousand Trails Membership
Address (GPS Link): 2110 Thousand Trails Blvd, Clermont, FL 34714
Website: www.thousandtrails.com/florida/orlando-rv-resort
Amenities List: Power, Water, Sewer, Camp Store, Games Room, Rec Room, Pool, Jacuzzi, Playground, Pickleball, Dog Run, Wireless, Bathrooms, Showers, Cabins, Tent Camping, Propane, Miniature Golf, Shuffleboard, Community Events, Fishing

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Best Features

  • Nice Bathrooms
  • Good location

Worst Features

  • Long distance to amenities

As with most Florida Parks, there is a lot of greenery here, even in the midst of a drought.

The Details

Thousand Trails Orlando is far and away the largest park we have stayed at. It’s really enormous in terms of its capacity. Keeping your map handy is a good idea as the twisty network of one-way roads can be hard to navigate when you are trying to find your way. Its sheer size leads to one of the few problems we encountered. Nearly all the amenities are centrally located. Depending on where you are at, it can be a rather long walk to get there. Fortunately, they do have a lot of parking, so driving is a reasonable option if you have toad or tow.

Like many Florida parks, there is a fair bit of wildlife here. Apparently, it doubles as something of a wildlife sanctuary and you can find sandhill cranes and tortoises wandering around much of the time. At the end of the property, you can find a large lake where you can fish or go boating. Swimming is not a good idea due to the alligators.

While this is an older park, it is kept up pretty well. The bathrooms seem to have been recently re-furbished and were especially nice. Everything worked great and it was kept very clean. The large community activity center shows its age, but they had a pretty robust schedule of events considering we there on the shoulder season. 

While you need to make reservations at the park, we were not assigned a specific spot and were instead given an area where we could take whatever was available. That worked out fairly well for us but your mileage may vary. I was not able to find out what the non-membership pricing for the park was. It definitely caters to Thousand Trails members. While we were there a good bit of effort seemed to be put into convincing people to upgrade their memberships. No one was pushy with us, but we got a lot of flyers and there were signs all over the campground about it.

We enjoyed our stay at Orlando Resort RV and it is a very decent park, but it doesn’t stand out compared to the best RV Parks. 

Something you see a lot at lakes in Florida.

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