My family and I just got back from a great trip to the beach with friends and had an awesome time, partly because of what we didn’t do. That’s because we didn’t get stuck in beach traffic, rent a pricey condo, or spend hours watching TV. Instead, we camped out in the fall with with friends and spent all our time having fun. Fall bike camping on the Gulf Coast is a great way to enjoy the sand, sights, and surf without the heat and crowds of summer. The campground We stayed at Grayton Beach State Parkin the Florida panhandle. The park’s web site says:
“The nearly 2,000-acre park features a boat ramp that provides access to the lake’s brackish waters for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Visitors can paddle a canoe or kayak on scenic Western Lake to get a closer look at a salt marsh ecosystem. A nature trail winds through a coastal forest where scrub oaks and magnolias stand, bent and twisted by the salt winds. Hikers and bicyclists can enjoy more than four miles of trails throughout the pine flatwoods. Options for overnight stays include modern cabins and a full-facility campground.”
The park has a great campground near the beach, set in pine trees scrub oaks, palmetto, and magnolias. Each site has a natural sandy surface, an electric hookup for charging phones and such, fire ring with grill, and a path to the clean, heated bath house. The friendly helpful staff sells ice and firewood and keeps the bath houses clean. The woodsy campsites, pristine beach, and nearby fun spots put this place on my personal top ten campground list.
The weather was perfect for October on the Gulf Coast: mild clear days and crisp chilly nights perfect for sleeping. I got a little chilly the first night in my sleeping bag and out 3-season tent, and so I wore my long undies and fuzzy socks the second night and slept just fine. We took bikes to enjoy the miles of bike routes and lanes in the area. We rode to the beach, to the nearby Red Bar for drinks and snacks, and rode lots of the bike paths through the nearby developed communities of Watercolor and Seaside.
We love camping: pitching tents, building a fire, telling ghost stories, making smores—the whole thing. But the extra attraction of bike riding, and the miles of paths to do it on kept the kids engaged and the parents relaxed. The beach is a ten-minute pedal down quiet park roads, so getting there is easy. Older kids could even go on their own. The beach’s white sand, and natural dunes consistently put in the top ten beaches on most lists. The park requires an entrance fee, which cuts down on the crowds. The beach has bathrooms, outside showers, a bike rack, picnic tables, and a boardwalk. With Destin to the south and the planned communities of Watercolor and Seaside to the north, we had plenty of sightseeing to fill our days. The trip was easy on the budget too—all told, we spent about $150 on everything: gas, gear, campsite, entertainment and food. It was such a cheap trip that it might have been cheaper than staying home!