Return to Florida: The Panhandle, Another FL State Park, and Dodging a Hurricane

We left Wanee Lake headed south west towards Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Florida’s panhandle.  It was a bit out of our way; normally we would hit this region of the state on our way out as part of our run towards the west part of the country like we did in 2015 and 2017.  But since Dad and Marcia had secured a two month work camping gig there, we made the drive.  Besides, Topsail has been on our “must see” list of Florida places since the very beginning of our RV full time adventure.

This is one of those really popular Florida state parks that can be tough to secure anything more than a few weekday openings, but by frequent checks on Reserve America we caught a five day slot off of a recent cancellation.  The timing worked perfect for us, leaving plenty of days to meander back towards Central Florida for our first market obligations there.

PKM sporting her halloween pig costume.  She does not enjoy it.

The place exists on the high end of the price and amenities spectrum for a state park: 50 amp full hook ups, digital cable, swimming pool, shuffle board, the works, really, and feels a lot more like a private RV resort than a state campground, at least until you explore the area beyond the RV park.  It has miles of hiking and biking trails through the scrub forest and a beautiful white sand beach.  The park even provides a shuttle service for the half mile run to the beach.

All of this comes at a steep price: about $48 a night after taxes and the reservation fee.  Dad and Marcia are doing this place the right way, getting that expensive site in exchange for a half days work every other day or so.

We had a great five days there, spoiled a bit by the onset of red tide about half way into our visit.  We biked to the shore on our second day under great conditions on the beautiful beach with very clear water and light waves.  By day 4, however, as soon as we got within a few hundred yards of the water you could feel a sharp pungency in the throat and allergy reactions quickly followed.  At the time we were hearing reports that this year’s red tide was covering areas that had not experienced it in decades.  The campground was far enough away and blocked by forest such that we did not notice the effects there. 

As is often the case when we visit friends or family, this stop focused heavily on food.  In addition to some shared meals at the campground, we all hit Bang Bang Shrimp Wednesday at Bonefish, one of Dad and Marcia’s favorites and fast becoming one of ours.  After three years we finally made it back to Hurricane Oyster Bar near Grayton Beach.  This place had really made us happy while we were on an Apalachicola oyster binge in 2015, and our return visit this year did not disappoint.  We highly recommend it, particularly the oyster po’ boy.  We also split a big breakfast at one of the very well reviewed local spots, The Donut Hole.  Eating out three times in five days is very unusually for us, and we will be reeling it in for the remaining part of the month.


Having picked up our geocaching hobby in earnest ever since Iowa, we of course headed out on bikes to find some of the ones at Topsail.  Almost all of them were green containers hidden in green vegetation, which Rose is far better at finding than I, so a good thing she came along.


This is an unusually large container for geocaching, most of them are very tiny.

Oh yes, we also had a major electrical issue crop up.  It started with the rear AC failing to come on at all, not even a hum.  Upon investigation we found other things not working, such as the water heater and certain electrical outlets.  After some research I figured the likely culprit was a partially bad Automatic Transfer Switch, the electrical component that detects power provided from either the shore power cable or the generator, and shifts the connections to one of those, and when absent shifts back to the house batteries.  Once we emptied the compartment blocking access to it and removed the wood divider, it was instantly apparent that this was the problem as part of the plastic cover was melted.

Noting for it but to get a mechanic, and I found a well reviewed local service that was available to come out and replace the ATS with a better model that same day.   So thanks for Lacey’s RV Service for the quick response.  No one wants an unexpected $697 repair bill, but we are grateful it was a relatively quick fix.

After our five days at Top Sail were finished, we headed an hour and a half down the road for our first visit at yet another Air Force Base family camp, this one at Tyndall AFB a little east of Panama City.  We managed to catch the last available spot for the weekend in this wooded, medium sized campground on a bayou leading into the East Bay.  Reasonably spacious full hook ups with free “WiFi” (a Verizon MiFi Jetpack hotspot good for 15 gigs of data, but requiring a $100 security deposit) for $25 a night, all in.

The campground is quite decent and to our tastes.  Though some of the sites were a bit tight, that was due to big trees and vegetation, not because of the closeness of neighboring rigs.   We planned to explore the local area and beaches on our last full day there, but mother nature had other plans. 

As we were making the transition to Tyndall, predictions for Hurricane Michael were solidifying, and we were right in the path with landfall expected around the time we would be leaving.  So we pulled chocks and left a day early, sprinting east to Gainesville to stay at Cousin Robb and Colleens to ride things out.  Dad and Marcia evacuated from Topsail in the opposite direction, heading west and inland.  Our understanding is that Tyndall’s family camp, like the base, sustained heavy damage from a near direct hit, and may not be open any time soon, if ever. 

Next up, Gainesville and Florida’s newest state park.

4 thoughts on “Return to Florida: The Panhandle, Another FL State Park, and Dodging a Hurricane

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