A New (to Us) Place in South Florida: South Bay RV Campground

Like many full time and seasonal RVers, this time of year presents a challenge: how to find Florida campgrounds that meet our – quite flexible, we like to think – criteria. COVID has both aggravated and simplified that effort: an industry wide RV boom and the continued closure of our preferred winter location (Sigsbee Campground at Key West Naval Air Station) have complicated our search, while the Canada-US border restrictions have severely limited the presence of, and thus the competition from, our northerly neighbors.

Even under normal, non-COVID times, an RV campground search in Florida is more than a bit analogous to the Project Triangle, i.e., “you can have it fast, cheap, or good: pick any two.” The RV version is something like “available, affordable, or local: pick any two.” If you’re very flexible about the location and amenities, you can certainly find places. If money is no object, you can get almost anything you want, anywhere you want. And if you are on a budget and specific, but willing to plan and commit way ahead, you can usually find places as well.

For the Shell On Wheels family, who are budget conscious, location specific, and insistently flexible (i.e., late planners) this campground search can seem Herculean. Fortunately for us military RV parks exist outside of the normal economy, which is a euphemistic way of saying they are heavily (financially) subsidized by the general, tax-paying public. As such, we depend on these military campgrounds during peak season and in high demand regions, because there is no way we could stay the bulk of the winter in places like, e.g., the Florida Keys without access to Key West Naval Air Station.

A selection of heavy equipment associated once part of the water management system near the big lake. Somewhere among them is a geocache…

COVID, however, has altered the equation. Key West Naval Air Station campgrounds remain closed, despite most of the other Florida military campgrounds being open. As a result this last spring and now in the late fall, we elected to head back to our rather expensive campground on Sanibel Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. In non-COVID years even this might have been impossible, but with the ongoing Canada-US border restrictions most of our northern neighbors are not coming to The Sunshine State, leaving a few otherwise inaccessible RV sites available in high demand parks.

… Ah, there it is.

With six open days between our last Central Florida state park reservation and the start of our two months in Sanibel, we were casting about with ever increasing urgency for something nice, affordable, and available. In past years we would have headed straight to Coral Springs to stay in Xavier and Joy’s driveway for at least part of this Thanksgiving period, but during our last such stay city code enforcement paid a visit, informed us that RV’s were strictly forbidden in residential driveways, and thus ended that particular “free parking while visiting family” situation we had enjoyed for years.

Our geocaching map for the South Bay region. Yellow dots we found, all others we will hopefully hunt on a future visit.

So that’s five paragraphs of navel gazing as a segue into the actual subject of this post: a new to us campground in South Florida. We still wanted something reasonably close to Coral Springs, and as we expanded our search, both by region and park characteristics, I stumbled across South Bay RV Campground, a Palm Beach County facility on the southern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It was perfectly situated one hour from Coral Springs and a little over two from Sanibel.

Hard to se without zooming, but there is a small gator, maybe 3 to 4 feet long, just off shore here in one of the campground ponds.

South Bar is not exactly in a prime tourist destination, but Florida’s Big Lake does have more than a little appeal, and the price was right at less than $30 a day for a full hook up, good sized lot. I was a bit surprised they had plenty of availability for a short notice reservation in mid November. I wonder how much COVID has effected the regular patrons, particularly since they do offer modest discounts for weekly, monthly, and seasonal campers. Perhaps we will find out next year when we attempt to make South Bay our replacement park for Xavier and Joy’s now unavailable driveway.

Given the circumstances, I can’t say enough about this park. While it was a bit short on trees, we had a full sized site in a tranquil location with friendly neighbors all about, and for less than we pay at most Florida state parks, much less private resorts. The town of South Bay and nearby Belle Glade are big enough to have regular grocery chains, gas stations, restaurants and the like, and if you truly need a Walmart one is just 20 minutes west in Clewiston. Tripadvisor pointed us to a fantastic little taqueria in town, Martin Tacos, which we enjoyed so much we went twice during our short stay.

What a fantastic place! The standard tacos and burritos were excellent, and they even had some specialty items like tongue meat.

The big reason driving our south Florida park selection this period was Thanksgiving, and our planned four person celebration with Xavier and Joy. We like to think we have been pretty COVID responsible in our mask wearing, distancing, and limited contact outings, and have also tried to be selective in who we, in turn, interact with in closer settings. Xavier and Joy have been have been very restrictive, with the grocery store for supplies being about their only regular exposure. We left the cat, whom Xavier is violently allergic to, at home with a robust amount of food and water and made the short drive to stay with them for two days.

Joy had already purchased a turkey, finding an elusive 10 pounder, ideal for our small gathering. I did the usual brine it overnight and herb butter under the skin method, but with such a small bird Joy and I decided to forego the spatchcocking and use an oven bag instead this year. It came out great! We enjoyed a wonderful meal with plenty of fixings, and despite the modest size of the turkey itself, we had a lot of leftovers, easily sufficient for a week’s worth of turkey sandwiches.

Back in South Bay we made preps for the two hour drive west to Sanibel and our impending two month stay at Periwinkle Park. Next up: Our November Full Time RVing report.

8 thoughts on “A New (to Us) Place in South Florida: South Bay RV Campground

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  3. Hello. I enjoyed reading your blog. My husband and I stayed at South Bay RV campground overnight prior to our trip to Key Largo back in September 2018. Like you said, it’s really nice with ample sized paved lots. We couldn’t believe the price! We saw an alligator in the water as well right behind our RV. It was just getting light and we walked outside and saw him swimming. We saw him again on the other side as we were walking the path. Thankfully, he ducked down in the water😱😀. I’m sure we will pay another visit at the campground when we return to the Florida Keys. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is nice too. We stayed there for two weeks.

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