RV Trip 6.12 – Topsail Hill Preserve SP, Grayton Beach SP – Feb 6–15, 2020

In RV Trip 2 we had tried to get into Topsail Hill Preserve SP but weren’t able to get a booking. This time we got lucky and someone had just cancelled a 4-day block so we grabbed that slot and then later we were able to grab another site for a two day slot to give us a total of 6 days in the park. The two day booking was weird because online it said the site could only take a 20’ vehicle (our RV is 28’ with the bike carrier) but the site was 44’ long. We called in to Reserve America and they said the 20’ vehicle length was in case someone had a travel trailer and wanted to stay connected, so we were ok to book the site. The only downside of this site is that it was on the main road in and out of the park so there was lots of vehicle noise. Our other site was fantastic with trees and palmettos on both sides.

Topsail Hill Preserve SP was created in 1998 when the state purchased a private RV Resort and combined it with the existing preserve park. They expanded the resort side to include 156 RV sites, 22 Tent sites, and 16 cabins and 16 bungalows. Every site has water, electric, sewer, and cable TV with more than 100 stations all for just $42 per night (expensive for a SP)! This compares with RV Resorts in the area where the price is $60 to $111 per night with zero hiking/biking trails. Needless to say this is one of the nicest State Parks on the coast and that’s why it’s extremely difficult to get a booking. The park includes 1643 acres with 24 kms of hiking/biking trails, 5 kms of Gulf Coast beach, and 5 rare coastal dune lakes. It was originally called Topsail Hill as one of the dunes was so tall that the wooden ships knew they could come ashore here to access the pine forest behind the dunes for timber, turpentine, and pitch.

We were very active in this park. On our first full day we did a 9 km walk around the campground and east along the beach and found very few seashells. They have a tram that goes on a paved road to the beach but it only runs on the hour, so we didn’t bother taking it either direction. We also took the short trail into No Name Lake and were lucky enough to see a deer on the far side of the lake. The next morning after Sharon went to the Friends of the Park breakfast and stocked up on pancakes, scrambled eggs and biscuits with gravy, we did a MTB ride around all the trails (19 kms). The trails are labelled as paved, packed dirt, or soft sand. We started on the Campbell Lake Bike Path (paved) to the Gopher Tortoise Trail (packed dirt with a couple of wet sections) and back on the path to Campbell Lake where we had our lunch. Next we did the Deer Track Trail which started to get into the soft sand where I had to work like crazy on the Mountain Bike tires to ride whereas Sharon could breeze along with the Fat Tires. We popped down to the beach and rode the bikes west until the end of the park. We saw a few seashells but we saw tons of sea cucumbers washed up and a new experience for us with many Portuguese Man o’ War also known as man-of-war washed up on the beach. We found out later they had a purple flag up as the man-of-war are venomous with a really painful sting and with the larger creatures (we just saw small ones) their sting can be fatal. The man-of-war is not actually a jellyfish but instead a colony of organisms made up of zooids or polyps. The polyps work together so they can function like an individual animal. In the larger animals the tentacles (which contain the venom) can actually reach up to 165’ long but the ones we saw washed up were just the size of your hand or smaller. The blue colour of the tentacles is quite vivid. I’ve included a collage of many of the ones we saw washed up on the beach. You definitely wouldn’t want to go swimming when these guys are in the water. After the beach we tried to complete the Deer Trail but there was a deep water crossing which I made it through with 2 soakers, so Sharon circled back while I completed the Old Growth trail to the north side of Morris Lake. We connected back up and did the Turpentine Trail before heading back.

Sunday morning there was a Hike with the Ranger at 9 am and there were only 4 of us with him.  We walked about 3 kms through the paths hearing about the local vegetation including some of the edible plants in the park.  For example, the Yaupon plant is the only native caffeine producing plant in North America. We learned more about the turpentine operation that was in the area and found several “cat faced” trees, many still with nails in them that held the sap buckets.  After the hike, we got on the bikes to head out on the 30A bike path (also called the Timpoochee Trail) that starts at the park entrance and runs along the 30A roadway by the beach for 30 kms.  When the path crosses the road, they have crosswalks marked and most drivers will stop to let the bikers cross.  We didn’t make it too far down the path when we got to Stinky’s Fish Camp where we stopped for their Sunday Brunch with live music.  We had a cheddar jalapeno baked oyster appetizer, Joel had crawfish pie topped with poached eggs and Sharon had grilled shrimp with smoked tomato tartar sauce, mango coleslaw, Crawfish Hushpuppies and unfortunately very tasty twisted potatoes and of course no Sunday Brunch is complete without a tasty beverage. 😊

After our lunch we needed to travel a little further down the path to burn off a few calories! Along 30A you can see other coastal dune lakes like Oyster Lake, and these are a globally rare ecosystem found only in Madagascar, Australia, and this area of Florida. We ventured off the path to Point Washington State Forest so we could do a MTB ride on the Longleaf Greenway Trail, a fun twisty trail through the forest before we headed back to the campground.  All total 23kms, some paved pathways, some on the dirt.

Every once in awhile when RV’ing you need an infrastructure day to deal with some of the chores so the next day was one of those days after living in the RV for 7 of the last 9 months. I started by lubricating our stabilizers and house step. Next, I got out my portable power washer and washed the windshield and front end of the RV followed by polishing it with my detailer to help keep the bugs off. Next, we tilted our bike rack back so I could get on the roof and clean the fans and the skylights. Lastly, I cleaned the terminals on the house batteries (they were unbelievably dusty from last summers dirt roads) and topped them up with distilled water. While I was doing these outside items Sharon worked on the interior with the bathroom and the floors, she loves the Dyson vacuum😉 In the afternoon we did an 11 km MTB ride on the Deer Trail and we bypassed the water crossing so Sharon could do the Old Growth trail and see Morris Lake. When we returned we packed the bikes away in the carrier as the weather called for rain the next day.

On our last full day at Topsail we did laundry in the morning and decided to do a beach walk in the afternoon even though we were fairly tired from all the prior days activities. Just as we approached the tram stop Sharon said “If the tram happens to come I’m taking it” and sure enough we walked right up and the tram was arriving so this saved about 1.5 kms of our planned walk. When we arrived at the beach it was completely socked in with fog. We walked west until we reached the boundary of the SP before returning. We saw a few man-of-wars on the beach but the main thing this day was starfish. Again, we don’t know why they wash up, but I tried to put most of them back in the water so at least some of them would survive. What we didn’t realize at first was with the fog, there was enough moisture in the air that our clothes and hair got completely soaked, especially on the return trip. Our walk ended up totaling 15.5 kms even though we took the tram.

The next day it was time to move spots again.  We certainly enjoyed Topsail and maybe some future trip we’ll come back for an extended stay as it has everything we like, nice campground, beach close by, hiking and biking trails. After a bit of grocery shopping, we stopped for lunch at the Hurricane Oyster Bar (Baked Oysters, Fish Tacos, Crawfish Enchiladas), wandering around the shops in the area before heading to Grayton Beach SP just east of Topsail, a park we had stayed at on RV Trip 2.  The blog was useful to remind us of some of the things we did in the area on our last trip.  After settling in we went down to the beach for a 5 km walk, and once again it was all fogged in!  It’s still beautiful and peaceful walking in the sand, listening to the waves.  Good thing we went out for lunch since we didn’t look too good after getting “fogged” again.  For those who know Sharon, you know she loves the show Survivor.  Luckily, we got some over the air TV stations so we were able to watch the first episode of Season 40 – Winners at War.  Yes, we have been watching the show since day one, 20 years ago!  Today it’s raining so a great day to catch up on the blog!

For our last full day at Grayton Beach we decided to do a long MTB ride on the Western Lake and Eastern Lake trails. We tried following a trail map we had picked up and turned left out of the park to find the trail but it turned out they had closed that entrance in favour of one that was to the right of the park entrance where they had put in a new parking lot. The trails are for hiking and biking and the surface is a combination of dirt, sand, and roots. We also had several wet sections due to the extensive rain the day before. We followed the Flatwoods Trail, but there appeared to be lots of junction points that weren’t on the trail map. Sharon had a lot easier time in the deep sand sections with the Fat Bike tires. We took the shortcut section on the way out so we could save Western Lake for the way back. The Flatwoods Trail had lots of nature signs to read along the way. Eventually we crossed over CR395 to enter Point Washington State Forest so we could do the Yellow, Red, and Orange loops. We had done the yellow and red the last time we were here, but we hadn’t done the orange loop. These loops are very well labelled with arrows on the trees and they had made some new sections of single track instead of following the logging road. We only saw a few hikers on the trails and no other bikers. We had our packed lunch just before starting the orange trail. I use an app called Alltrails to see where we are at any timepoint and it worked well for the yellow and red trails but the orange trail had been significantly rerouted, so we followed the arrows instead. We detoured slightly so we could see Eastern Lake and the small forest campground. Just before completing the last section of the yellow trail we encountered a very deep water crossing so had to take our bikes through the bush to bypass the water. On our return we stayed on the Flatwoods trail and did the Western Lake loop so we could see the lake. By the time we completed the ride we had done 36.3 kms, so needless to say, we were both quite tired but that also made the beer taste so good😉

On the day we left Grayton Beach SP we popped over to the Barrier Dune and Pine Woods loop (this one was quite wet) trails to do the 2 km hike before leaving. The dune trail was really quite unique as this is a rare opportunity to actually walk through the dune. Most of the parks just have a single boardwalk to take you across the dune to the beach. In this case you could actually walk through the dune and see the types of vegetation. We saw monarch butterflies, some cardinals and on the way out a brown pelican landed near us in the dune. On our way to the RV park in Navarre where we were staying for 1 night (because we couldn’t get any SP bookings for the Saturday night of the President’s Day Holiday weekend) we had another fantastic seafood lunch, this time at Stewby’s Seafood Shanty. I had grilled Amberjack fish with baked beans and fried onions and Sharon had grilled sea scallops with collard greens and fried okra, yumm!

Next stop Fort Pickens Campground in the Gulf Islands National Seashore.

11 comments

  • Hi there.
    How are you? We have read your interesting report. We also want to go to Topsail Hill SP in about 10 days. Is it advisable to make a reservation? What temperatures did you have? Wish you a nice evening and best regards Christine and Norbert from Germany

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Christine and Norbert, good to hear from you. You definitely need reservations at Topsail. We kept looking online and luckily someone cancelled so we got a spot. You could try just showing up but you’d likely only get a site for 1 or 2 nights. The temperatures we had were quite nice there and the night time temperatures are starting to get better as well. Good luck getting in as it’s a very nice park (of course that’s why it’s hard to get in).

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  • Howdy,
    we have a reservation for 8 days in Topsail. We had luck…😘
    Have fun in the Gulf store….
    Keep in touch.

    Christine and Norbert…

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    • That’s fantastic news Christine. It must be somebody cancelling like how we got in. I think you’ll really enjoy that park😁🥂

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    • Hi Christine and Norbert, We’ve thinking about you guys and wondering how you are making out with this scary Coronavirus situation. Were you able to store your RV and return home for now?

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  • I really loved the foggy beach photos. The light makes everything pop in colour on the beach – the sea cucumber, starfish (lovely!) and you two!!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Ella, looks like you had a catch up blog day😉 We’re in Blackwater River SP now with lots of rain. Looks like your snowshoeing on the weekend was good😎

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  • I’m catching up on your blogs. All your food pictures are making me hungry this morning. Interesting no beverage in any pictures for few blogs now.

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    • Don’t worry Danny, there’s always a beverage🍺 I’m doing a sample pack of 6 different beers right now so will include that photo when I’ve finished them😉

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