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The other day my sister-in-law called me and said that she booked a cabin in a Florida state park for a trip next year. She is planning to take her parents as well as my kids, so me and hubby would have a getaway of our own. We are very blessed to have relatives who are willing to do this for us, and I certainly don’t take it for granted.
However, as soon as she mentioned the location, I knew my husband would want to join them. She booked a cabin in Fanning Springs state park located near Cedar Key island. My husband has told me many times that one of his favorite childhood memories is flying with his dad to Cedar Key. His parents weren’t wealthy by any means, but they made cuts in their budget in order to afford an old Cessna plane which they co-owned with my husband’s uncle.
So once a month his dad would fly his family to some remote island in Florida, and visiting Cedar Key was often on the agenda. Sure enough, as soon as I mentioned my sister-in-law’s plan to my husband, I knew my couple’s getaway was toast. But that’s OK.
So, off to Fanning Springs state park we go. I’m hoping that on the way home we’ll also get to stop by Weeki Wachee Springs, one of the oldest amusement parks/natural wonders in Florida. One TripAdvisor reviewer has described it as “kooky, campy and cool.” That’s what I want to be put on my tombstone!
Anyway, the cabin my in-laws booked has two bedrooms, so we had to reserve our own unit. Fortunately, the price ($100 per night) was quite reasonable, and I can cancel the reservation for only $17 in penalties. The cabin has A/C, bathroom and kitchen, and clean linens are provided. As much as I hate to spend cash on lodging when I have points at my disposal, sometimes there is no way around it. There are some memories that miles and points simply can’t buy.
But it did make me think that this is an overlooked way to see the United States, especially for families on a budget. Using hotel points is fine, but you will usually pay a fortune to reserve a 2-bedroom unit, and often it’s not even an option.
I’ve only had one prior experience with staying in a state park cabin, but it was definitely positive. We stopped at Grayton Beach state park on the way to New Orleans, in order to break up the long drive. The 2-bedroom cabin ($130 per night) was spartan, but it had everything we needed. There was no pool, but you could wander through various trails in the woods or reach a beautiful beach after only a 2-minute walk. A terrific value IMO.
One of my favorite memories of traveling as a family (2011)
Unfortunately, Grayton Beach state park campground is currently closed due to impact from hurricane Michael, but it’s expected to open sometime next year. I really hope we get to go back there one of these days.
If you are interested in staying in one of Florida campgrounds, I recommend checking this page I’m sure other states have something similar. You can easily sort the results by selecting “cabins” option.
Some units, like ones in Bahia Honda state park (Florida Keys) are extremely popular and get booked up way in advance. Others have more availability, depending on the season. Obviously, you will have a lot of competition in December through March.
The amenities will vary, so make sure you understand what you are getting into before you book. For example, as much as I like the idea of staying in Cayo Costa state park, this cabin set-up is a deal breaker:
No A/C, bathroom or kitchen
But if you like to camp in a tent, this simple cabin will probably suit you just fine. And the rate of $36 per night is certainly hard to beat. Again, it comes down to your preferences.
Using credit card rewards to book a stay in a campground
When I reserved the cabin, the transaction did code under “travel” category. I can’t guarantee that it will happen to you, but it should. If you have a card like Chase Sapphire Reserve, your $300 annual travel credit should come in handy here. If you are looking to apply for a new credit card, three are a good fit:
1)Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard
Get 60,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within the first ninety (90) days of account open date and after the annual fee of $89 has been paid. The miles are actually points redeemable towards travel expenses, and 60,000 points are worth $600 in credits. You also get 5% rebate on redemptions. The card earns 2 “miles” per dollar. See my post on this product
2) Capital One Venture Rewards
Be aware, this bank usually pulls all three credit agencies. Get a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $5,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel. You can also redeem 75,000 points for a $750 gift card to various retailers, including Target.
3) Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card
The intro bonus is $500 after spending $3000 within the first three months. The annual fee is waived the first year. This card earns 4% cash back on dining and entertainment. See this post for more details.
All of these cards pay us commission if you wish to support the blog. There are other offers on the market, of course. Some, like PNC Traveler Premier Visa are restricted to certain states, and others offer cash back, which can be used for anything, including campground costs.
Staying in a state-owned campground cabin is certainly not for everyone. Usually you have to forego amenities like pool, exercise room and spa. In case of Fanning Springs campground, there is a natural spring that will serve as a pool for my kids. As far as exercise goes, that’s what trails in the woods are for. And spa? I’m too cheap to pay for it anyway, so no big loss there.
Readers, have you stayed in state-owned campgrounds?
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.