It was almost accidental that I ended up in Glades County, camping at the Moore Haven KOA. While it’s been almost a year since I embarked on this mid-January trip and I don’t quite remember the details, I do know that I needed to be in West Palm Beach for work and at the last minute, I ended up with a few days free beforehand.
After my first solo camping trip earlier in the month, I decided that I wanted to do a lot more camping and that it might be interesting to stay at all the Kampground of America (KOA) campgrounds in Florida to be able to compare them afterward.
I looked at Google maps to see if there were any KOAs on the drive between Bradenton and West Palm Beach. A moment later, I’d booked a tent site for 2 nights at the Moore Haven KOA. I’d never heard of Moore Haven or even knew anything about Glades County, but I was so excited to dig into the unknown, as I would arrive the very next day!
Day 1: Arriving in Glades County
My day started late when my 8am oil change somehow ended up taking more than 3 hours. But with a freshly serviced vehicle, I made my way southeast, arriving at Moore Haven KOA mid-afternoon.
I registered in the main building and then was led by an employee on a golf cart to my campsite. He seemed a little surprised that the campsite was in use and made a recommendation of where he thought I should park and pitch the tent, given that the campsite was just a small section of grass between 2 RV sites, nestled into the curve of the road that led to the rest of the campsites–this did make me nervous, as my tent would be right in the line of fire of anyone who cut the curve too close!
First order of business was scoping out the restrooms, which I needed after my car ride. They were located in a nearby trailer and contained 3 stalls, each containing a small shower, toilet, and sink.
Next it was time for tent setup. When I’d camped earlier in the month, it was my first time setting up the tent since I got it 6 years prior, so there had been a learning curve. This time, I knew what I was doing and thought it would be a simple 10 minute setup.
But then the elastic string connecting the different pieces in one of my tentpoles broke. As I started to problem-solve, the skies opened, and I quickly packed everything back up and took shelter in my van. Although the rain didn’t last more than 30 minutes, it had saturated the ground of my campsite with well over an inch of water.
As the sun descended toward the horizon, I worried that my flooded campsite wouldn’t dry out in time for me to set up my tent before it was completely dark, but fortunately there was enough dry ground before the sunset that I was able to tie a splint around my broken tentpole and set up my tent.
It’s worth mentioning that this tent site definitely felt like an afterthought–even though it was more expensive than the other tent sites at $45/night when I visited in January 2022. I believe this was the only “deluxe” tent site (It had water and electricity, and I forget if that’s what set it apart from the other tent sites–which were all in a different area on slightly higher ground that wouldn’t have flooded as easily.)
This KOA seemed to mostly be a community of RVers who regularly come down to Florida in the winter, and there weren’t any other tent campers here during my stay. In fact, at the time of writing this in November 2022, Moore Haven KOA doesn’t even offer tent camping anymore, so I won’t go into any more detail about my tent site.
When I asked about the history, I was told that they’d been a campground for 40 years, but they’d only had KOA status for a year, so I assume they have been making changes because of that.
Day 2: Exploring Glades County
After a night of high winds, I woke up to a cool but beautiful morning. I lay curled up inside my tent, reading through the few pieces of information I’d managed to gather about Glades County so that I had a starting point for my day’s adventures.
This was a really fun trip because it reminded me of what it was like to travel in Europe in 2011-12 before the internet was as prevalent in tourism (I had a physical Rick Steves guidebook!) and before I even had a smartphone to help me navigate—I used a combination of paper maps and, where possible, offline google maps on my iPod touch that was useless for much of the trip because a lot of places didn’t have wifi.
I’d had about 20 minutes to research Moore Haven and Glades County the night before when I’d booked the campsite, and I hadn’t been able to find a lot of information online about what there was to do and see in the area. I came with a short list of places to see, but then the problem was that they weren’t on Google Maps, and even when I thought I was in roughly the right area, a lot of them didn’t have visible signage.
My first lead was a place I’d seen on the Glades County website, “Fisheating Creek Wildlife Management Area,” which was supposed to have a 1.5 mile hiking trail. But when I plugged that into Google maps, it dropped a pin in the middle of nowhere, with no roads leading to it or parking lots indicated.
I scrolled around the map until I found the nearby “Florida Trail Fisheating Creek Boat Ramp Trailhead.” Hoping that that was the correct place, I set a course and soon found myself here, looking for the trail.
Aside from the boat ramp and some giant concrete picnic tables near the water, there wasn’t anything of interest. The trail referenced in the location was actually a section of the Florida Trail, which is definitely on my list to conquer at some point, but this particular section just ran adjacent to the road, and I wanted to fill my time in Glades County with something a little more engaging.
I went back to my car and pulled up my (offline) Google maps again, hoping to find the actual trail that I had read about, which was supposed to include information about the site’s natural and archaeological history. I saw on the map that there was a road leading into the wildlife management area but it ended with no indication that there was anything at the end. I decided to check it out anyway!
I turned off 78 onto Banana Grove Road and followed it until it became a gravel path. A “Great Florida Birding Trail” sign indicated that there would be something to see if I followed the road.
Sure enough, there was a small parking area at the end of the road, complete with a very rustic restroom, a few small picnic areas, and an elevated shelter with nature signage overlooking the prairie and floodplain marsh.
There was a little bit of gravel road past the parking area, where there was a small administration building and some random agricultural structures and equipment. It felt like I was trespassing, but my curiosity led me to walk in that direction and I found access to the trail I’d been looking for.
It was a beautiful day for a hike, made all the more special by the fact that there was nobody else here and I felt like I was rediscovering a secret place that had been long forgotten by the rest of the world.
I appreciated the interpretive signs and the beautiful views of the prairie as the sun went in and out of the clouds and a gentle breeze kept me cool. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure how long the trail was, and I hadn’t thought to bring water or snacks with me from the car, so I turned around sooner than I would have liked, promising myself I would come back and hike the whole trail next time!
The next stop was the Sam Griffith Overlook tower in Margaret van de Velde Park. This place wasn’t on my list, and I’m pretty sure I only stopped here because I noticed signs for it while I was driving. The name of that park isn’t even on Google maps!
Although Google maps didn’t know about this place, several other people did! There was a fairly big parking lot, with many cars parked by the boat ramps and a few closer to the overlook tower. The tower was big and did have some pretty views over the headwaters of Lake Okeechobee.
After taking in the views, my next stop was downtown Moore Haven so I could see the satisfyingly symmetrical Glades County courthouse, a historic tree called the Sentinel Cypress as it’s been used for navigation, and the adorable little local library.
My drive around town also took me past a few other interesting sights, like a house decorated with green glass bottles and fields and fields of what I later found out was sugarcane.
With Moore Haven fully scoped out, it was time to see more of Glades County.
The next stop was Ortona Indian Mound Park (which boasts the Cane Grinding Festival on the first Saturday of February), where a group of Calusa Indians had resided, building mounds and canals through the hammocks and scrub.
In fact, a sign boasted that these “canoe canals are the longest manmade prehistoric waterways still existing in eastern North America” and also that the widely dispersed mounds makes Ortona one of the largest Indian mound sites in Florida.
The park contained a few shelter structures that are presumably used in their annual festival as well as some interpretive signs.
On my drive back to the campground, I saw a heritage landmark plaque and pulled over to read it.
When I got back to the campgrounds, I had to spend some time working on my computer, but I did take a peek at a few more of the KOA’s amenities. The clubhouse contained a bathroom (complete with showers) that was a big upgrade from the bathroom trailer further back in the campground. There were also laundry facilities.
The rec room in the clubhouse had 5 tables (great for sitting down and doing some computer work near an outlet), 2 pool tables, and a ping pong table.
Day 3: Departing Glades County
Before packing up and leaving the KOA, I went on one last walk around the grounds, taking pictures of the playground, dog park, pool, other recreation areas, and an employee named Sue. 😂
Sue *posing dramatically*: You’re not gonna take one of me?
Me: Not unless you’re a permanent fixture of the KOA.
Sue: Well I work here.
Honestly, the only reason I came to this region was because of the KOA. I went into this trip thinking that there wouldn’t be much to do and I could just cross this region off my list.
However, it just provided a teaser for a future trip. I would like to complete the hiking trails that I discovered, and I would like to bike the 110 mile trail around Lake Okeechobee, which passes through this region.
While I wouldn’t say Glades County is the first (or second, third, or tenth) place you should rush to on a Florida trip, it definitely caught my eye and I hope it’s not too long before I’m back!
Does Glades County sound like somewhere you’d like to visit? Let me know in the comments below!