Making the Best of It at Horseshoe Beach

If you were looking at a map of the Gulf Coast of Florida, and you saw a town labeled “Horseshoe Beach,” what would you expect it to be like? What images would come to your mind?

If you, like me, were picturing a beautiful west Florida beach community, then noticed that there was a county park right along the water that offered RV camping, would you be excited? Camping on the beach. For only $20 a night. Don’t mind if I do.

Oh how I wish this post was about the time we stumbled across a beautiful little county park and spent the night on the beach.

Why we chose Horseshoe Beach

We were moving north up the west coast of Florida, heading toward the Panhandle and eventually west toward Alabama and Mississippi. We needed a place to stop to break up a really long drive between two destinations and the map was pretty empty. I had no idea how rural most of Florida actually is. After some searching, I found Horseshoe Beach. It was about 20 miles out of our way – which is no small detour, especially when towing, but for a quiet Gulf beach, it seemed worth it.

Florida Gulf Coast
It really seemed like a good idea when I looked at the map!

Always check the satellite view on Google maps, my friends.

Where’s the Beach?

There’s a sound that kids make when they’ve been driving all day toward a place called Horseshoe Beach and arrive to find… there’s no beach. I made this sound internally when I realized we’d taken this big detour to camp in a run down “park” that was basically the parking lot of a boat launch in a very small fishing village. There was no place to swim, not really even any grass to play in.

We were all very disappointed, but we were too far away from everything to try to go anywhere else. It was time to make the best of the situation.

Making the best of it…

Learning: When some fishermen came in with their catch, they brought it to a table near our campsite to clean the fish. This might sound awful, but it was great for the kids! The men let them watch as they worked and it helped them make a connection between a fish swimming in the sea and a fish being served on a plate. It’s important to understand where food comes from, and this was something they were highly unlikely to experience at home. Besides, all manner of water birds gathered in anticipation of the unwanted heads and guts being thrown back into the water. Watching the birds dive and battle for their dinner was pretty entertaining.

The smaller birds gave up pretty quickly…

A free night: There is no office or park manager on duty to pay for the campsite. The signs say to take any available site and someone would come around in the morning to collect the fee. We waited, but at almost 10:00, we couldn’t wait any longer and needed to get back on the road. Since there was no one to pay, we ended up staying the night for free. It helped offset the cost of driving that far out of our way, which helped me feel better about the situation.

horseshoe beach county park
Not what we were expecting, but with its own beauty all the same.

Finding Beauty: There was no sand, no waves, and no place to swim, but the sun still set in the west, out over the Gulf of Mexico and we were camped right at the coastline. A lot of other things fade into the background – literally and figuratively – when watching a beautiful sunset.

gulf sunset

The moral of the story? I wouldn’t go out of my way again to visit Horseshoe Beach. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, and I feel the name of the town is unfairly misleading. But we learned. We will do our homework a little better in the future. Plus, we had the chance to model for our kids that we can still make the best of a disappointing situation, a lesson that will last much longer than the sandcastles they had hoped to build.



2 thoughts on “Making the Best of It at Horseshoe Beach

  1. I love how you took a disappointing camp site and still discovered positive things to learn here – both the abstract (how to handle unexpected disappointments) and the practical (fish cleaning!). I’ve been reading back through your blog posts and they are all excellent and so well done. Thanks for sharing your experiences!

    1. Thanks so much for your encouragement! I love writing them, and getting feedback and responses makes it even more fun! Bonus if it can help you as you prepare to launch! There were a few blogs we followed as we got ready and I remember how helpful it was. One time we even pulled in next to one of them in a campground without realizing it. I kept looking at this RV out the window and couldn’t figure out why it looked so familiar! It was so fun to get to meet them and our kids got along great. 🙂

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